The boss needs an airline ticket. You book him in the middle row, knowing he has little time to make his next connection to a very important meeting.

When making place cards for a birthday celebration, you put two family members who get along in opposite corners because you don’t really like that they are friends.

Your twin’s new spouse has a successful career and speaks her mind. After you met for lunch when you really preferred not to, you talk with your brother and embellish things your sister-in-law said, bypassing the context, of course.

Perhaps you make excuses for why you can’t meet up with a family member or share events customarily spent with others.

What do these behavioral examples have in common? In all of these examples, there’s upset. Anger. Indirect (or not) communication, insecurity, and possibly a dose of self-absorption come into play, too. One thing is for certain: These behaviors come back at you in a myriad of unpleasantness, so it is best to acknowledge and correct them.

Family systems teach us that problematic behaviors likely didn’t start with us but may well have flowed down from past generations, as anxiety tends to do in families. So, if you’re trying to get a handle on your own behavior, look to your parents or even your grandparents’ generation. Anxiety flows down the family system. Not up. Not sideways. A three-generation genogram can help as it relates to behaviors, diagnoses, and who got along with whom and who did not.

We are inherently drawn to explanations. For example, four years ago, many devoured Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump, Ph.D., for its familial insights into her uncle’s problematic behaviors as she unraveled her family’s genogram. (Read about the bestseller in “Psychological Concepts in Mary Trump’s Memoir.")

Self-Absorption: Psychoanalyst Karen Horney stated in 1948 that a vindictive person not only inflicts suffering on others but even more so on himself. “His vindictiveness makes him isolated, egocentric, absorbs his energies, makes him psychically sterile, and above all, closes the gate to his further growth.”

Those who think a little too highly of themselves turn others off with their inability to give and take, lack of empathy, and need for control. Not everyone who exhibits these traits is self-absorbed. They could be a classic Type A personality, but the same reactions apply. Flexibility and improving social skills are key.

Passive Aggression: My co-author Tim Murphy, Ph.D., and I outlined 10 traits of angry people in Overcoming Passive Aggression, including making one’s own misery, blaming others for misfortunes, lacking empathy, turning bad into mad feelings, using overt or hidden anger to gain power, and confusing anger with self-esteem and the inability to analyze problems, among other telltale signs. Looking deeply at what you fear and avoid might tip you off to things you could work on in counseling to stop self-sabotaging your happiness through sly actions you think go under people’s radar.

Retaliation: Revenge behaviors limit us, according to David Barash, Ph.D., and Judith Lipton, M.D., in Payback: Why We Retaliate, Redirect Aggression and Take Revenge. As they discuss passing along the pain, the authors call “redirected aggression” the most harmful of the three R’s—retaliation, revenge, and redirected aggression. It targets innocent bystanders in response to one’s own insecurities and problems, but this self-sabotage can be avoided.

Concealed Emotions: Physicians and anger management experts have found that harboring anger and other challenging emotions leads to poor health outcomes involving high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, high homocysteine levels, escalated cortisol and adrenaline, increased risk of weight gain, addictions, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, somatic complaints, and premature aging. What’s more, hidden anger gradually lowers your immunity and can make you more physically vulnerable to illness.

Power Control Struggles: Point-proving, score-keeping, and power struggles are not only unsavory tactics in relationships but also lead to their demise. As John Gottman found in his research of individuals and couples, accepting another person’s influence is a pillar of a strong bond, whether it’s with a significant other, a spouse, a sibling, an in-law, or a co-worker. An antidote to this may be that each person in a power struggle has something to offer or a point that’s just as right as the other.

Some Assertive Communication Is Good: When you can’t speak up for yourself in an appropriate way, people more easily take advantage of you, and you feel led around. That, in and of itself, leads to resentment. Non-assertiveness or passivity may be your negative self-talk that sometimes becomes a mindset. Mindsets easily become destiny.

To overcome this, build an emotional vocabulary to help with open, direct expression. Use “I-messages” and listen reflectively. Avoid quick responses that give in to your own reactivity. Be more measured, realizing you don’t have to have the last word, but you can have a word or several of them on appropriate terms.

If these strategies don’t work, or you have difficulty effecting them, seek counseling. Ideally, seek it and sit down with the person from whom you are trying to get “payback” for your grievances. You may find in talking with that person and using some cognitive-behavioral skills that there is no evidence for your grudges.

Inflexible Assertiveness Is Bad: If you must have your way all the time, must dictate to others without regard for their feelings, needs, or schedule, or simply must be in control, start a therapeutic relationship with someone who will challenge these behaviors. Not someone who merely agrees with you but one who motivates you to discuss grudges you haven’t revealed and let go of the negativity that will self-sabotage your happiness in the long term.

Copyright © 2024 by Loriann Oberlin, M.S.

References

Horney, K. The Value of Vindictiveness. American Journal of Psychoanalysis 8:3-12.

Barash, D.P. and Lipton, J.E. Payback: Why We Retaliate, Redirect Aggression, and Take Revenge (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)

Murphy, T., Ph.D. and Oberlin, L, MS, LCPC. Overcoming Passive-Aggression: How to Stop Hidden Anger from Spoiling Your Relationships, Career, and Happiness (New York: Hachette/DaCapo, 2016)

M. L. Trump, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020)

QOSHE - Payback: When Rumination Leads to Retribution - Loriann Oberlin Ms
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Payback: When Rumination Leads to Retribution

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25.06.2024

The boss needs an airline ticket. You book him in the middle row, knowing he has little time to make his next connection to a very important meeting.

When making place cards for a birthday celebration, you put two family members who get along in opposite corners because you don’t really like that they are friends.

Your twin’s new spouse has a successful career and speaks her mind. After you met for lunch when you really preferred not to, you talk with your brother and embellish things your sister-in-law said, bypassing the context, of course.

Perhaps you make excuses for why you can’t meet up with a family member or share events customarily spent with others.

What do these behavioral examples have in common? In all of these examples, there’s upset. Anger. Indirect (or not) communication, insecurity, and possibly a dose of self-absorption come into play, too. One thing is for certain: These behaviors come back at you in a myriad of unpleasantness, so it is best to acknowledge and correct them.

Family systems teach us that problematic behaviors likely didn’t start with us but may well have flowed down from past generations, as anxiety tends to do in families. So, if you’re trying to get a handle on your own behavior, look to your parents or even your grandparents’ generation. Anxiety flows down the family system. Not up. Not sideways. A three-generation genogram can help as it relates to behaviors, diagnoses, and who got along with whom and who did not.

We are inherently drawn to explanations. For example, four years ago, many devoured Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump, Ph.D., for its familial insights into her uncle’s problematic........

© Psychology Today


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