Hello Dr. Saltzman--
My name is Kim and I'm 17 years old.
I was just wondering if there's any way I could find help dealing with my passive aggressive behavior without informing my parents. I know for a fact that if I approach them about it, they'll say I'm just being overly dramatic, and that I need to get over myself. Asking other relatives isn't an option either since I'm not close to most (if not all) of them. I have two close friends who know about this, but they don't know how to deal with it any more than I do.
My main problem is that I have a very limited resource. I can't drive yet, and even if my friends could take me to a therapist regularly (which isn't likely at all), my parents would not approve of me leaving the house that often. Even if it will only be once a week. The financial cost of seeing a professional is also another thing I haven't even found a solution to yet.
I've done a good amount of research and have taken time to understand my behavior (in the past until today) before I came to this conclusion. I've come to terms with the fact that I need--and want-- to seek help. I'm not involved in a church group or any group for that matter, so every option I consider is a dead end. Plus, I just feel awkward talking to the school counselor. I've tried it before and it was really uncomfortable.
Can you please help me, Doc?
Good question. If you have read some of my other articles on passive-aggressive personality, you will understand that I see this style of relating to others as a program which develops in childhood due, most likely, in part to some genetic predisposition to passivity, but largely in response to a situation in which the child for one reason or another is restricted from making choices for herself. In other words, I see the development of passive-aggressive personality as a survival mechanism. I do not mean the survival of the body, but of the ego, the survival, that is, of the sense of myself, my "I-ness," the survival of the person who has choices and options, the person who can say "yes" and say "no." In other words, the passive-aggressive style is a way of trying to maintain the integrity and strength of a fragile ego which has been denied the opportunity to decide for itself what to do and what not to do.
Now the part of your letter that jumps out at me right away is your saying that even if you could afford therapy your parents would not let you leave the house in order to attend it. If that is true, no wonder you have had to develop a mode of passive resistance, for I consider that level of parental control to be terribly overbearing, and sadly belittling. In my view, a young woman of your age should be pretty much free to come and go as she pleases—during daylight hours anyway—as long as she is being responsible to such duties as school, and whatever household tasks are required of her. So, if your parents do not allow you this kind of freedom at your age, I can only imagine that their way of raising you as a younger child must also have been equally overbearing and restrictive. Since a young child has only very limited means of resisting such parenting, development of a passive-aggressive personality under such circumstances is almost to be expected.
If therapy really is not possible, Kim, then here is what I would suggest:
1. Be sure you understand what I have just said about the genesis of passive-aggressive personality. If you do understand it, you will cease blaming yourself for being the way you are, and the end of self-blaming is the beginning of change.
2. Explain the problem to any close friends, and ask them to call you on it whenever they see you acting that way.
3. Begin to fight back actively against any overly restrictive rules your parents try to enforce. When I say "fight back," I mean to tell them that the rules seem unfair and too restrictive. If they insist, you might need to disobey. I know that some of my readers will not agree with this, but I do not think a young person of your age must be totally obedient to her parents. It is time to seize your own power, Kim. Your parents aren't a god and goddess; they are just a couple of ordinary humans who don't know everything, including not always knowing what is best for Kim.
I wish you could be in therapy, but these three suggestions could help a lot if you have the courage to implement them. Write again and let me know how you are doing.