How to Recognize and Stop Passive Aggressive Behavior Before It Destroys You

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You may have heard of passive-aggressive behavior but have only a vague concept of it. It’s a personality disorder characterized by subtle and covert negative acts to show defiance to requests and demands, but avoid direct confrontation. In the long-term, like all disorders, it has a destructive effect on our personal relationships, our careers and the quality of our lives in general. Hence, you should stop passive aggressive behavior.

stop passive aggressive behavior

People resort to passive-aggressive behavior for the following reasons:

An open display of negativistic behavior is not socially acceptable. It is unbecoming of us to rant and rave at our co-worker or partner or hurl insults and criticisms because we were taught that it’s not good behavior. So we ventilate our anger and hurt with subtle antagonistic acts.

Related reading: Chronic Anger: Its Consequences and How to Manage It

Passive-aggressive behavior is sugarcoated revenge.  In the workplace or in relationships, we vent our anger through indirect acts of animosity or resistance. We call in sick when we feel an officemate is dumping their duties on us. We act sullen at home and stonewall our partner rather than engage in a verbal spat. This is one way of implicitly exercising control and power over them.

We are trained as children not to be assertive. Harsh punishments, derision or ridicule from significant adults, the “brook no argument” type of parents and other family dynamics curb any tendency to speak out and we express our hostility through non-verbal means.

Adults can also turn to passive aggression as a way of self-protection. If they have been in a long-term relationship with a person who has explosive outburst of anger and violence, it’s safer to avoid a meltdown.

How can you tell if you have passive aggression?

You employ the silent treatment. In your relationship, there is clearly an issue you cannot agree on. Instead of discussing it, you keep silent. But deep inside, you resent having to give in, and you’re angry and hurt. At work, you intentionally ignore the co-worker you have an issue with, and avoid socializing in situations where the person is present.

“Never mistake my silence for weakness. No one plans a murder out loud.” Click To Tweet

You resort to sarcastic jokes and subtle insults. These can be in the form of caustic remarks or backhanded compliments. Examples of these are, “You’re really pretty even if you’re fat,” and “I didn’t expect you to get the job – Congratulations!”

You have a chronically morose disposition. Although you don’t explicitly say or show you’re angry or sad, it’s evident in your nonverbal conduct. You’re grumpy and sullen, and you give the impression you dislike your current company. You don’t join in the conversation, and you don’t laugh at the jokes. You don’t smile, and your behavior causes the people around you to be uncomfortable.

Related reading: How to Handle Difficult Conversations with Your Partner

You show passive resistance to carrying out routine tasks, at home or in the workplace. You procrastinate, make excuses, put the blame on others, deny your responsibility, or do not complete a task you started. In the office, you exclude the person you silently hate or resent from email chains, or conveniently forget to send a memo for a meeting.

Effects of your passive-aggressive behavior:

Your intimate relationship will gradually deteriorate. When there is a clash of opinions or desires, you don’t talk about it but give your partner the silent treatment, reply in monosyllabic words, ignore them or make funny jokes at their expense. Eventually, the love and affection will fade away. Left unresolved, it leads to perennial acrimony or divorce.

Your career will stagnate or suffer a setback because of your poor performance, inability to fulfill duties on time or at all, and your poor relationships with your co-workers or boss. When your peers climb up the corporate ladder and leave you behind, you become angry and resentful, and intensify your negativistic acts.

Your friendships dwindle, and your friends stay away from you because you always act sullen, and are constantly complaining and gossiping. Without your friends, you feel isolated and unwanted. Self-pity, depression and anger sets in.

How to stop passive aggressive behavior:

1.  Be aware that you have passive-aggressive behavior.

Check your actions against the signs. If you have more than half of them, you’re most likely one.

2.  List possible reasons and recent events that made you angry or hurt you, but you kept your emotions locked inside.

3.  Look at each upsetting situation from another angle and be objective about it.

4.  Learn to be assertive. Express your opinions and feelings in an honest and nonconfrontational manner.

5.  Reflect on your negative moods and disposition, and their effect on you and the people around you. Cultivate optimism and a happy attitude.

6.  Take accountability for your passive aggressive behavior instead of blaming the other person.

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