I am pretty certain I have used this pac-man analogy on a previous post, but I will use it again. Once upon a time, I went on a pac-man binge, and achieved a ridiculously high score, (I would mention the score but I don’t remember). The only thing that led to my demise in the game was cognitive fatigue.
So how did I do it?
I came to the realization that I had memorized the patterns of the ghosts. As a matter of fact the few things that changed during the course of every game I played was the increased speed of the ghosts, the points and my proneness to making errors in the game.
So how does this work as an analogy?
The patterns of the ghosts where based on the programming instructions written by the programmers who created the game. If you were to go to the apple app store or Android market and purchase a pac-man game, the only way you would be able to change the patterns of the ghosts would be the hack the game and change specific instructions dedicated to the movement patterns of the ghosts.
People are remarkably similar, this is because our habitual behaviors are dictated by what we believe. Every belief we hold unto comes with specific sets of instructions of what to do in response to any circumstance. Whether these instructions help us solve our problems is a different story, but instructions as dedicated by our beliefs cause us to execute a predictable repertoire of behaviors which vary according to the circumstance.
Having this understanding about your fellow human beings is half the battle towards getting past resentments and putting a stop to passive aggressive behavior directed towards you. Half the battle because once you realize that the other person is motivated by a set of beliefs and guided by specific instructions, you cease to take the behavior personally and learn to respond accordingly to behaviors you come to predict.
Take for example, if you have a co worker who habitually presents with a passive aggressive attitude towards you and other co workers. Perhaps he makes inappropriate jokes, and becomes hostile and easily angered during disagreements with others. It’s easy to get sucked into the chaos if you find yourself engaged in a heated exchange with such a co worker. You may come to take his attitude towards you personally, and without realizing it, you do your best to help explain to this co worker your side of the story, but to no avail.
The best response to this scenario and other similar scenario is a two fold technique. First, you should come to understand and accept that this person is operating on a set of beliefs that dictate his behavior of passive hostility towards others during disagreements. (It is important to note that you are not required to figure out what his beliefs may be, change is the responsibility of the individual.) Secondly you should understand that it only becomes more and overtly hostile if you engage in kind. So do nothing.
It is important to note that doing nothing is only reserved for non life threatening situations. (I will write a post on how to respond to threats in the near future.) Doing nothing is an effective technique for back handed compliments, insults, nasty rumors, hostile glares etc.. The problem people have with doing nothing is that they have unrealistic expectations of what would happen in the event they practiced doing nothing and the harassment stopped. Some people have shared with me that they expect the harasser or passive bully to become apologetic and nicer towards them.
Do nothing doesn’t change a harasser’s attitude, it only confuses them and brings the undesirable behavior to a stop. The reason for this is because there is no corresponding hostile reaction from you to confirm their biased belief which justifies in their minds their decision to harass you. With confusion comes a lack of direction and with a lack of direction comes cessation of the unwanted behavior.
Please note that this technique is only reserved for passive-aggressive, non harm threatening behaviors. For bullyish behaviors that cross the boundaries of physical contact and or violation of personal property there exists a different set of techniques, which will be discussed in a different post.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.