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Wait, what now? Reading between the lines in passive aggressive communication

Growing up in a home that spoke fluent passive aggression, I am skilled at reading between the lines and catching messages sent under the table. The challenge now has become clarifying openly what that covert information means. A goal of mine is emotional and relational health, which means first being able to recognize my own emotions as they arise from my body in these type of situations.

Sometimes that's all I get—a feeling. Now before I understood emotional health, I dismissed this type of information as invalid. It didn't count because I couldn't name it and it wasn't necessarily "rational" in the way I could argue in my philosophy classes. It didn't make sense therefore it wasn't real.

But NOW I know that emotional information is just as real and just as important as the information I can sort through like a math problem. It is perhaps more colorful, less easily contained, and more complex, but no less important.

The next step becomes identifying what needs those emotions are tied to. They're like buoys floating on an ocean filled with need. If I can identify the needs I can own them and DO something about them.

When emotions happen in a relationship with another human, then we've navigated into the territory of relational health. Relational health is partially dependent on both humans having emotional health. If they can't identify their emotions and recognize their own needs, they can't steward those well. And if you're not taking good care of your own needs, you likely will become overly dependent on the other person to steward them for you, constantly trying to manipulate each other into doing the thing that would meet your need, instead of asking directly (and freely, with no obligation) for what you want.

On the other hand, humans who are emotionally healthy are what we call "differentiated," which is state in which a person knows who they are and takes good care of themselves so they can freely and joyfully engage with other humans at an appropriate level of dependency.

Black and white lines spaced at varying distances apart from one another representing the idea of reading between the lines in passive aggressive communication

Unsplash Gwendol Cottin

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