People react quite often to my articles about passive aggression with questions of how to deal with it, whether they recognize it in themselves or in others. Passive aggressive behavior is common among adolescents. They feel misunderstood, may have a tendency to be brutally honest, don’t do things because we expect them to do. They want to act “independently”, but are not able to free themselves from the dominant parent or other adults who they still have to obey. This behavior creates frustration on both sides.
But it is not only the adolescents. Passive aggressive behavior is common between partners, neighbors or even work colleagues. These are the elements of such behavior: ignorance, slander, spiteful acts, sloppy work, delays, talking behind someone’s back, sarcastic remarks, etc.
Passive aggression is typical for people who are close to someone or even in a dependent relationship where one enforces its needs through strength or superiority and the second feels unappreciated, misunderstood or unnecessary, but cannot leave the relationship or change the energy in it.
How to fight passive aggression, if we recognize it in our behavior?
• An important step is to recognize the signs of passive aggression and have a desire to work on ourselves. For passive aggressors, it is common to see the fault in others. They feel that others do not understand them. They think acting differently is not a choice. Often they are under pressure from the people surrounding them, which they cannot handle, they feel cornered, threatened.
• Work on your self-esteem. Passive aggressive people are often those who are not too confident and they are trying to convince others of their superiority, manipulate them, hurt them, return to them the perceived injustice. Paradoxically, they may let themselves be manipulated or abused and are unable to break free from the overpowering person.
• Learning to communicate in an effective way. Passive aggressive person should learn to communicate in a way that will be valuable, to show respect to themselves and to others. These include clear and understandable formulation of needs, humor that does not offend others, the ability to reject others without guilt, feeling empathy, acceptance of different opinions, etc. Instead of being ignorant or revengefull, such an individual should learn to respond appropriately and immediately, without exaggerated or suppressed emotions. They should learn to cooperate with others, as well as stay distant from a person that has long disregarded their needs and wishes (children gaining of independence from their parents, breaking free from narcissistic individuals who are prone to manipulation…)
• Learn to distinguish themselves from others without their demeaning. Devaluation of others is often the result of passive aggressive behavior. Person feels attacked or threatened and does not know how to act otherwise than defend in a passive or in an openly aggressive manner. It may not be about physical harm, but their values, beliefs, self-image or feelings may be threatened. Passive aggressive people often regress to the previous developmental stages – behave childishly. An example may be a spouse, which instead of standing up and stopping their wife’s verbal attack in person, rather ignores her attitude at that time and slander her in front of friends or “forget” to pick up the kids from school. Passive aggressive individuals rather take revenge instead of solving problems right away.
Passive aggression in others.
Whether you have a partner, father, colleague or class mate who shows signs of passive aggression, I’m sure you are wondering what to do in such a case. First of all, you cannot change their behavior unless they want to change it by themselves. On the other hand, you can do several things that will make your life easier.
• Identify the signs of passive aggression which are bothering you and tell it to the partner. For example, if you don’t like sarcastic remarks about your character or intelligence, is good to refuse this behavior in the very beginning. “I do not like this kind of humor, I would appreciate if you don’t joke this way.” If you let your partner to do so, stopping him later will be far worse. As people grow up they are accustomed to some patterns of behavior from their family so it is possible that our partner may find perfectly fine behavior that is uncomfortable for you.
• Try to show sympathy and understanding. Passive aggressive individuals feel that no one cares about them and that no one takes them seriously. It can significantly ease communication, if you show interest in their opinions and listen to them carefully. In this case, it will reduce stress and frustration and open some space for dialogue where you can agree on a common solution. If the passive aggressive individual is involved in the decision, it is likely that they will actively work towards the decision’s goal.
• Passive aggressive behavior is often triggered by a directive manner of conduct that requires absolute obedience and subordination, where there is no room for discussion. Try to avoid such an approach. Everyone deserves to know why they need to do this or that and how they can make their own contribution. If such a people see that you, unlike the others, believe in them and not treat them as children, it is possible that they will not want to disappoint you.
• Try to keep a distance from such individuals. Since the communication with passive aggressive people may be exhausting, it is possible that it would be easier to keep the distance from them. Especially if it is, for example, a colleague who sabotages our work, who is often late or cancels at the last minute on agreed things. Never continue an argument that passive aggressive individuals begin. It won’t lead to a satisfactory outcome. They only try to make others suffer as they do. And if their behavior triggers anger in someone, they act as very surprised, although they did it for this purpose in the first place.
Whether you recognize passive aggressive behavior in yourself or in your loved ones, do not take the behavior of others too personally. If you will, instead of childish insults and effort to be superior, treat others with respect and dignity, it is likely that they will act in the same way with you.