Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Passive-Aggressive in Motion

Yesterday I started talking about the Passive-Aggressive characteristic often found in Borderline Personality Disorder. Though really it’s just a trait of personalities. I think everyone at some point has displayed passive aggressive tendencies. Most people just are not a master of tactfully direct confrontation.  So in researching passive-aggressiveness I came upon the Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified: Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder. There are a lot of things that do not fit with Borderline. I want to make that clear, and you’re just going to have to trust me. There is definitely some over lap though and I want to touch on those things that I think are relateable. I just don’t want anyone to get confused and start to think that BPD is the same as PAPD or that they are generally co-morbid PDs. Millon (a noted psychiatrist) specifically cites a type of Passive-Aggressive personality type that he identifies as being inclusive to Borderline features; the  vacillating negativist.

Behavioral Features of PAPD Include (BPD**):
- sullen contrariness with little provocation;
- restlessness, unstable and erratic feelings;**
- inclination to be easily offended by trivial issues;
- low frustration tolerance and chronic impatience and irritability unless things go their way;**
- vacillation from being distraught and despondent to being petty, spiteful, stubborn, and contentious;
- short-lived enthusiasm and cheer with ready reversion to being disgruntled, critical, and envious;**
- begrudging the good fortune of others;
- quarrelsome reactions to indifference or minor slights from others;**
- emotions close to the surface; they may burst into tears at a small upset;**
- discharging anger or abuse at others with minimal provocation;**
- impulsivity and explosive unpredictability -- making others uncomfortable;**
- ability to be pleasantly social with expression of warm affection but then easily provoked into hurt obstinacy and cruel, nasty interaction (Millon, 1981, p. 254). **

“Millon suggests that the most essential features of PAPD are irritable affect; behavioral contrariness, obstructiveness, and sulking; discontented self-image, e.g. feels unappreciated and misunderstood; deficient regulatory control, i.e. poorly modulated emotional expression; and interpersonal ambivalence. They are noted for their interpersonal conflict, verbal aggressiveness, and manipulative behavior. Suicidal gestures and a lack of attention to everyday responsibilities are common (Millon, 1996, p. 198).

PAPD resistance to external demands is manifested in oppositional and obstructive behaviors. These individuals resent having to conform to the standards set by others. On the other hand, they fear direct confrontation. The combination of resentment and fear leads to passive, provocative behavior (Beck & Freeman, 1990, p. 333) and defiant compliance (Benjamin, 1994, p. 276).”

If this doesn’t scream Borderline to you I don’t know what will. Clearly there are overlapping tendencies here.

“Individuals with OCPD (Obsessive Compulsive) and PAPD share a deeply rooted ambivalence about themselves and others. While people with OCPD resolve their ambivalence by compliant behavior and holding tension within, those with PAPD have virtually no resolution. As a result, they are characterized by vacillating behavior. They are indecisive; they fluctuate in their attitudes, oppositional behaviors, and emotions. They are generally erratic and unpredictable (Millon, 1981, p. 244).”
Someone with a Borderline personality Disorder is especially prone to those indecisive fluctuations. Hell, my psychiatrist wanted me on an anti-psychotic specifically to treat my personal ambivalence. When you flounder and waver so dramatically between two opposing points, it’s incredibly frustrating. In that frustration it can often be impossible to express what you need in order to resolve the problem. This leaves a person feeling completely misunderstood, because half the time they may not understand themselves. When you feel misunderstood constantly, it also brings about a general believe that people won’t even bother trying to understand you, so what’s the point? When you know you need something, don’t know exactly what, can’t ask for it, and can’t really express it; it’s no wonder that our moods seems to vacillate between passive and aggressive.

“Individuals with PAPD view themselves as self-sufficient but feel vulnerable to control and interference from others (Pretzer & Beck, Clarkin & Lenzenweger, eds., 1996, p. 60). They believe that they are misunderstood and unappreciated, a view that is exacerbated by the negative responses they receive from others for their consistent defeatist stance. They expect the worst in everything, even situations that are going well, and are inclined toward anger and irritability (Beck & Freeman, 1990, p. 339) (DSM-IV, 1994, p. 734).”
“Individuals with PAPD are often disgruntled and declare that they are not treated as they should be. On the other hand, they are just as likely to express feeling unworthy of good fortune. They have a basic conflict concerning their self-worth; they oscillate between self-loathing and entitlement or moral superiority. Either side of this oscillation can be projected onto the environment. The chaotic nature of this experience of self and others often leads to people beginning to avoid or minimize contact with people with PAPD out of self-protection (Richards, 1993, p. 259).”

