When someone finds it difficult to express frustration, anger, annoyance or dissatisfaction with words, they resort to passive-aggressive behavior – an indirect way of expressing feelings.
“Passive aggressive behavior is often learned in childhood and can generally be traced back to passive aggressive behavior displayed by a parent or other caregiver,” he says. Carla Marie Manley, a clinical psychologist.
Anyone can exhibit this behavior from time to time, but over time, prolonged passive aggressive behavior can erode trust and provoke negative reactions in others.
For people who are regularly passive-aggressive, learning to express emotions in a more productive way is an essential step in building and maintaining healthy, lasting friendships and love relationships.
The first step to getting rid of this behavior or learning how to deal with it better is to learn to recognize it in yourself or in another person. Here are seven examples of passive-aggressive behavior and how to best deal with a passive-aggressive person toward you.
1. Close a person completely and ignore
According to Manley, procrastination, the English term for cutting all communication, is one of the most toxic forms of passive aggressive behavior.
Telling someone that you need space and distance to sort out your feelings is not uncommon in difficult situations. But refusing to communicate without further explanation of the reason shows a certain neglect that can be very distressing.
Outside 2014 study It turns out that when one partner emotionally shuts down or withdraws in response to the other’s desires, it can cause physical and emotional damage. In the long run, it can also lead to a partner’s fear of broaching difficult topics, reduced intimacy and poor communication.
2. sarcastic comments
Another example of passive aggressive behavior is making sarcastic comments. “I call sarcasm ‘hidden hostility’ because it often comes across as frightening,” Manley says.
For example, someone might say, ‘Thank you so much for my wonderful birthday present’ and not be honest about how they really feel, like, ‘I’m disappointed that you didn’t think about my birthday.’
Passive-aggressive behavior is often rooted in a person’s lack of self-esteem and fear of conflict, confrontation, or rejection. Joshua ClaboClinical psychologist and behavioral scientist. “Rock allows anyone to convey unresolved frustration, anger, or disappointment without a confrontation.”
3. Pretend to agree
According to Clabeau and Manley, if someone verbally agrees to an idea they don’t agree with, and then reneges on that promise, this is a form of passive-aggressive behaviour.
Suppose a colleague is proposing a change to a project. You say it’s okay when it really isn’t, and you leave others complaining about it. “This is passive-aggressive,” Manley says. “Like using sarcasm, pretending to agree is usually a way to avoid disagreement.”
4. Blame others
“The tendency to blame someone else instead of taking responsibility for mistakes is a form of passive aggressive behavior,” Klapow says.
For example, make a casual comment about the fact that your partner is often late for work. In response, he or she says, “Well, if you don’t make such a mess in the house, I might walk out the door a lot.”
“People who communicate passively often play the role of the victim because it is difficult for them to admit their mistakes,” Manley says. “They can also be ruthless, righteous, and hold a grudge for years.”
“Another form of passive-aggressive behavior is intentional sabotage of someone’s project, relationship, or reputation,” Klapow says.
This can be done in a roundabout way, for example by spreading gossip or rumours, so as not to appear responsible for the damage. The behavior itself usually stems from a deep sense of insecurity.
In a study of college students, researchers concluded that passive-aggressive behavior may be linked to “internal insecurity about one’s self-esteem, especially toward those in power.”
6. Deliberate failure to take action
Deliberately violating agreements is passive aggressive behaviour. “Instead of saying they don’t want to do something, they don’t,” Klapow says.
For example, your roommate asks you to take out the trash. You say yes, but then leave the house and leave the job to the other person.
7. Making excuses
Suppose a friend asks you to help him move. You don’t actually want it, but instead of being honest, you say you have to work – which is not true.
If your friend asks if you’ll come the next day, you’re making another family commitment or another date.
“This excuse-driven behavior is passive aggressive because you avoid expressing your needs or wants,” Klapow says.
How do you deal with passive aggression?
It is important to learn how to deal with passive aggression, as it is very common. For example, Israeli doctors and nurses reported in Investigation in 2017 700 incidents of passive-aggressive behavior at work in six months.
You can deal with passive aggression in several ways:
- Not entering it: Sometimes the best answer, Manley says, is simply to ignore the behavior. If someone is out to get a response, you can prevent further reinforcement of the behavior by not paying attention to it at all.
- Point out inconsistencies in behavior: If someone says one thing and does another, you can ask for clarification without judging, Klapow says. For example: “You said you agreed, but then I saw that you sent a note against my proposal. Can you explain to me what happened?”
- Talk to someone calmly and respectfully: If passive-aggressive behavior becomes structural and destructive—such as chronic demeaning sarcasm—Manley recommends sharing what you’ve observed, how it affects you, and what you’d prefer to see. For example, you could say, “This comment came out so sarcastic and touched me. I’d rather have a friendly, honest conversation.”
These reactions can initially frustrate the passive-aggressive person, because they will likely not get what they want.
“Passive aggressive people regularly get angry or retaliate if a reasonable strategy is used against them,” Manley says. “But a passive-aggressive person who engages in self-development may be able to respond in a healthy way.”
It is important to remember that people who communicate in a passive-aggressive manner may not want to intentionally harm you at all. Klapow says they may act out of fear or lack communication skills.
How do you avoid being passive aggressive?
People who display passive-aggressive behavior may feel internal shame or even self-loathing about it. That’s why it’s important to “step back and take a good look at yourself” if you’re acting out passive-aggressive behavior, says Manley. This creates room for “self-reflection and improvement”.
Here are some tips to prevent this behavior:
- Consider the consequences: Keep in mind that what you’re trying to avoid is likely to get worse with passive-aggressive behavior, says Klapow.
- Be curious rather than defensive: If a partner, friend, or family member indicates passive-aggressive behavior to you, ask for constructive feedback on how to communicate more effectively, Manley recommends.
- Try to communicate firmly: Assertive communication is the opposite of passive aggressive communication. according to Mayo Clinic It can boost your confidence, help you overcome stress and create mutual respect. Start by taking a break to think about how you feel about something. Next, express your general feeling about the situation (“I’m not sure I totally agree”). Starting this way will make you feel safer to communicate directly.
- Seek professional help if you need it: Sometimes it can be difficult to break out of the passive-aggressive habits that have been your usual behavior for years, Manley says. Klapow says a professional can help you understand why you’re communicating this way and give you tips and tools for becoming more assertive.
Prevent damage to relationships
Passive aggressive behavior can arise from a fear of confrontation or rejection, from a lack of self-confidence or from stress. It can be very detrimental to personal or business relationships, but there are opportunities to learn more assertive communication strategies.
One way to deal with someone else’s passive-aggressive behavior is to respectfully express your surprise about it: Point out inconsistencies and ask questions about the behavior.
People who exhibit passive-aggressive behavior themselves should take time and space to reflect on comments about themselves and their emotional responses to problems. Help from a professional can also make a big difference in reducing passive aggressive behavior through healthy ways of communication.
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