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Being passive-aggressive doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It’s a strategy we sometimes use when we think we don’t deserve to speak our minds, don’t know how to express our anger or we’re afraid to be honest and open. Passive aggression usually manifests itself through contradictions between how you feel inside (aggressive) and how you act (passive).
Here are a few tell-tale signs of passive aggressive behaviour.
Denying feelings of anger – Do you ever find yourself saying things like “I’m not mad”, “I’m fine” or “nothing” when you’re asked what’s wrong, whilst inside you are angry or resentful? Try admitting how you’re feeling and communicating in a non-judgemental and effective way to explain why you’re upset.
Withdrawing, sulking & pouting – Do you often give people the silent treatment? Do you believe that people should know when you’re upset or what they’ve done to upset you without you having to say? Do you tell yourself others are being unreasonable, cruel or selfish as you become angrier and angrier inside? Try not to withdraw from conflict or shut down with phrases such as “Fine, Whatever”. Chances are you’ll just leave other people hurt and confused.
Complying temporarily – Do you agree outwardly whilst your behaviour says otherwise? Agreeing to help then turning up late or purposefully doing a bad job is a classic passive aggressive trait. Think of the person at the meeting who outwardly offers support but then makes life difficult when it comes to completing the project or the partner who agrees to cook dinner but burns it in protest.
Victim behaviour – Do you often believe other people are just being perfectionists or have unfairly high standards? Do you spend a lot of time complaining about other people and their actions? If other people then become upset by our behaviour we’ll often respond with feigned shock, “Why are you getting so upset?”. Try confronting things head on, dealing with them, then moving on. There’s a lot of freedom in letting go of resentments.
Backhanded compliments – Do you catch yourself delivering back handed compliments? Things like, “You’ve done really well for someone with your education” or “You’re really pretty for a curvy lady”. If you’ve ever been at the receiving end of one of these you’ll know how hurtful they can be and, because of our social norms, people often don’t feel they can respond. Take a step back and try and catch yourself before you unleash. These types of comments often stem from unspoken anger, jealousy or intimidation.
Exacting hidden revenge – Hopefully most of us avoid anything too malicious but have you ever spotted a problem that will make someone else’s life difficult and not mentioned it? Covert and dishonest actions only serve to prolong the problems and intensify our feelings.
We’re often brought up to think that conflict is bad or maybe we’ve had a bad experience in the past and now avoid confrontation at all costs. But the truth is that some conflict can be healthy and helpful. If we don’t address our feelings of anger they can manifest in destructive, manipulative and confusing behaviours.
If you would like to discuss any of these issues further please do get in touch.