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Dear Dr. Robert--

I was diagnosed with juvenile lupus around the age of 2. I remember some really horrible things including a kidney biopsy performed on me at the age of 2. I remember being put under for the surgery and more vivid are the physically painful memories waking up in the actual recovery room. I still remember vividly (like it was yesterday) the very moment I woke up . The scar I have even now looks like I had been filleted.

I remember pushing my glass I.V. bottle up and down the halls. Out of a ward with 13 other juvenile lupus cases only 2 of us lived and the other boy was brain dead. My mom took me to an osteopath after the doctor called her one night at work and told her at best I had another 3 months to live and to bring me home and make the best of it.

My mom physically fought my dad when she left with me for Arizona. All I remember about that trip was losing my first tooth, so many sick and dying people that Verna took care of, and going to her daughter's church where some man grabbed my head in both hands and prayed so loudly for me. My mom later told me that afterwards all I kept talking about were how very, very warm his hands were.

We were supposed to be there for 2 weeks but I was so sick and I remember feeling so bad all the time that I wanted to go home after about 4 days and my mom said ok. When mom got me home I remember, actually I was becoming capable of remembering not being allowed any refined sugar having to drink an 8oz glass of carrot juice 3 times a week and an 8oz glass of beet juice once a week on top of taking 36 vitamin pills every morning with a glass of distilled water. The whole time my mom was weaning me off of lethal doses of prednisone, by herself without anyone else knowing what she was doing.

Well I started to get better. Then the doctors threatened to take my parents to court to take me away from them for the good of medical science because the same doctors, who wrote me off as a botched science experiment, wanted to know what they did that made me begin to recover.

Anyways there is a whole hell of a lot more to my story so pick an age and trust me an issue exists. And now I find that I have serious childhood issues that I feel are becoming debilitating in my 40's. In fact, your reply to the question about passive-aggressive personality described me to a T. I have noticed all of these features in my behavior:


Intentional inefficiency

Chronic lateness, forgetfulness

Sulking, pouting, withdrawing emotionally

Avoiding responsibility by claiming forgetfulness

Frequent complaining

Fear of intimacy or emotional closeness

Trying to control situations through emotional blackmail

Making excuses and lying

Feeling victimized

Sending mixed messages so that one is never sure exactly what was said or what to expect

Blaming others

ask dr-robert ask psychologist todos santos ask psychologist dr robert saltzman



Fear of authority

Resistance to suggestions from others

Unexpressed anger or hostility

Making unfair demands on friends and associates

It seems to get worse everyday and I feel that if I say anything about how I feel it will just be looked upon as another excuse for being lazy or not caring. Please, please help me. I'm a returning student suffering the same problems I had in grade school with horrendous grown-up consequences! To bring you up to speed on the most recent part of the story, my mom, the one that fought so hard to save my life, now refuses to have anything to do with me.

I really hope to hear from you soon because this was a lot to dredge up just to be left twisting in the wind.

Thank you,


ask dr-robert ask psychologist todos santos ask psychologist dr robert saltzman

Dear Bridgette--

First, let me say that I am sorry for your suffering. You certainly have been through a lot, and I am not surprised to learn that you find yourself struggling with some worrisome behavioral and personality problems.

Based upon the behavioral features you listed, your self-diagnosis of passive-aggressive personality seems correct, and, again, this comes as no surprise. Passive-aggressive personality is not, as I have stated in the article you mentioned, considered a mental illness or disease. Instead, passive-aggressive behavior is better seen as a survival mechanism which functioned more or less well in early life, but which now gets in the way of full adult functioning.

Let me explain. Sadly, as a child, you were forced to endure a series of medical procedures which must have been painful, humiliating, and frightening. An adult would understand that these experiences were unavoidable due to your severe illness, but that does not make them any easier for a child to bear. After recovering to some extent, you were then forced to eat food which you did not want to eat, and to be deprived in many other ways of the personal freedom and sense of personal choice that would have been features of a more normal childhood, and which would have fostered the development of a more resilient ego.

In other words, your daily experience included being forced to undergo all kinds of unpleasant experiences, and being deprived of any choice in the matter--a direct attack on your emerging sense of selfhood. How does one survive such an ordeal? Well, by passive resistance, by non-cooperation, by grudging consent, by obstinacy, by reluctance. Since you were too young and too weak simply to say no, to refuse, I imagine that you resisted all of these painful indignities as best you could: passively. That was the best you could do, and you did it. It was your survival mechanism--not 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 simply one way of trying to maintain the integrity and strength of a fragile ego which has no better way of protecting its desire to choose for itself what to do and what not to do.

Now, habits formed in early childhood tend to persist into adulthood, and this is what has happened in your life. Instead of learning simply to say "no" when you do not want to go along with the wishes of another person, you have persisted in using your childhood survival mechanism--passive resistance. In other words, you say "no" not directly, but by intentional inefficiency, or sulking, or sending mixed messages, or any of the other behaviors you mentioned having noticed in yourself.

Unfortunately, what worked as a child, at least to some extent, does not work at all as an adult, and you find yourself with a personality--a way of expressing the ego, that is--which really cannot get the job done for you. Although you do not mean to, you put people off, even to the extent of having alienated your own mother. I say this with no sense of blame at all, Bridgette, but only to show you that I understand your situation, and that I empathize with you. Your conflicted personality style is not at all your fault--no one gets to choose his or her personality--but rather the result of your initial temperament at birth, modified by all of your life experiences. Unfortunately for you, many of those experiences, having been so difficult, have hurt you, left you dismayed, and have made your road as an adult difficult to travel.

Now, having seen this, what can be done to help? In my experience, the passive-aggressive style of ego defense can develop into something much more useful, and much more joyful as well, by means of a psychotherapy which focuses on striking a balance between fulfilling the demands of the patient (which would tend to support and encourage the passive-aggressive style), and refusing those demands (which would feel like a rejection). Then, while trying to maintain this delicate balance between gratifying demands and frustrating them, the therapist would constantly, but gently, point out the probable consequences of the passive-aggressive behavior (unhappiness, loss of friendships, losing the confidence and trust of others, etc.). This may seem simple, and in a way it is, but, in my professional experience, it often works well, and, if you were my patient, that is how we would proceed.

Now, Bridgette, you wrote that, "if I say anything about how I feel it will just be looked upon as another excuse for being lazy or not caring." But you do need to talk about how you feel. In fact, it is most urgent that you do so. However, you should not be talking about this to the people in your ordinary life who will not understand, and who will have no patience for your struggles. Instead, you ought to be talking to an experienced psychotherapist who will listen patiently, who will understand, and who will know how to help.

In a word, Bridgette, I suggest that you get into therapy right away, and plan to continue for a year or two, at least, of once or twice weekly sessions until you feel that you can approach life more directly. As a returning student, I imagine that such therapy might be available to you on a no-cost or low-cost basis, and I wish you every success in this important work.

Be well

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