Hi, I’m passive-aggressive. I don’t know if you’re familiar at all with Southern or Middle Eastern culture, but they are both rather similar in several aspects. Most notably in my mind, they are some of the most passive-aggressive cultures that I’ve encountered. Therefore, since I am half of each, I say I was cursed from birth.
For a long time, I took pride in the fact that I could “hide” my emotions and not react to situations or blow up at people. I learned to bottle things up so my anger just “disappeared”. One thing I learned about anger, or any emotion for that matter, is that it never just disappears; it has to go somewhere. I would swing from the playground of anger between the extremes of Job to a violent explosion of pent up anger especially when I was younger.
My poor sister can back all this as she was often the object of such outbursts. Sadly enough, I took it as far as choking her a few times in our childhood (not trying to make her pass out or kill her). You would think that something like that would rouse someone to the realization that something is very wrong. No, that wasn’t until college. Even now, my passive-aggression is something I struggle with horribly.
I’m not going to say that I’d rather be outright aggressive when dealing with problems and conflict, but there has to be a median. There has to be a place where I can go in these times and acknowledge the situation, but in a healthy and productive way. There has to be a way that does not leave me bottling up this residual feeling of iniquity. Judging by interactions throughout my life, I know I’m not the only one with this problem.
“But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.” — Ephesians 5:13–14
There is a lot that is said in the Bible about anger, but I think this passage is rather interesting. I think this is God giving a practical way of dealing with a flawed method of dealing with emotion. “Let Me deal with it. Let Me take this burden from you, because it requires a heart change and I want to do that for you,” I hear Him saying here. When God reveals what is dark, in this case my inability to deal with emotional situations, it becomes light like Him. This is great news, but how do we know when we’ve gotten to a place of healthy processing?
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. -James 1:19–21
Notice, the author does not say don’t speak in this passage. They certainly advocate speaking, but speak slowly or after time has been taken. Maybe it’s three seconds, maybe it’s three hours, but take time. Anger is not a sin. There are passages that advocate getting angry, but when we do we have to make sure that surge of emotion does not fuel an emotionally charged response. That is what the author is getting at here. It’s OK to express what has gotten you worked up, but do so lovingly (without trying to dear down or apart the other person) when you’ve been able to remove the spiteful and potentially harmful emotion from that response. Allow me to reiterate: say what you need to say but once you’ve backed away from the emotional ledge.
I am not trying to advocate responding robotically to the world around, but in a way that is informed by God’s word. We need to “receive with meekness the implanted word.” Plainly, we need to quiet ourselves and listen to the Spirit which is professing God’s word to our souls. In other words, stop taking the responsibility for responding, most often making the situation worse, and let God do the dirty work. However, we need to listen.
I don’t know about you, but I find it both a little maddening and a little comforting that this also comes down to reading God’s word. However, I do find it comforting that I don’t have to bottle up my emotions for fear of unleashing them on my loved ones and hurting some people very dear to me (i.e., my sister). That reaction should come from the Spirit who has been trying to coach my responses since I was five (yes, that was when I believe I became a Christian). What about you? Who will you let respond next time someone triggers a strong emotional response?