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Monday, Oct 14, 2019

Beware the aggression of the passive: Life Hacks by Charles Assisi

Those who appear passive are rarely seen as aggressive. But they play by different rules.

more-lifestyle Updated: Sep 21, 2019 21:34 IST
Charles Assisi
Charles Assisi
Hindustan Times

That a lover’s sulk must be indulged is a position I have always maintained. This, because a sulk is nothing but a lover’s silent call for attention. To that extent, the silence that emanates from a sulk must be celebrated by the person at the receiving end. But not all silences are equal.

By way of example, when I think my little girls are ignoring me, I extract attention out of them by going silent. It works. Every time. They bend over backwards to please me. I’d always thought of this as a harmless “daddy trick”.

That it can be dangerous was driven home when my cousin, a child counsellor who witnessed one such interaction, exploded with: “This silent treatment is the cruelest thing you can inflict on anyone.” She described it as “emotionally abusive behavior”.

“Whatever did I do and wherever did I err?”

Choosing to stay silent when it is possible to communicate, she said, is what professionals like her call ‘passive aggression’. This behaviour is deployed deliberately by a person in control, to suggest something has gone wrong. This is silence used as a weapon to ‘punish’ a loved one. When used to refuse or acknowledge their presence, it causes distress and anguish.

The distress occurs because what wrong has been committed is not communicated. And when communications are snapped, they imagine some terrible wrong has been committed. Anguish follows.

Distress and anguish strike at a human’s psychological need to feel loved and wanted. The punished person’s defenses eventually crack and they will do whatever it takes to find favour with the person punishing them. People who dole out such punishments apparently end up damaging the recipient’s self-esteem.

I promised to strike silent treatment off the playbook with my little girls right away. And when I thought about it, I could also list people who use passive-aggressive behaviour as a bargaining tool.

“Hold your silence,” was advice offered by a mentor many years ago as we walked in to interview the founder of a Mumbai-based conglomerate. “He is tough as nails,” I was told.

All questions were deflected with monosyllables or greeted with silence. I was sure the conversation was going nowhere. My mentor, however, refused to ask the next question and stayed invested in his position, until an hour later the man started to open up.

As we walked out, I was told that even the most powerful like to talk about themselves. But before they do, they assess your mental agility. In hindsight, I was witness to two people familiar with the nuances of passive-aggressive behavior haggling wordlessly over what must be communicated and how.

The needle on the conversation moved when they arrived at a silent pact with each other.

(The writer is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect)

First Published: Sep 21, 2019 21:34 IST

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