A passive-aggressive personality is described by Wiki as a person whose behaviour is characterised by “a habitual pattern of passive resistance to expected work or social requirements, opposition, sullenness, stubbornness, and negative attitudes in response to requirements for normal performance levels.” In parole povere, it refers to that mental state of being when someone has an issue, but instead of coming out and stating it directly, avoids expressing his feelings out loud, and yet indirectly shows his unhappiness through a negative attitude, ambiguous comments, long-winded excuses and oblique references.
Does this sound familiar? If it does, it might be because this is a type of behaviour very much present on social media, where friends, acquaintances, or even relative strangers tend to use memes or even indirect statuses to criticise, taunt, or show scorn towards others, without actually confronting them directly.
Passive-aggressive behaviour tends to mostly originate from feelings of low self-esteem, resentment towards others, unexpressed anger, or discontentment in general. People with a passive-aggressive attitude express their negative feelings subtly through their actions, instead of handling them directly. This creates a separation between what they say and what they do. And this is where, in my opinion, social media comes in.
Social media is the perfect tool for those who want to send their message across, and yet, not say it out directly to the person concerned. In fact, when writing a general status or an offensive meme, it’s very easy to shirk aiming it at one single person. However, there’s still that awareness that, most probably, that same person saw the meme or status, and actually got the message all the same. In this case, the person or persons in question would not be able to answer the passive-aggressive persona directly, since nothing specific would be directed at them personally.
For example, let’s say that someone is angry at a friend, but instead of mentioning the issue outright, they spend days posting statuses on friendship instead. Another example could be an ex partner, who uploads derogatory memes about exes because they’re angry, in order to taunt the other person in an indirect way. The alarming thing is not that this kind of drama takes place everyday, but the fact that we actually take it in our stride, not only condoning it, but actually feeling amused and even entertained by the indirect undercurrent of anger permeating our closest relatives and friends.
In a perfect Utopian world – a world without internet, social media or family gatherings where people are more interested in clicking on their tablets rather than talking to you face to face – perhaps this behaviour would seem more out of sync than it actually is. Perhaps we do realise that something is wrong, that the other person is angry with us, or that there’s a pending issue which needs to be addressed. However in today’s world, although we may realise that there is an issue somewhere, or that someone is not pleased with someone else and has been indirectly going on and on about it on their online profile for days… we just accept it.
I’m not saying that these things didn’t happen before the onset of the internet. Passive-aggressive personalities existed long before social media or digital communication. However, perhaps in the past it was recognised for what it really is – a negative pending issue and a cry for help, instead of merely seen as an entertaining way of letting someone know that you find them silly and contemptuous, but without having the balls to actually say it out loud.
Is social media encouraging cowardice? Is it slowly infusing today’s society with the idea that it’s better not to face one’s problems, but to dawdle and then prod snidely at one’s enemies with a metaphorically enhanced knife in the back instead?
The pen, as they say, is mightier than the sword, and yet, isn’t this taking it a bit too far?