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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Passive Aggression for the Obsessive Compulsive

When kids feel the heat of angry adults, they have many choices in how to react. Some return the anger with physically aggressive behavior. Others remain passive and walk on eggshells to placate the adult. This example, submitted by Robert on 9/27/09, shows a child with his own style of responding to an playmate's hostile mother:

As a child I was occasionally forced to endure the overbearingly strict rules enforced by my friends’ parents. At this point it is important to note that I believe rules are essential for any child. In the case of my friend Dave Thompson however, his parents didn’t just set the ordinary rules as expected from any parent.

Upon arrival at Dave’s house, I would be given the ‘orientation’ by his mother, in which she would warn me of the repercussions for touching or moving anything besides what she had given Dave to play with for the day. Even these toys had to be returned before beginning any new activity, the punishment being ‘automatic suspension’ from Dave’s house for the foreseeable future. Every time I moved away from the toys we had been given for even a second, Dave’s mother would appear, hovering over us, watching over my every move.

Eventually I grew tired with these overbearing rules, along with Dave’s constant insecurity at upsetting his mother. I realized my own inability as a young child to face up to this fearsome woman, so devised the perfect plan to take revenge in my own subtle way. I noticed that his mother was constantly obsessing that every item in the house be situated exactly where she wished it to be. I convinced Dave to join me in my evil retaliation scheme. We moved every item in the playroom ever so slightly out of position, just enough that it wouldn’t be noticeable to any regular human being, besides to our very own Mrs. Thompson of course.

Think he was ever invited back? How long do you think it took Mrs. Thompson to rearrange her world?

What did you do when you were a kid to deal with the mean parent on the block?


  1. I really enjoyed reading about your experience because I can completely relate to your frustration of dealing with an overly obsessive personality, seeing as I live with someone similar. In fact, often times my friends make fun of my house, calling it a hotel lobby, due to my mothers' extreme need for order and neatness. There is not a picture frame that isn't turned perfectly, or an item out of place, and she even cleans under the refrigerator. It is so extreme that if I dare leave a pencil on the kitchen table or a spoon in the sink, I can fully expect to deal with constant nagging at her return from work. My friends and I love to play passive-aggressive games to entertain ourselves, such as turning a picture frame to the left when it was originally turned to the right, and watching to see how long it takes for her to put it back to the way she likes it. She's fully aware that she is obsessive, but puts up the argument that it is her house and that's how she wants it. Her extreme need for order and control causes me to feel like I live in a boot camp.

  2. I have a similar story .. both of parents have always been pretty set in their ways. Things had to go their way or else there would be a massive argument.

    One day, my mom wanted me to wash dishes. She was trying to punish me for getting smart. Thing is, she assumed that because I was only seven, that I would attempt to wash the dishes by hand rather than try the dish-washer. But she didn't say I couldn't use the dish-washer to wash the dishes. (Mind you, it was only two dishes) My parents never taught me how to use the dish washer but I saw them do it a couple times. Honestly, I was counting on messing up.

    Well, I ended up putting too much soap for only two dishes & soap started coming out mid-wash. Needless to say, she was pissed. I felt good on the inside about it too.

  3. Group 6 psych 393

    I feel awful for the parent in the article. Although her restrictions for her children and their playmates were unorthodox and stringent, it was due to what seems like a major medical issue on her part. There is little a child can do in an instance like this, I'd imagine, but it's sad that she has to suffer and be punished for her illness.

    I suffer from relatively mild obsessive compulsive disorder, so the woman's issues from this story are familiar to me. Although mine is not as severe as hers, people will occasionally move the cards on a perfectly straight deck of cards SLIGHTLY off the stack, or crinkle a single piece of paper in a pile. Most people think it's funny and will claim that they
    didn't know it bothered me, especially when they wish to retaliate against me for a past transgression.

  4. This entry is a perfect example of passive aggressive due to developmental stage, domineering mother, and level four: hidden but conscious revenge. This way of being passive aggressive is typical in a situation where you have no power. The child found a way to get back at his friends domineering mother without getting into trouble. In this type of situation I wouldn’t know any other way to deal with an authoritarian mother. In most situations you would say to tell the mother how you feel but then she would probably not allow the child over her house again. There are really only two ways to deal with this situation since the child has no power at all, either be passive aggressive or just not saying anything.
    I have a similar story. When I was in elementary school I used to go over my best friend Megan’s house almost every day during the summer. We would usually play outside because her mother was a bit of a packrat and there wasn’t much room for us to play inside. Megan always complained about how cluttered her house was and that her mother would never throw anything away. One day when I came over Megan convinced me that it would be ok for us to move all the stuff from the play room into the living room so that we could play in there. I had a feeling her mother would not like us moving her stuff but I to wanted to be able to play with our toys inside. So we moved everything from the playroom to the living room. Her mother was so angry when she came home. Our excuse for moving it was that she had only told us that we could not throw those things away not that we could not move them. From then on her mother did not keep any of her clutter in the play room.

  5. Samira TofighabakhshOctober 14, 2009 at 11:33 AM

    I completely understand Robert's experience with obsessive compulsive, overbearing mothers. However, in my case, my own mother was the domineering, control freak. Whenever my brother and I would have friends over (which was a rare occasion since my mother was a very private and antisocial person), she would hound them from the minute they walked in the door. She made sure they took their shoes off, did not put their hands on the walls, did not enter the fancy living or dining room, did not leave the bathroom a mess, did not leave a crumb on the table after a snack, etc. I had one friend that seemed to do everything possible to disobey my mother. She never took off her shoes, she made the biggest mess at the kitchen table, and once even painted on our walls. That was the final straw for my mother. My friend was never allowed back into our house and from that point on; my brother and I were discouraged from bringing anyone into our house.

  6. This sort of reminds me of my own mother. My mother was never as strict as Dave's mother in this story, but when she organizes things, she likes them to be placed in an exact position that I think she can only see. She sometimes nudges objects placed on a desk that were never really out of place to begin with. She does this at work and in the home. So I will sometimes "re-nudge" them to a different position, because I know it frustrates her!