Passive aggressive behaviour is an expression of internalised anger or frustration. It is not direct, but indirect or subtle. It can be a coverup for people who are and have suffered from feeling out of control or their feelings have been undermined when they were growing up. Deep down there is a level of sadness that is difficult to recognize or express. Passive-aggressive behaviour is a defensive mechanism or coping strategy to avoid feeling vulnerable or showing fear. It is in fact a cover-up to avoid opening up, being honest with oneself and feeling vulnerable but also being anxious about direct confrontation.
It can often cause misunderstandings and conflicts in relationships because one or both parties in the relationship (be it work related or ‘of the heart’) aren’t able to express themselves effectively.
Passive aggressive behaviour includes saying sarcastic demeaning comments, repeatedly sulking or getting the ‘hump’, using emotional outbursts and blame to control the outcome of a situation, being over judgemental and complaining behind others’ backs, withdrawing respect or being deliberately inconsiderate. It can prohibit intimacy, and create an environment where one or more parties have to ‘walk on eggshells’ in order not to promote displeasure in the passive-aggressive partner. It can be challenging to confront the person whose behaviour is passive-aggressive as discussing it may incur more malaise for the wounded party. Withdrawing to avoid provoking the passive-aggressive partner, however, can cause more issues of miscommunication between parties; patterns of behaviour begin to emerge creating a further wedge between them.
Frequently, we tend to be less sympathetic to people expressing passive aggression. Sufferers may not even be aware that what they are doing is a form of passive aggression and may be surprised to learn that their behaviour comes into this category. But this does not mean that the behaviour is less destructive in the long run for many people. Fortunately, no one needs to suffer because passive aggression can be helped.
If you want to stop being passive-aggressive, here are a few steps you can take:
- If you suspect you have a tendency to behave in any of the ways described above or you are a victim of passive aggression and want it to stop, first ask, what it is you are unhappy with (either in the past or present).
- Next, identify the cause of your anger or frustration. Is there a specific event, person or situation that is causing you to feel angry or frustrated but you don’t know what to do about it? Understanding the root cause of your feelings can help you address the issue more effectively.
- See if you can communicate directly and quickly after a triggering event. Instead of expressing your feelings indirectly through passive-aggressive behaviour, try to communicate directly and openly with the person you have a conflict with. This can help to reduce misunderstandings and resolve the issue more effectively but may take practice finding the right words and saying them without getting upset.
- A long-term goal is to practice assertiveness. Assertiveness involves expressing your thoughts, feelings, and needs in a direct and respectful way. Practice assertive communication skills to help you express your needs and boundaries effectively.
- If you find that you are struggling to manage your anger or any of these steps or if your passive-aggressive behaviour is causing problems in your relationships, that are too scary to cope with on your own, reach out. I can help you identify and heal from the underlying causes of your behaviour, reduce the triggers and live each day in balance.
Lucy Still 07816325196