So what is passive aggressive behavior?
Defined by Psychology Today as “a tendency to engage in indirect expression of hostility through acts such as subtle insults, sullen behaviour, stubbornness, or a deliberate failure to accomplish required tasks”.
Here are the 8 main signs of Passive Aggressive Behaviour:
1. The Silent Treatment/The Cold Shoulder/withholding intimacy
Deliberately and unreasonably not communicating with you. In personal relationships, the purpose of the silent treatment is often intended to keep you off balance, to imply that you “did something wrong,” and that you’re being punished. But won’t tell you directly what you did wrong, therefore giving you the impression of being disapproving of you as a person.
A variation of the silent treatment is to withhold love and affection. In this case, there is some communication, but the attitude and tone are curt and abrupt. Topics of conversation are superficial and unemotional. By withholding intimacy, the passive-aggressive sends the message that you have done something to displease her or him, and accordingly are now suffering the consequences*.
2. Saying “Yes” but Meaning “No”
This is one of the most common types of passive-aggressiveness in relationships, especially in situations where two people have known each other for some time, and one has given up trying to work through certain issues. Here, saying “yes” is simply a way to avoid argument and confrontation. They simply can’t be bothered any more. This is dangerous because, as the saying goes “the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference”. An indifferent partner is one that has basically lost the will to put in the effort to make a relationship work. The passive-aggressive really doesn’t mean it, and likely won’t follow-through.
3. Brooding/Simmering Resentment
Brooding can be defined as silent and prolonged unhappiness. Simmering resentment is anger unspoken and barely concealed. In both cases, the issues are not expressed and dealt with directly. When you inquire whether something is wrong, the passive-aggressive may deny the upset, and retort with curt phrases such as: “nothing!” or “I’m fine!” But the negative attitude, tone of voice, and emotion betray the truth.
Unlike the saying “yes” but not following through characteristic discussed earlier, here the passive-aggressive does perform the task – eventually. By deliberately stalling, forgetting, making excuses, and undermining, the passive-aggressive demonstrates indirectly that he or she really doesn’t want to do the work. By frustrating you with delay tactics, the passive-aggressive presumes power, and hopes that you’ll give up expecting so much.
5. Deliberate Negative Triggering
Sometimes a resentful passive-aggressive partner will purposely push your buttons by engaging in activities she or he knows you don’t like. Examples may include returning very late (without calling) after socializing, overspending, deliberately displaying unreasonable habits, or purposely engaging in contemptuous speech. Typically, these actions betray hostility about deeper issues not directly explored - the negative triggers are merely external symptoms of the passive-ingressive’s internal antipathy. For example, if it’s the job of one partner to wash the dishes after dinner, they’ll deliberately leave a mess because they know it will upset you.
Some passive-aggressives like to make critical remarks, often disguised as humour, to either express their hostility towards you, or their displeasure about a situation. By making you look bad, and getting you to feel bad, the passive-aggressive hopes to impose and maintain psychological superiority over you. When confronted about the sarcasm, the passive-aggressive will typically deny her or his hostility by saying: “Just kidding!” or “Can’t you take a joke?”
Acts of passive-aggressive sabotage are often intended to achieve a measure of power and/or revenge. In serious cases, they’re calculated to undermine your authority, confidence, reputation, success, and/or well-being. The subterfuge is performed clandestinely. Often you have little or no idea what’s going on - only to find out after the damage is done.
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Examples of passive-aggressive sabotage include negative gossip, social exclusion, backstabbing, two faced, mixed messages, negative or discomforting surprises, and deliberately falling-through on promises – all of which are at your expense.
8. Pretend Victimhood
Examples include exaggerated or imagined personal issues. Exaggerated or imagined health issues. Dependency. Co-dependency. Deliberate frailty to elicit sympathy and favour. Playing weak, powerless, or being a martyr.
Here, the passive-aggression is manipulation and exploit the partner’s good will, make the partner feel guilty in some way, sense of duty and obligation, or protective and nurturing instinct, in order to extract unreasonable benefits and concessions.
What causes P/A Behavior?
· It’s a coping strategy. They’ve never been taught to communicate their feelings directly.
· It can be born from having the expectation that they will be rejected if they attempt to communicate their needs to others directly.
· It’s a method they’ve created in order to control others by making the other person feel like they’re not good enough.
· Generally, they’ve usually witnessed a family member like one of their parents use it as a tactic against a more domineering family member.
· It comes from a feeling of powerlessness, or the belief that they won’t get their way or will be rejected if they use more direct forms to communicate their needs.
· This feeling usually stems from low self-esteem and a loss of self-confidence.
How to stop it
· Calmly call them out on the behavior, not in an attacking manner.
· If the perpetrator doesn’t have the ability to state their needs directly, you can teach them how to do so by speaking for them initially. Remember, the reason why they are P/A is because it’s a learned behavior, and these lessons need to be unlearned.
· Say to them “I’m hearing frustration in your voice, it’s ok to tell me what you really want”.
· If this is the first time they’ve heard you say these words to them they’ll probably respond that “everything’s fine”.
· This is where you’ll need to persevere. stating that you need them to communicate with you directly their needs, and to directly ask them what they need from you. Ask them “is this what you are trying to say you need from me? “Speak the words they are unable to speak”.
· Once again, maintaining a calm demeaner, even if your partner is beginning to lose it, is the key here.
· Over the course of time, they will eventually learn to trust in the process of direct communication.