Sometimes I forget to refill my dog’s water. I don’t notice until he’s been licking an empty bowl for a minute, trying to slurp up whatever moisture is left. When he does this, I accuse him of being passive-aggressive. Same with the pacing back and forth. I wish he’d just tell me he wants to go for a walk.
We also chastise him when he barks. That happens whenever the garbage truck rolls by, the mailman’s dropping something off, or middle schoolers are getting off school (the last one tacitly accepted because, as we all know, junior high schoolers are the worst), but also when he’s waiting to come back inside. His approach is too aggressive. “Pet me,” it says, or “let me in” or “don’t forget about me.” How could we forget with all the barking? But we do.
It’s the same with people. When others are passive aggressive with us, we ask them to just tell us directly instead of coming at us sideways. When they are direct, we find it off-putting and aggressive. We eliminate the options by which others can tell us we’re not meeting their expectations. We do that because, no matter how it’s phrased or presented, we don’t want to hear that we should be doing something better.