Can you handle anger if you don't know where it is coming from?
Sarcasm, potshots and offhand comments made to you while others are present so that you cannot respond. Sound familiar?
If you recognize that you use sneaky anger or you are on the receiving end of sneaky anger, then you will benefit from these relationship help insights for how to handle anger in others and yourself.
People who express or experience "sneaky anger" are people who don't want to own up to what they are really angry about. In fact, they may not even know. They just know they have pain and they are willing to share! The anger sneaks out, though, and others get hit with it. It also backfires on the sneak because they don't feel good while doing it but they don't know why, either.
Sometimes sneaky anger escalates and becomes a bigger issue. It becomes full-blown passive-aggressive behavior. It shows up when people say they'll do something, but never really planned on doing it. They repeatedly have no follow-through. Then, they turn on the person they promised and try to make it his or her fault! Or, they often say they forget things, or never heard you say things that they acknowledged hearing at the time. Passive-aggressive (P-A) behaviors are VERY frustrating. I've written frequently about P-A behavior, how to recognize it and what to do about it here in the Relationship Help Blog and particularly in my ebook, Stop! That's Crazy-Making: How to Quit Playing the Passive-Aggressive Game.
When you say 'Ouch!' when you get slammed by sneaky anger, you'll often be met with a look of surprise and outrage that seems to ask, "Who? Me? You're getting mad at me?", all innocence. In the case of passive-aggressive people, they have turned that into an art form. They promise to do something for you (which they never intended or wanted to do but were too unassertive to say no). Then, they don't do it. You ask if it is done. They turn on you and say "Don't you think I have better things to do with my time than do errands for you?" That's passive-aggression. Sneaky anger!
Why do folks do this? It seems so obvious that it is not a good idea, nor fair to engage in. It's also an obvious relationship killer. But folks who feel they have little power in their lives seek to find some. Frustrating others gives the P-A person a sense of power. They can control something, no matter how small or negative that something may be. That's crazy-making.
How would you respond to a person whose aim with their behavior was simply to mess up someone else's plans? To mess with their head and make them second-guess themselves? That's crazy-making!
When you're all involved in putting a wrench into someone else's works, it's likely you don't have much going on yourself. You may be the sneak. If that's you, you may be angry because you are jealous that the other person has plans and goals, expresses needs, and asks for help. Things you can't or won't do. So, you thwart their plans. Sneaky and petty.
If you are on the receiving end of sneaky anger, you may recognize that you're the lucky recipient because the sneak cannot express his or her own wants, needs or plans. In fact, they may not even be in touch with what they need or want! Then, they are doubly frustrated. And, endlessly frustrating!
Sneaky anger! Is it spilling around your relationship and silently poisoning it? It is toxic.
If you are releasing the sneaky anger, face the fact that you are doing this and find a more honest way to be in relationship. Relationship can help uncover the source of your anger and teach new skills.
If you're the victim of the sneak's toxicity, step up and speak out. Express your boundaries and maintain them. It's not OK to be turned into a toxic waste dump.
Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, The Relationship Help Doctor, works with individuals, couples and families in person and by phone and Skype video.