Prove that You Love Me: A Look Inside the Passive-Aggressive Mind of a Man We’ll Call “Danny.”
We all know Danny. Truth be told, we all have a bit of Danny in us, too.
Trying to have a straightforward conversation with Danny is exhausting, infuriating—it sometimes even ties us up in knots.
Discussions turn into battles. Decision-making becomes a stand-off.
The silence and sulking can go on for days on end, as can the wounded looks and “poor me” comments.
Danny makes us want to scream.
We try to have a conversation to work out a new way to talk things over, because trying to talk things out is a constant source of arguments that go round and round in ever-decreasing circles.
Both of us agree on how we’re going to try to do it differently, and it all seems fine.
Minutes later, we’re suddenly faced with someone so wounded by the things we so carefully tried to say that they find it impossible to let it go. Without warning, we’re suddenly being punished and cold-shouldered, and it’s us that’s in the wrong. The argument’s no longer about the original issue, but about how badly we’ve hurt Danny’s feelings.
Not only that, but if we say anything about how that’s happened—if we point out that this is what happens every single time—we’re met with a sincerely shocked protest that it’s us that got it all wrong: that’s not what they were doing at all. This is followed by a list of all the things they’ve just done for us, all the ways they’ve tried to do what we wanted, and how helpful they always are.
Suddenly the tables have turned again. Reality has again shifted.
We feel like we must be going crazy because we’ve clearly got it so wrong. We feel guilty and cruel, and end up apologising for being so mean and heartless.
And before we know it, we’re the bad guy, they’re the good guy, and we feel everything pouring through our fingers like every thought we had has just dissolved, and we’re left feeling outraged and resentful, but without feeling we have any justification whatsoever for feeling that way.
Recognise any of that? Maybe you know this person?
Or maybe you’re feeling a little uncomfortable because you suspect you are this person.
So how about, just for a brief while, we put on Danny’s shoes?
How about we get to know Danny a little better? How do we get a feel of what it’s like to live in Danny’s world?
Lots of people might call Danny a narcissist—but Danny is not a narcissist; he’s simply passive-aggressive.
The key difference?
Danny has empathy, narcissists don’t.
Danny feels concern, narcissists don’t. So before we write Danny off under a label that’s become very popular, but is used far too readily and easily, let’s get to know Danny a bit better.
How about we start at the beginning? Let’s walk with Danny as a young child. Danny would tell you he had a happy childhood. He’d tell you that his parents always encouraged him and that he received lots of praise. We all know how very important it is to receive praise.
But praise is scary too. It tells you important things about the way people love you.
The praise Danny received was always for two things: for being “good” and for “doing well.”
The other thing Danny learned as he grew older was that his mum was fragile and anxious, got upset if he let her down and couldn’t sleep if he worried her with things. So he had to learn to be careful and think of her before himself. His Dad had a temper, got angry if he didn’t do well, and would mock him, tell him he wasn’t trying hard enough.
Even if he did well, always told him he could’ve done better.
Danny gradually learned that his job was to keep things safe and to keep everybody happy. He didn’t know any more whether he himself was happy or sad, cross or frightened, worried or upset. He’d stopped noticing that a long time ago. But he was extremely good at doing this most important—even vital—job of keeping everyone else happy.
Then one day in his teens, when he’d tried to ask permission to do something she didn’t approve of, his mum said something that frightened him to his core: “After all I’ve done for you, you treat me like this! I can’t stand the sight of you. You’ve broken my heart. Go away, I can’t bear to be around you.”
Finally, Danny realized the truth of things. He realized that if you want people to love you, to approve of you and want to be around you, you must always do what they want you to do, and be what they want you to be. The fear of it being any other way, of losing his parent’s love and approval, was so great—so paralyzing—that in that moment the course of the rest of his life was set.
He sat on the floor in his bedroom, in the dark, and pondered the most important truth of his young life.
And so now, Danny is trapped. To be loved and approved of, you have to be nice. And yet, parts of him don’t always want to be nice.
He’s in an intolerable double bind. And he puts everyone else in a double bind too.
He wants to be loved, but he needs to be so careful because love can be lost. Noone must know what he really feels or he’s lost everything. Danny can’t be real. And so, he can’t let us in because we won’t like what you see.
Do you begin to see, as you stand now in Danny’s grown up shoes, what a truly awful predicament he finds himself in? The double bind that he’s trapped in?
And the thing is, mostly he doesn’t even know it! He lost touch with himself a long time ago.
Danny has such a degree of anger and resentment inside him—from all the years of pretending, trying, failing, taking care, having to manage—that he finds, to his horror, that it leaks out towards those he loves. There’s a bit of him that wants to hurt, that wants to say cruel things, especially towards those he loves.
How would he not have? He’s been saving it up for years.
It comes out in sarcastic remarks and cutting jibes. And he’s immediately ashamed and sorry. But he can’t admit it because then we’d know he wasn’t “good” and wasn’t “doing well.”
Those things went in deep and they’re still there, even though he couldn’t possibly explain something he learned so early that he’s forgotten he even learned it.
Do you get the dilemma? The fear? The exhaustion? The impossibility?
For Danny? For you? For me? For all of us?
There are lots of versions of Danny.
The challenge is unconditional love. Giving it, receiving it, believing it. Recognizing it, remembering it, knowing that in spite of everything that’s what holds this amazing universe together.
Allowing it. Sharing it. Living it. Being it.
Hasn’t “Danny” waited long enough?
Author: Janny Juddly
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: breatheindigital at Flickr