Is Being Passive Aggressive Addressed in the Bible? Part 1: Psychological Definitions

Is Being Passive Aggressive Addressed in the Bible? Part 1: Psychological Definitions

The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart:

his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.

Psalm 55:21 KJV

A common behavior pattern that subtly causes problems in personal and faith community relationships is that of being passive aggressive. Over time, it may become very overt. It is associated with great pain and anguish for both those who behave in these ways as well as those close to them. It happens occasionally for nearly everyone but I see it as on a continuum. It can become a pervasive and destructive means of coping or more accurately, a failure to cope well. Many people have a great deal to say on the subject. Yet many church or fellowship leaders and members resist discussing or considering these things openly. It seems as though admitting these behaviors are problematic is considered to be a failure of some kind or as mentioned later, belief that such secular understandings have no place in a faith community.

My purpose for addressing this subject is consistent with my desire to assist the Body of Messiah toward personal and spiritual maturity, both for individuals and for communities. Acknowledgement of personal responsibility for such behavior is paramount in order for restoration to even begin, but community leaders and members also have a role to play in refusing to go along with it in a YHWH honoring way that will encourage the individual(s) to address the matter.

It will be addressed in a five article series.

1. Psychological Terminology and Definitions of Passive Aggressive Behavior

2. Possible Origins of the Behavior

3. The Interface of Psychological and Scriptural Terminology

4. Scriptural Terms Linked to Behaviors

5. Practical Applications of the Interface of Biblical and Psychological Awareness

1. Psychological Terminology and Definitions of Passive Aggressive Behavior

Definitions of many mental health related issues are in flux right now as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 is being implemented. In fact, whether or not this behavior is really an illness has been controversial for many years. At the same time, there is no doubt as to the relational problems involved. The Mayo Clinic has stated that passive-aggressive behavior is “a persistent pattern of communicating your feelings in a roundabout way rather than candidly stating them.” The National Institute of Health (NIH) goes another step further and calls it a personality disorder which is a long term chronic pattern. Their description: “a person appears to fulfill the needs and wishes of others, but in fact passively defies them, typically becoming upset and hostile.” In their opinion, the causes are not clear but seem to be related to both genetic and environmental factors. If one does not know what is happening, the person who is in close relationship with someone who is passive aggressive will often feel confused and frustrated. What is real? Was the person really helping me? If so, why do I sense a lack of respect toward me? Even with knowledge, it can be difficult to maintain personal peace when someone we trust seems to be behaving in such contradictory fashion.

Some authorities have seen the self-protective efforts that may lead to these behaviors as well, and observed that “first born children” are prime candidates, as they may have had loving but demanding families, expecting more than they perceived was manageable. I would also add that such previous experiences, though they may or may not be valid, are then often projected or brought into the present and applied to current circumstances. Again, they may or may not actually be valid interpretations but the behavioral response remains the same. Anyone with authority may well be considered to be too demanding or threatening, whether or not that is true.