Passive anger is the cancer of humanity. It saps our relationships to the point that love becomes exasperating, desperate and confused. It drives us to think irrationally questioning truth and engaging in actions the test our limits pushing on walls inside our minds. It’s like being a caged animal. We become pains in the ass as we search for why this is happening? We engage in self-doubt asking, “What did I do wrong? I believe I am a good person. I’m generally happy with who I am. What am I missing? What’s not good enough about me?” Worst of all, being social creatures down to our genetics, we feel angst as we notice the loneliness that comes from the human connections surrounding us breaking down.
Here’s the thing, it’s probably not you. If you read up on these feelings, you eventually run into a discussion about the phenomenon of human withholding. That’s the behavior where people shutdown and recede into a safe space inside their minds. For whatever reason, and by an infinite number of possible triggers, a person feels unheard, disrespected, unrecognized and they retaliate passively. They cut you out because they are unable or unwilling to face you and fight you for their space. So instead they carry on with the normal pleasantries but you, if you’re perceptive, will feel that there’s a boundary there, a wall preventing connection. You may not see it right away but sure as the sun will rise, that person doing the withholding is sheltering inside a tenuous safe space trying to protect and nurse a soft and hurting inner being.
What triggers it in some people can be as simple as disagreeing with them on a seemingly minor point. In others, it’s caused by a disappointment upon discovering a difference expectations about life outlook; often something to do with very deep presumptions in a person’s cultural upbringing and the assumptions one carries into more complex life because of it. Regardless, the perceived slight causes resentment. If it goes passive, it becomes a grudge that can go on for decades stewing like magma deep inside a volcano powering ever worsening resentment. And the pleasantries go on. Over time, witnessing the dissonance of a person driven by two tidal forces in conflict becomes loud and confusing. The cancer grows. You feel the volcano hidden beneath a ever thinning covering of top soil. If you are a good person with a good heart, it’s deafening. It hurts your very soul to sense it.
Now step back for a moment and keep your perspective. There are billions of people on this planet and no one has a connection with everyone. Of the limited number of personal connections we have, most are casual connections where we have no need to invest in the deeper interplay of positives and negatives that are part of a deep connection with them. They’re what we called “hi friends” in high school. Wave, smile, say hi, move on. Only a few people graduate to deeper meaning in our lives where maintaining connections matters.
This being said, the meaningful human connections we maintain are quite complex. There are such things as hostile connections where we feel bilateral animosity as the defining basis of an interpersonal connection. These are honest distastes and deserve recognition as a legitimate form of human pairing. The noun for this is enemy.
Not to despair, there are also such things as friendly connections. These are the positives in our lives where two people find nurturing energy in each other. These are the beginning points from which friendship blossoms. It is where love begins. This is also where passive anger and withholding can happen all too easily. If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll recognize that all nurturing friendships have degrees of passive withholding in them. Where our relationships get into trouble is when we lose our balance at the built up passive anger comes to dominate the connection.
What next? Make no mistake about it; it’s work to repair broken connections. Furthermore, the repair can take many forms; some of them painful. If you are a good person, the most important thing one must discipline yourself about is that, having recognized the flaw, the quest is to find the right answer, the good answer. It is not about forcing a desired one.
It may, make that will, get noisy. When it does, trust in this. Even as the angst and confusion rages, it’s important to remember that it’s unlikely that a broken connection with a friend means you should have been enemies. That just does not happen unless the other person was purposefully deceiving you from the outset in which case you were manipulated and played. If that’s the case, transitioning them to enemy is justified. But most of our relationships are not enemy ones and you have to have faith in yourself that your gut would have warned you early on if it was. You are not an idiot. Don’t waste too much energy dwelling there. The same goes for casual acquaintances. You know you haven’t made a deep love commitment there either. Do admit to yourself that we humans do love with our best friends. That bond is a deliberate act we know we’ve done or not done. Trust the truth of it. Honor the meaning of it.
What is far more likely is that your valued friend is withholding because they are stuck about something internal to them, something they don’t want to share. Whatever it is it’s an unhealthy state for them, a weak state. They are expending precious energy walling that part of themselves off from the the rest of the world. The withholding takes many forms. Between lovers, the most common artifact is one partner shying away from intimacy because not only is your body naked there, so is your soul. The unwitting partner becomes the trigger to remind them of whatever it is that’s bothering them. It tests the very limits of the love bond when it happens. Between friends, it manifests as avoidance. Good friends, best friends, share deep trust and this too is a path to the nakedness of one’s soul. The friend becomes the trigger that ignites the inner dialog of issues. Either way, triggers cause us to reinforce our walls. We become trapped inside the powerful gravity of our self-made black holes, unable to break free. And on the other side of that wall is a trusted lover or friend thrown into confusion by the opacity of what’s being hidden behind the emotional wall.
And this is where true love, true friendship comes in. This is where you must decide that to thrive with those whom you want in your life you must do something risky and brave. You have to start a fight to break down the wall. You have to do it out of love. You have to do it seeking only the best interest of the person in need. You have to do it asking for nothing in return. You have to be willing to lose them if that’s what’s right for them.
Starting a fight is an act of love. The bravery of that love is in bracing for the anger as it changes from a passive form to an active hostility. It’s ground hog day except you’re waking up a honey badger. They’ll likely fight you and hate you as their passive anger turns to active anger. But that’s the healing process in action. That’s the getting it “out of their system” so they can live again. If your instincts about what valuable friends to you are right, odds are they will make it with a little help from a friend. And they will see what true friendship meant in their hour of need.
And even with all that work, there are no guarantees. Only they can crawl out of their hole. The only capacity you have is to help them see that they are in a hole, assure them they are still loved, and show faith that they can rise above it. The rest is up to them.
So what’s the self-thrive in this? If one’s aura in life is to do good, to see the people you love able to love themselves again is food for you own soul. It’s reaching clarity. It’s removing the clouds of confusion from feeling the waves of passive anger and withholding near you. It’s buying back energy to live happily. It’s creating space to return to your own center. It’s banking goodwill for when it’s your turn to be the one in need. We are all imperfect. We will all be frail at different points in our lives. If we are lucky, a brave person will be there for us. Ultimately, to thrive is to live well with this imperfect reality as part of our lives.
If you’ve ever been confused by the passive anger of a withholder or suffered the pain of being the withholder inside a shell yourself, I hope this article helps you see that you really are worth the love one shares with those who love you.
Originally published at medium.com