Books, Professional Development

Book 264: Overcoming Passive-Aggression – Tim Murphy and Loriann Hoff Oberlin

Murphy, Tim and Loriann Hoff Oberlin - Overcoming Passive AggressionTalk about a rough read. The entire time I was reading this, I kept thinking back to that phrase from the 2001 movie A Knight’s Tale: “You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting.” Please don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t solely from this book or the last few that I’ve read that this thought process stems from, trust me. It’s something I’ve been struggling with for the past year and a half and as much as I’ve improved, I knew I was still struggling with myriad issues.

I mentioned when I wrote about Crucial Conversations that I’d had one recently and that the feedback I got hurt like hell but was something that I needed to hear. And honestly I can’t thank that person enough for having the candor to tell me what they did and spurring me to take a long look at myself. Again, don’t get me completely wrong I’ve not been hiding that I’m a horrible person, but I’ve definitely struggled for some time and after reading this I’m wondering how long I’ve been struggling and not knowing or, more than likely, not admitting it.

Needless to say, between that conversation and this book I’ve found the courage needed to actually seek some sort of professional help. And as terrifying/anxiety provoking as that is I’m looking forward to that next step and will most definitely talk about it when I am comfortable with it. Now I’ll actually talk about the book and quit prattling on about my personal life.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I’m disgruntled at the people reviewing this book on Goodreads. 90% of the ones I did a quick read over were complaining either that there were too many examples (I didn’t think there were enough) or that this book wasn’t at all helpful for them. If I had to guess I’d think most of these people were not able to come to terms with their own issues or weren’t even thinking about themselves. I would love to see their response to some of the choice

“No matter how anxious or angry you’ve been in the past, it doesn’t have to outline your future. If you’ve caused problems because of concealed resentments or struggles, you have as much, if not more, ability to shift things in a more positive direction, using that energy for your own betterment. If you have failed to take any action, vow to comply or cooperate. Two critical tools—productive, open expression and problem-solving skills—will make the way much easier.” (188)

I mean clearly the first step is to be open to the fact that it might be experiencing it. Why else would you pick up the book? Maybe I’m on the outside of this one, but I assumed people reading this would be reading it more for their own benefit rather than for someone else’s. Maybe this was the problem,

“Those who resist change won’t usually be too committed to trying new thoughts, using assertive phrases, or acting any differently than they have before. What we’re saying essentially is that you’ve got to be squirming, somewhat uncomfortable with the status quo, to give change a try. Predictably, when you make the commitment yourself, you get much, much more out of the process.” (201)

I felt the book’s structure worked even if you weren’t prepared to have to reflect on your own behavior, that it helped you to look at it whether you wanted to or not. The authors provided great examples of both what it would be like to be the person experiencing the anger as well as the person who is affected by the anger and even went into what it would be like if you experienced both at the same time.

The authors did an excellent job of first explaining what passive-aggression is, it’s not fully what I thought it was, but I had a decent enough grasp of it. Then they progressed into examples of how it was present in numerous settings from work and extended family (in laws) to within a relationship/friendship. And to close the book they discussed ways of solving/preventing/working with the anger problem.

I think what was most powerful about the book was how frequent the authors mentioned that if you were looking at this book for yourself you’re doing a great first step. They consistently emphasized the importance of looking at things from other perspectives and NOT self diagnosing which it was nice to be reminded of. I’m one of those people who reads or hear’s about something and automatically starts finding the symptoms I have within that. It was super helpful to have the authors remind me not to project myself into ALL of these situations even though I clearly fit within some of them. I found this analogy to be super helpful along with the third quote, specifically, below

“If you’re the cause of your own anger, that’s okay. At least you can do something about it. Getting help through the right therapy spells hope. It’s like driving and getting lost for a while. First, you must recognize that you’re lost. Next, you try looking at a map. And if that doesn’t get you where you need to be, then you ask someone who has been there before who can give you better directions. In essence, that’s what therapy is like—finding new direction and better ways of getting to your destination!” (161)

I might feel super lost at the moment, but knowing at least what direction I need to head in and taking those first few steps are probably the biggest thing I’ll have to do. I mean hey, it can’t be any harder than going to CrossFit that first time or the first 5k I did. They say our mind is a muscle just like everything else. Either way, my first appointment with a therapist is this afternoon, so we’ll see how it goes.

Recommendation: This is a hard one to recommend. I would definitely recommend it for your own personal issues or questions, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it if you’re looking to ‘fix’ or ‘deal with’ someone else. Perhaps that’s just the way I read it, but it worked for me and not for any of those Goodreads reviewers.

Opening Line: “Ben complained that he was passed over for promotions.”

Closing Line: “You can seize the life you always dreamed of, enjoying success, warm relationships, and happiness.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)

Additional Quotes from Overcoming Passive-Aggression
“In fact, hidden anger may seem so normal to some that they’ll resist any attempts to change. Healthy functioning remains a foreign concept, and they’d rather stick with what they know because, sadly enough, it often works for them. Their anger may qualify as a deeper disorder.” (14)

“In fact, this person’s self-esteem gets confused because of the ambivalence inherent in the indirect anger style. The child or adult simply can’t decide how he feels about himself. No matter what appraisal he arrives at, there’s a problem. ‘I appear good if I keep quiet, but being silent I feel incompetent.'” (47)

“Where you’ve been doesn’t define where you’re going. No one escapes his or her youth without a few scars. Refuse to be held back by events beyond your control. If you’ve confused or walled off your emotions so that your own negative circumstances prevent you from connecting with your spouse or children, from empathizing with what it’s like to walk in their shoes, then counseling could help.” (56)

“While this is a self-help book designed to offer comfort, if you’re on the receiving end of difficult behavior or if you feel yourself struggling with anger, it can in no way help you to make a lay diagnosis of yourself or of anyone else.” (144)


5 thoughts on “Book 264: Overcoming Passive-Aggression – Tim Murphy and Loriann Hoff Oberlin”

  1. Good on you for seeking out help. I think that’s great, and I hope your first session today helped or showed some potential at least.

    I really like that they remind you to not project yourself into every aspect of the book, as that seems like such an easy hole to fall into, and would probably leave you worse off than you would be going in.


    1. Thanks! I’m not really sure how it went. It wasn’t bad, so that’s a good enough start for me. And you’re right! I talked to the therapist for a few minutes about the fact that I struggled not to project myself into every situation.


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