Passive Aggressive

Passive Aggressive


We’ve all had times when we’ve been coerced into doing something and in order to be polite, we just don’t argue about it. Yet at the same time, if we are not honest with others about our feelings, it can turn into passive aggressive behaviors. But how do we know if we’re just being polite or if we are being passive aggressive?

Being passive aggressive is a way for someone to subtly and indirectly show their anger at something without having to directly address it. For example, you may ask a colleague to help you finish a presentation as you are running out of time. The colleague may agree to help and in some cases, may even seem excited about providing assistance. Yet, you find that over time, he keeps missing deadline after deadline. There’s no real reason or excuse other than “I’m so sorry – I got busy with other stuff” and you’re now left scratching your head and wondering what happened. What may have happened is that your colleague didn’t really want to help, but instead of just letting you know that directly, he’s telling you very indirectly and doing so in a way that would sabotage your project.

When Passive Aggressive Behaviors Become Unhealthy

We’ve all heard the statement, “if you have nothing to say, don’t say anything at all” and there have been times we’ve all been told “Don’t make waves!  Just go along to get along”. In some situations, this is good advice. We all have to compromise at times in order to get along or to accomplish a goal. If you’re working on a big project at work, you may not like the work assigned to you, but you know it’s important and outside of this project, you really love your work. So you knuckle under and do the work that you don’t like because you know it’s best for the entire team.

A person who is passive aggressive would probably also agree to go along with the work assigned, but would do several additional things: He would find ways to make sure he didn’t get his work done correctly and he would start building anger and resentment over the work requested. If he does turn something in, it would either not meet the requirements of what you’re asking, although it would be close enough to make you wonder if you explained it well, or what he turned it would be too late to be of much help. In any case, he would probably show enthusiasm for the project and would not make any objections to the workload, so you are all led to believe he would do his job. The end result, however would be that everyone else would have to pitch in and do more work to make up for his not meeting the commitment.

Passive aggressive behavior is really a way for someone to show their anger without having to actually address the issue that causes the anger. This person would prefer to avoid direct confrontation and will shy away from understanding their own emotions or opening up to others truthfully.

How Passive Aggressive Behaviors Affect the Family

There is a story about the mother-in-law who went to visit her perfect son and his wife, who she thought was not good enough for her perfect son. She walked into the house and gave everyone a big welcome hug. When she got to her daughter-in-law, she said, “Well sweetheart! You look wonderful today! What have you done different?” The implication is, of course, that the daughter-in-law usually does not look wonderful. The mother-in-law used a very sly form of passive aggressive behavior to very subtly insult her daughter-in-law. If she was ever called out for it, she could always claim that that’s not “really” how she meant it and her daughter-in-law must just be super sensitive. In any case, what the mother-in-law is showing is her anger, but doing so in a way where she would not have to actually address her anger or do anything to fix it.

Keeping up this type of relationship can do immeasurable damage over the years. The daughter-in-law may start to feel insecure and depressed, even though she can’t really pinpoint any “legitimate” proof that her mother-in-law doesn’t like her. Passive aggressive behavior can definitely harm the person who engages in it, but is also hurtful to everyone around them.

How Therapy Can Help

Therapy is an absolute recommendation not only for those who engage in passive aggressive behavior, but also for those who have to deal with the passive aggressive behavior. Both parties that have to deal with this behavior may also have to heal from it. The person engaging in the behaviors could use counseling and those who are on the receiving end may benefit from support therapy. In any case, successful treatment not only addresses the underlying issues of anger, but also helps provide ways to react more appropriately to others. The end result is a much better relationship with honest, constructive communication.

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