Most of us have come across this kind of communication before – a partner who sighs too loudly and, when asked “what’s wrong”, insist nothing is. The parent who cleans dishes too loudly and clangs them into the dish tray so they know you heard them.
A friend who gives you a compliment that doesn’t feel like a compliment at all. A colleague or a boss who puts paperwork on the desk too hard, or who scowls and huffs.
Before I wade into this difficult topic, I need to point out that this is a learned behaviour – sometimes, this is the only way they were taught to communicate by their parents / family, other times it is as a result of abuse and a necessity to save their own skin because they can get their point across without directly confronting the issue and receiving the abuse from that.
In all instances it is a method of manipulation and control, and the psychological damage from it for the victim can be quite dramatic.
I experienced this kind of abuse growing up, from family. I experienced this kind of abuse from partners. I experienced this kind of abuse from people I worked for and with. And it is taking some very good people to very slowly unravel the damage.
I completely panic when the dishes are loaded into the dishwasher too loudly and with too much force, or if someone does a big dramatic sigh, or is in a bad mood. My anxiety ramps up to over 9,000 and I try so hard to make them happy I end up tying myself into knots. At work it’s not quite as bad, but if the person I’m working for / with is in a bad mood, my anxiety hikes up – I assume it’s because of something I did.
I am very fortunate that I am now surrounded by people who do not use passive aggression to communicate. The person I predominantly work for / with is very intuitive and calm, and immediately and simply reassures me when something crops up. After working for her for a few months now I’m starting to realise that she really means it’s okay. The person I have at home, while he’s a bit less talkative, is equally intuitive (if deeply confused by my reactions at times) and is also learning to communicate that it’s okay. I’m starting to believe him, too.
There will always be people in my life who will induce abject terror when they are in a bad mood. These are the people I am unable to remove from my life who have abused me in this manner.
But for other people, the ones who haven’t, the ones who are showing me day in and day out that they are not going to abuse me (because they simply don’t), I am hoping that I will some day be able to work my way through their bad moods without backflipping in terror.