Passive aggressive behavior can take many forms.
Generally speaking it’s best described as a non-verbal aggression, that will manifest in negative behaviors.
It’s present when someone is angry at someone else, but will not or cannot tell them.
Communication always has a good chance of resolving any conflicts. But when there isn’t a clear line of verbal communication the problem is likely to escalate.
People who are being passively aggressive will not communicate openly, and honestly.
Instead they bottle up the emotions. Putting up walls, shutting off verbally. Shooting angry looks, frowning, and making it obvious in other ways they are angry or upset.
It usually involves being difficult around other people who try to mediate too. Making it an even larger, more uncomfortable problem.
A person can show this passive aggression in two ways:
- By being conceited about the issue and not discussing it or making it obvious, or
- By making it blatantly obvious and being outwardly blatant.
When someone is being conceited about their passive aggression it is not always obvious. They can put a great deal of effort into hiding their emotions.
But underneath they are becoming more and more angry. Thus the term ‘passive aggressive’. It can lead to the person being manipulative and spiteful from a distance.
It can also been seen as emotional abuse. In relationships it’s a very corrosive emotion, very difficult to deal with without external help. The lack of communication really damages a relationship.
People who are passively aggressive are usually harboring a number of other negative emotions and problems. The failure to communicate shows a lack of understanding and maturity. Often leading to an explosion when kept inside.
If this is sounding familiar don’t be too alarmed. We all struggle to deal with our emotions on occasion. It doesn’t mean you are a passive aggressive person.
However, if you know someone who is being passive aggressive, act with caution around them. It can lead to volatile and unpleasant situations.
6 Reasons People Use Passive Aggressive Behavior
It’s Socially Unacceptable to Have Anger Outbursts
No one can say they have never been angry. It’s a normal behavior in humans, and something we all learn to deal with in different ways as we grow up. Some of us better than others, depending on a number of social factors.
Parents, carers and other role models during our development all tell us anger is a negative emotion. That we should be angry. Most of us are aware of the negative stigma due to this and will avoid public outbursts.
It’s Easier to Be Passively Aggressive than Confrontational
Ever been told the following old adages, ‘bite your tongue’, ‘if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all’? This can be valuable advice in some instances, but counter-productive in other situations.
Skills like open communication, emotion management, assertiveness, and building relationships are important to a person developing. They are building blocks in our overall development and help us function socially.
That being said, we are not born with these skills. They need to be taught and nurtured. While in contrast, negative behaviors such as passive aggression show a lack of social development and immaturity.
People Enjoy Getting Revenge
A large part of passive aggression is the persons desire to get revenge on someone. With this method of aggressive behavior used to hide the aggressive from others. This is common in office politics when it’s not acceptable to be open about your aggression.
In the workplace someone will show their contempt by not being a proactive part of the team. Often doing the bare minimum, so they are not doing anything ‘wrong’.
This is a classic passive aggressive approach. The person is not putting themselves out there to be reprimanded themselves. Yet they are causing problems and disruption by not helping, and even being disruptive.
Passive Aggressive Behavior Can Be Advantageous
People who use passive aggression are not always angry people. In more cases than not, you will have not seen them display anger. They may choose to use passive aggression to their advantage when needed.
Another typical example is the workplace. I have personally seen a work based disagreement bring out the worst in someone. A person who is very calm and emotionally sound in their own environment can become a different person at work.
This is where passive aggression can work to their advantage, so they choose to use it. It makes a lot more sense than being confrontational and risking an argument.
People Rationalize Passive Aggression
I’m sure you know all too well that rationalizing something makes it seem OK to the person in question. This applies to people being passive aggressive. They often find ways to justify their actions, even though they are causing distress and annoyance to others.
People who act in a passive aggressive manner are typically unable to stand up to themselves and look at the situation rationally. Otherwise they would find a sensible resolve, right?
When confronted, the person in question will usually find a way to blame others. Thus putting themselves in the role of victim.
Passive Aggression Can Be a Powerful Tool
When used properly by a devious individual, passive aggression can be a powerful tool. By this I don’t mean in a good way, a powerful tool for the worse.
By taking into account all the of above discussed, a person can; justify their actions by putting themselves in the role as victim, sabotage the success of others, cause a toxic and disruptive environment, and cause upset among others.
The person usually gets a great deal of satisfaction in seeing others suffer, usually while not being completely aware who is to blame. It’s an act that gives them a sense of power.
In the short term, these behaviors allow the person to carry out their little games and get some satisfaction. In the long term it can be incredibly destructive having a person behaving like this as part of a team, a group, or a member of a family.
If you think, or know someone is behaving in a passive aggressive manner towards you, act with caution.
There is clearly something upsetting them, and you do not want to make it worse. The best chance of resolving the situation is to find a way to open up communication.
Another way to neutralize the aggression is to make them aware that you know exactly what’s going on. But do so in a non-confrontational way.
It’s a really unfortunate circumstance when someone chooses to act in this way. Being aware of their motivations will go a long way to helping you understand them, and hopefully find a way to resolve the situation.
Phil lives in England, UK, and has around 20 years experience as a professional life, career and executive coach. He started this blog to help others find and define their own self development journey. Blogging about a wide range of topics to help facilitate a better future.