Have you ever had someone go belly-up when you asked them to do something?
They might tell you they’ll follow-through, and they might even make some meager attempt at action. But ultimately the thing doesn’t get done — or doesn’t get done right.
Or maybe you’ve been in a conflict with someone, and rather than addressing the issue directly, they pout or act sullen.
These are examples of passive-aggressive behavior — a strange sort of non-action powered by an assortment of negative emotions, motivations, or downright hostility.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand passive-aggressive behavior — not that I haven’t used it myself on occasion. But I truly believe it is the bottom-dweller of behavior. It’s the skulking, cowardly, manipulative way to get what you want or get out of doing what you don’t want. It is the ultimate in avoidance and obfuscation.
So What Is Passive Aggressive Behavior?
Passive aggressive behavior can manifest in many ways but has the common feature of non-verbal negativity, resistance, and confusion. In relationships, it is a form of emotional abuse that is insidiously destructive to open and honest communication.
Frequently is rears its ugly head in the form of procrastination, learned helplessness, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or purposeful failure to handle requested tasks.
Other common passive-aggressive examples include:
- Being ambiguous or speaking cryptically to create insecurity or confusion or to hide one’s own insecurities.
- Making chronic excuses for lack of follow-through or poor performance.
- Creating drama or chaotic situations.
- Procrastinating at the expense of others.
- Being chronically late or forgetting things in order to control or punish.
- Avoiding intimacy through anger or negativity.
- Using guilt or sulking to punish or gain attention.
- Blaming others for mistakes or conflict.
- Creating intentional obstructions to punish or get one’s own way.
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- Being argumentative, critical, or resentful to punish or get one’s own way.
- Being unresponsive or non-communicative to avoid discomfort or conflict.
- Withholding kindness, love, or actions (such as sex or favors) to punish.
- Sabotaging (either overtly or covertly) the efforts or relationships of others.
Why Do People Use Passive Aggressive Behavior?
Nearly all of us have resorted to passive-aggressive behavior at some point. We’ve all pouted, play the guilt card, or given the silent treatment on occasion.
When we feel hurt or angry, the child in us will emerge, and rather than throw a full-blown temper tantrum, we try to sooth ourselves with back-door naughty behavior.
However, you may have encountered someone in your life who regularly resorts to passive-aggressive behavior. They have very few skills at healthy communication or dealing with conflict. Every hurt or angry feeling is handled with subterfuge.
These behaviors almost always stem from a childhood environment in which the child did not feel safe to express his or her emotions or frustrations.
It could have been a situation where the parents were addicted to drugs or there was verbal, physical, or emotional abuse. Perhaps there were parents who were controlling or excessively punitive — or even physically or mentally ill.
Or it simply could have been a scenario in which the parents conducted their own lives through passive-aggressive habits.
Families in which the honest expression is not permitted or encouraged for any reason ultimately teach their own children to repress and deny true feelings. The children learn to resort to passive aggression to express pain and frustration.
Sadly, children who sugarcoat or mask their hostility and pain may never evolve beyond this behavior. Because they never learned coping strategies or skills to express themselves authentically, they grow into adults who harbor vindictive intent behind seemingly harmless attitudes or behavior.
How Do You Deal With A Passive-Aggressive Person?
- Recognize and understand passive-aggressive behavior when you see it. Sometimes it is so insidious that you can feel confused or at fault. But once you recognize a pattern of this behavior, accept that you are not to blame.
- Create healthy boundaries for yourself so you aren’t manipulated or taken advantage of by a passive-aggressive person. Call out dishonesty or rudeness.
- Refresh your own communication skills so that you can respond to passive-aggressive behavior with maturity and honesty.
- Calmly communicate your desire for authentic behavior and actions and ask your partner, spouse, friend, or loved one to work on a new way of dealing with pain and conflict. Suggest coaching or counseling if appropriate.
- Be understanding of the circumstances that created the passive-aggressive behavior. Most of it is based in emotional pain and misplaced anger.
What If You See Passive-Aggressive Behavior In Yourself?
- Look back at your childhood and try to recognize the cause of these behaviors in yourself. Understanding the cause goes a long way in healing the reaction.Try to forgive your parents for their lack of understanding or courage.
- Examine the impact your behavior has on your relationships and on your own self-esteem. Recognize that these negative behaviors only hurt you and push others away.
- Accept complete and total responsibility for your actions, behaviors, mistakes, and failures.
- Learn healthy and acceptable communication skills and techniques. Learn appropriate ways to channel and express anger and emotional pain. A counselor or coach can help you with this.
- Address problems and issues directly, quickly, and honestly. Avoidance or resistance almost always prolongs anguish and makes it worse.
- Learn to accept yourself and your feelings as valid and worthy. If you weren’t allowed to express feelings as a child and never felt heard, you may not feel confident about opening yourself up and living authentically. You have a right to open self-expression.
Loving and supportive relationships are the fabric of a happy and fulfilled life. And healthy communication and mature behavior are the essential elements of all successful relationships.
If passive-aggressive behavior plays a role in any of your relationships, I encourage you to place it in the spotlight so that it can be healed and transformed by awareness and understanding.