Passive Aggressive behavior is generally understood to involve an individual’s inability to address their emotions or expectations in a clear open manner, which leads to very mixed messages and troubled relationships. The origins of such behavior can be different, leading to the need to correctly understand it before being able to address it effectively.
It is important to consider your own behavior in relationships as well as to look to other’s experiences while dealing with it. A faith community is not exempt from having people who exhibit this behavior. Scripturally based people often reject psychological sounding terms yet the terms fear, deceit and rebellion seem to be quite applicable. A common belief is that if people will simply become genuine believers, all such inappropriate behavior will automatically cease. However, it doesn’t take very long to hear story after story about disorder and fragmentation within faith communities, whatever their tenets might be. I suspect that this issue may be underneath much of that conflict.
When this pattern of behavior is characteristic, the confusion and pain in the wake of it can be widespread. It is not “undone” by trying to tolerate or excuse the poor behavior. I do not believe this is what is meant by the Scriptures referring to “love covers a multitude of sins” though that it is one way it is often interpreted. My understanding is that we are both immediately sanctified in faith and BEING sanctified as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Therefore, each individual is not at the same place of being able to recognize and yield to the work of the Spirit in them. I have not seen that the regeneration of the spirit automatically takes care of issues of mind, will and emotion. In the words of E. James Wilder, PhD, author of The Life Model there is both God’s part (spiritual regeneration) and our part (growing up/maturing process.)
As several professionals or authors observed, one source of passive aggressive behavior may be an effort to avoid conflict out of personal fear of consequences of even expressing any difference of opinion. It may also be based on a history of being disregarded or even abused if they did not follow the lead of those in authority. In this case, we could easily see that fear is a major factor here. Fear bonds are powerfully influential in how we relate to people. If the source of passive aggressive behavior is fear it will require a somewhat different response than some other types. Generally speaking, the appropriate response will be more participatory with clearly expressed empathy where the individual expresses timidity and personal avoidance. An overt, hostile, aggressive and avoidant manner on the other hand, will require firm and clear establishment of boundaries and expectations.
In any case, we know that our God has included the admonition repeatedly throughout the Scriptures that we are not to walk in fear. Surely He knew it would be an issue for us or He wouldn’t have mentioned it so often. It is not a divine suggestion, but a command. If we think that He would set us up by telling us to do something that is impossible, we would be maligning His character, making Him out to be a cruel master. Believers might allow themselves to think this way or be unaware of it but few will openly admit it. (Yes, it IS possible to be passive aggressive toward our Elohim, too.)
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7 KJV
The subject of dealing with fears is enough in itself to deserve the vast number of books written about it. For our purposes here, we are considering the ways in which fear leads to passive aggressive behavior and how it can be addressed. It is a conundrum in many ways. When someone behaves this way and anyone, especially someone in authority, tries to help them identify and address it, it triggers the very behavior itself. Fear feeds on itself as well as feeding others. The connection I see here, is that fear does not always result in timidity, but sometimes in desperation, behaving in ways to save oneself which would otherwise not be considered.
Though our tendency is to be sympathetic to one who lives with fear, there comes a time for helping the individual to face and overcome it. As believers, we have the authority and the ability to do so in our relationship with Messiah Yeshua if we will only begin to walk in it.
Though the words are easy to write, the process will probably not be easy. Individuals are rarely equipped to identify and correct such issues independently. Family and community relationships are the testing and proving grounds. A leader may well have to be firm and exhort someone who dwells in fear, which in this case, can easily trigger the passive aggressive avoidant behavior. My thought is that this is one of those matters that cannot be easily resolved within the casual relationships that are so much the nature of faith based groups. It will require a greater degree of forbearance, commitment and grace that really grows most freely in a deeply committed, discipleship type community.
It seems that deeply engrained fears and behaviors respond to both the Presence and Shalom that our Messiah can offer directly when the person is willing to seek and receive, but also through the development of YHWH honoring covenant relationships. Leaders and members may need to gain clarity on the difference between sympathy and empathy so as not to inadvertently encourage the fearful behavior, which then shows itself in passive aggressive ways.
Deceit and Rebellion
In light of our recent community studies in Jeremiah, it quickly became clear that deceit and rebellion are also associated with this topic. One who is behaving in a passive aggressive fashion is not being straightforward about their true feelings or beliefs but rather covering them. They may also present themselves as hearing from YHWH when in fact they are not. Whether it is done out of fearfulness or defiance or a combination of both, it is still deceit. Doing things our way with disregard for YHWH and others is the substance of rebellion.
Their tongue is as an arrow shot out; it speaketh deceit: one speaketh peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth, but in heart he layeth his wait.
Jeremiah 9:8 KJV
Thine habitation is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know me, saith the LORD. Jeremiah 6:9 KJV
Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart. Jeremiah 16:16 KJV
He who hates, disguises [it] with his lips, And lays up deceit within himself;
[Though his] hatred is covered by deceit, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly. Proverbs 26:26
In Part 4, these references will be linked with passive aggressive behaviors.
By Barbara L Klika
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