When I was in college, I was extremely insecure. And because I was so afraid people didn’t like me, I demanded a high level of loyalty from anyone who claimed to be my friend.
If I called you, you had to call me back quickly enough to keep me from wondering if you were ignoring me. If I felt excluded because you didn’t invite me to an event, you either needed to pretend you forgot to invite me or provide a groveling explanation for why I got left out. And if you didn’t meet my expectations, I quietly withdrew from the friendship until you reached out to me and stroked my fragile ego. Basically, I was passive-aggressive.
It was a hellacious little world that was dark, self-centered, and driven by fear; and unfortunately, there were some people who accommodated me. I know they meant well when they apologized for not calling right back or showed me pity when I got clingy, but they were just feeding the beast and enabling me. Not everyone did that though.
There were some people who realized that they were dealing with an emotional leech and they ran, which probably wasn’t a bad idea. But the ones I most appreciate are people like my friend Shon Cunningham, who had what I call a holy insensitivity to my insecurities.
If I sent passive aggressive signals to get Shon to invite me to hang out, he would call it out and say, “If you want to hang out, just ask.” Whenever I would guilt trip him for not calling back after I left a couple of messages, he would say, “Listen, man – my phone is for my convenience, not yours.”
Shon treated me like the man I really was in Christ (way down deep inside), rather than respond to my rabid insecurities, which were probably a byproduct of growing up with an absent father. He didn’t run from the weirdness or submit to my attempts to control him. He was just my buddy, always faithful to be there in the ways I actually needed him – even when that meant being faithful to refuse to enable my passive aggressiveness.
You probably have at least one passive-aggressive person in your life; someone who drains you of your emotional energy and has a way of being so needy that being around them feels like claws digging into your soul. Consider responding like Shon did – don’t give into them, but leave space in your heart to love them.
I know, I know – it’s a tough balance, because it’s so much easier to run away; and if you show any signs of love, it often provides fuel for more clinginess. But the problem is that there’s often a really beautiful person hidden up under all that insecurity, and if you write them off, you might miss the opportunity to see them grow – sometimes very slowly – over the years.
So if you want to stay in relationship with a passive-aggressive person, but you don’t want to play emotionally unhealthy games, try this: do your best to pretend they’re healthy. For instance, a healthy person doesn’t need apologies and explanations for why you aren’t able to get together – they assume the best about you. A healthy person doesn’t read your quick text and wonder if you’re angry with them – they realize it’s just a text and not a mandate on their value as a human being. So don’t patronize other people’s insecurities or hold yourself responsible for their unpredictable feelings – only hold yourself responsible to treat them as you would want to be treated.
I’m not suggesting that we take on an air of superiority over passive-aggressive people – to the contrary, I’m suggesting that we treat that person as the adult they are – even if they aren’t yet living like one yet.