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Sonderbooks Book Review of

Overcoming Passive-Aggression

How to Stop Hidden Anger from Spoiling Your Relationships, Career and Happiness

by Tim Murphy, PhD, and Loriann Hoff Oberlin


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Overcoming Passive-Aggression

How to Stop Hidden Anger from Spoiling Your Relationships, Career and Happiness

by Tim Murphy, PhD, and Loriann Hoff Oberlin

Reviewed July 8, 2008.

Although this book wasn't quite as helpful as the book Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man, by Scott Wetzler, by seeming a little more glib in the solutions offered, it still shed valuable light on the problem.

The authors describe passive-aggression as rooted in hidden anger. So taking a closer look at the behaviors resulting from passive-aggression help to blow away the cover.

Here is what they say about hidden anger:

Hidden anger is:

-- Indirect, incongruent, and unproductive behavior

-- Subtle, manipulative actions or inactivity

-- Consciously planned, intentional, or slyly vindictive; or it can be unconscious

-- Part of a dysfunctional pattern of dealing with others

-- Allowing the perpetrator to deny responsibility for it and often appear as the victim

-- Stalling because it doesn't move toward resolution; it blocks resolution

-- Motivated by the intent to hurt, annoy, or destroy

-- Triggered by needs that haven't been met or based upon irrational fears/beliefs

-- Never positive because of its manipulative and indirect nature

-- Toxic to relationships and groups of people, especially over time

-- Self-perpetuating, powerful, and rarely, if ever, appropriate

Rest assured, if hidden anger is unleashed upon you, you will likely end up feeling like the bad character. You know there is a problem. You can sense it. Only, it nags at you because you're not sure who is responsible, why it's happening, and what to do about it."

This book is helpful because it will help open your eyes to underlying anger, whether in yourself or others, so it can no longer be hidden.

The authors help you understand why hidden anger is harmful, and gives you ideas for changing. They also discuss "enablers," people caught in a cycle of behavior that encourages someone else to continue their passive-aggressive behavior. They give strategies for breaking out of the cycle, in many different situations.

The authors do point out that hidden anger is a huge and pervasive problem in separation and divorce.

Though plenty of people having separated or divorced may claim, "I'm not angry," neither of us has really encountered anyone unscathed by this process. Unless the union and all you'd done with your life in the company of this person meant absolutely nothing to you, the anger is there all right, only it may remain hidden.

In my practice, I met parents telling me that their son or daughter was fine with their getting a divorce. In 99.9 percent of the cases, I'm afraid that just wasn't so. The child may not show any visible signs, but rest assured there is some deep emotion there. It was either very visible or extremely well-hidden anger.

But as we've said so often, if you've contributed somehow to your anger or to your children's anger, then you have a greater capacity to be part of the solution as well. It's probably nowhere more important than in divorced families. When you don't do this important growth work -- encouraging your children to do the same -- learning to openly communicate and move beyond silenced anger, that's when we see children caught in the middle of a silent, or subtly antagonistic war between their parents.

All in all, this is an eye-opening and helpful book. Because passive-aggression is about hiding anger, reading a book to understand it better is definitely a step in the right direction.