I think this helps illustrate why people aren’t just aggressive. When you understand the inherent nature of constant flux you can begin to understand why reactions and responses are also in flux.

 View of Others

“Individuals with PAPD see others as intrusive, demanding, interfering, controlling, and dominating. They believe that other people interfere with their freedom. They experience control by others as intolerable; they have to do things their own way (Pretzer & Beck, Clarkin & Lenzenweger, eds., 1996, p. 60). These individuals are determined that they will not be subject to the rules of others (Beck & Freeman, 1990, p. 227). They resent, oppose, and resist demands to meet expectations from others in a behavioral pattern seen in both work and social settings (DSM-IV, 1994, p. 733). Their main coping strategies are passive resistance, surface submissiveness, evasion, and circumventing of rules (Pretzer & Beck, Clarkin & Lenzenweger, eds., 1996, p. 60).”

This ties into the Borderline Push-Pull. I’ll do so much for people, pull people close, meet their needs and demands, and then flip. I’ll be completely overwhelmed by what someone else wants  when it’s not what I want. I’ll feel like I’m losing my sense of Self to their needs, not my own, that what I’ve just been doing is now too much, being taken advantage of, a demand instead of a desire, expected not appreciated  and I’ll have to Push away to regain control of my own situation. It’s not quite the same, but the sentiments match up. It inspires feelings of resentment and resistance coupled with the borderline flipside desire to not be abandoned and needing approval. Can’t be too aggressive otherwise we’ll push people away irrevocably, can’t be too passive and just let things slide because then we’re just being taken advantage of and the resentment builds to explosion. This results in something of a dysfunctional balance being struck in the form of passive-aggressive behavior.  

Tomorrow I’ll get into a little bit of the affective issues of PAPD/BPD and the theory behind the origins of this behavior.


  1. Thanks for all your insight. It helps me understand why I do some of the things I do. Also helps understand why some of the people in my life act like they do.

  2. Absolutely, you're welcome =) It's why I do this. Helps me understand me, too.

  3. Interesting read. You sound just like my boyfriend...well, soon to be ex-boyfriend. He's was super attentive the first 8 months then when he felt he had me, he started acting so inconsistent and started the push/pull thing. We broke up twice and got back together. But it's long distance, too, so it's just too difficult. His issues mixed with the distance is just too much. And everything is on his terms and he can never do any wrong (although in the beginning he was better about admitting when he did something to hurt my feelings). Now he gets upset with ME for telling him if he hurt my feelings. How strange. Anyway, good luck to you. It's good that you know what you are dealing with so you can fix it. I don't have the same hope for my bf, so I'm just going to leave and take care of myself.

  4. Thank you so much for posting this. I think I have finally found what is 'wrong' with me, so to speak.

    I have had mental health issues from an early age and have been diagnosed with clinical depression on several occasions since I was a youth. There is a history of depression in my mother's family.

    Since the age of around 14, I have been promiscuous and have since developed manipulative traits and compulsive lying in order to feel this. It's like doing so protects me from others who may harm me. I cannot form stable relationships, mainly due the fact I can flip out over something so small and stupid. I will sulk for days or just end all contact with that person. On rare occasions this bottled up anger will release and I will become very aggressive and uncontrollable. My mood will snap back to normal without any notice as well.

    In a sense, this is part of the manipulative behaviour I developed during my teenage years. It is a way of controlling the men in my life and them doing what I want them to do, rather than them controlling me. Ultimately I think this is a result of sexual abuse I have suffered both as a child and an adult.

    I'm still figuring this one out, but I don't want to seek medical attention. I have a job in education and something like this can easily ruin my career or dent it seriously.

    Sorry for this long post.


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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