Confusing, frustrating, relationship-damaging, (falsely) empowering, (seemingly) effective – passive aggressive behavior is all of these things. Plus a lot more. Many of us gals (and men too) have used this masked way of expressing our anger at least once in our life. How many times have you given your significant other the silent treatment? Or do you remember when you received that sweet – yet subtly criticizing – note from your roommate about that one cup you forgot to wash? This is passive aggressive behavior. It's more difficult to recognize – and less unacceptable – than, say, pulling someone's hair out. But it's just as damaging. Why is it so widespread then? Let's find out!
You don't necessarily have to be a passive aggressive person to use passive aggressive behavior. Even if you typically communicate honestly and directly, in some situations, you simply feel that you can't handle a potential conflict, so you take the easy way out. Let's say on the only day when you finally have time to relax, your mother asks you to do something for her. You just don't have the power to say "no" to her so you promise you'll do it and then come up with endless excuses. All you want is some "me time" and to avoid a fight, so it seems more convenient this way.
Passive aggressive people often have problems trusting others. Because of this, they build a wall around them to guard them from getting too close to someone. If they feel they're becoming too attached, they may "punish" them using passive aggression. In romantic relationships, withholding sex is often one of these "punishing" methods. Also, a passive aggressive may often have sex, but will rarely make love.
Anger is one of the most natural human emotions. Yet, starting with childhood, many of us are taught that expressing anger is bad. So, due to social pressure, we learn to hide our angry feelings and squash honest expression of emotions. But the anger doesn't just fly away on a magic carpet. Thus, instead, we turn to alternative, covert ways of expressing it, most often through passive aggression.
Another one of the reasons for passive aggressive behavior can be fear of dependency. According to clinical psychologist Scott Wetzler, when you're afraid of being alone yet unsure of your autonomy, you fight your dependency needs by trying to control your significant other or other people important to you. You want them to think you don't depend on them, but somehow you find yourself closer than you would like to admit. As a consequence, your relationships become battlegrounds; you can only claim victory if you deny your need for support.
The temptation of getting revenge is huge and highly dangerous – and it most often leads to passive aggression. Passive aggressive behavior is ambiguous and difficult to detect, allowing you to get back at someone without them recognizing your hidden anger.
Do you remember how you reacted when your parents insisted to clean up your room and you really didn't feel like it? If you were like many of us, you probably sulked first, procrastinated second, and then shoved all your clothes in the closet and most other stuff under the bed. When mom became irritated with your procrastination, you feigned indignation: "I don't understand why you're angry. I was just about to clean up after finishing my homework". When dad scolded you because of the dirty clothes peeking out of the closet, you feigned despair: "Nothing I do ever pleases you, I'll never be good enough for you!" It's easy to rationalize such strings and behaviors to shift the blame.
By refusing direct communication and denying feelings of anger, passive aggressive people can often control others' emotional responses - which makes them feel powerful, something many of us long for even without knowing it.
Passive aggression may seem like the best and easiest solution in difficult moments, but it's unhealthy and, in the long run, highly destructive. Would you like to share any other reasons why we sometimes engage in such behaviors?
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