So many of us are not comfortable with expressing our anger or sharing what our needs are so we resort to passive aggressive behavior in an attempt to communicate what we are feeling or what we want. Problem is, this behavior does not get our needs met and it usually brings distance to a relationship rather than closeness. What is passive-aggressive behavior? A definition is a pattern of behavior where you where one reflects hostility or resentment through indirect means. The bottom line is that we do not feel that we can express ourselves directly or we do not know how too, but our feelings come out in other ways: procrastination, “forgetting”, sarcasm, not doing things well, talking behind people’s backs, etc. Some examples from my personal life are my mother, who always had a difficult time saying how she felt, would get sick or have a headache (like clockwork) when an event approached that but felt like she could ‘t say no. Passive aggression is not only about an inability to express anger, but also a more general message “I can not directly state what my needs/feelings are so I have to try to get them met/hear in other ways”. Often, the person learners through experience that their needs will not be met, or their feelings are not important- to change this it can be skill-building (in effect expressing ourselves) or deeper issues of “my needs are not important”. Most of us have displayed passive-aggressive behavior at some point in our lives and some of us use it on a regular basis! I have used avoidance as a coping mechanism, which can be very passive aggressive, depending on the circumstances.
A word of caution about sarcasm: Sometimes, not always, it’s a way to indirectly express how you feel, in usually a negative way that can harm the relationship. If your partner/ child/friend does not like your sarcasm, it’s probably a sign to tone it down. Here are some questions to reflect upon regarding expressing your feelings and needs:
– Is it difficult for you to express what your needs/feeling are
– Is conflict very difficult for you, and you prefer to avoid it?
– Do you use a LOT of sarcasm, and it’s not noticed and mentioned by others?
– Do you talk behind other’s backs a lot instead of directly telling the person what do you have an issue with?
– Do you often agree to do something, then find a reason to back out later (knowing that when you said yes, you really wanted to say no)?
-Are you often told by others that you procrastinate, or do jobs poorly on purpose?
What to do if you recognize that you have some passive-aggressive personality traits? Stay calm- many of us do! It’s great that you can NAME what the behavior is, acknowledge that it is related to not expressing our feelings/needs, make a commitment to yourself that you will make steps in letting your needs be known, even when it’s uncomfortable (and it will be very uncomfortable at first) in a direct honest way. Do you not know what would institute a direct and honest way of expressing yourself? Then get some books on communication and practice building those skills! If you think you have some deeply informed beliefs that your feelings/needs do not matter, you may benefit from individual counseling to explore/heal that part of you.
Related Article: Anger – A Letter to Myself