Unpacking the Complexities of Passive Aggressive Behaviour: Everything You Need to Know

by The Relationship Guy
December 9, 2022

Reading Time: minutes remaining

Passive aggressive behaviour is often seen as a way to avoid conflict or assert power in relationships. However, this behaviour can be more complicated than it seems. If you’re struggling to deal with someone who exhibits passive-aggressive tendencies, here’s what you need to know.

Introduction: Unpacking the Complexities of Passive Aggressive Behaviour

Passive aggressive behaviour is a complex psychological phenomenon that can manifest in various ways and have various outcomes.

It is frequently characterised by cooperative and agreeable behaviours intended to undermine the other individual or situation.

Passive aggressive behaviour is frequently used to avoid direct confrontation while expressing anger or frustration. It can be employed to avoid responsibility, manipulate others, and prevent conflict.

In this sense, passive aggressive behaviour fundamentally expresses power and control. And individuals who engage in passive aggressive behaviour are essentially attempting to maintain emotional and situational control.

However, they may also attempt to avoid direct confrontation with the person they are angry or frustrated with.

Unfortunately, that can lead to indirect and subtle forms of aggression, such as procrastination, sarcasm, and sulking.

We are also aware that the effects of passive aggressive behaviour can be highly detrimental to both the perpetrator and the victim.

For example, it can be emotionally draining for the person engaging in the behaviour, as they constantly attempt to keep their emotions in check and maintain control.

On the other hand, the receiver can also feel confused, frustrated, and helpless. They may not know how to respond to passive aggressive behaviour because it typically does not reveal the underlying issue.

Simply put, the indirectness of passive aggressive behaviour makes it complex.

The person engaging in the behaviour may be unaware of what they are doing or why they are doing it, making recognition and intervention challenging.

In addition, passive aggressive behaviour can be used to cover up more profound problems, such as anxiety or depression.

Passive Aggressive

As a result, it is essential to be aware of the signs of passive aggressive behaviour and any possible underlying causes. Only by having this knowledge is it possible to address the behaviour effectively and constructively.

What Does Passive Aggressive Mean?

As previously mentioned, passive aggression is a form of behaviour characterised by indirect resistance to the demands or requests of another person.

It is a form of covert hostility that occurs when someone expresses anger indirectly instead of directly confronting the target of their anger.

It is frequently viewed as a more socially acceptable method of expressing anger and obtaining one’s needs without openly expressing hostility.

Psychologytoday.com also defines passive aggression as a form of covert hostility in which individuals attempt to get their way without asserting themselves directly.

Additionally, psychologically speaking, it appears that passive aggression often stems from a person’s underlying feelings of helplessness and insecurity.

Thus,  people who engage in passive aggressive behaviour frequently feel powerless to assert their needs directly, opting instead to express their emotions indirectly. Typical manifestations include procrastination, performing subpar work on purpose, and avoiding confrontation.

However, passive aggression can also stem from unresolved childhood conflicts.

Suppose a child does not learn how to express their anger and frustrations in healthy ways as an adult.

Passive Aggressive

In that case, they may engage in passive aggressive behaviour, which can then have a negative effect on future relationships, as passive aggressive behaviour can cause tension and frustration in others.

In general, passive aggression is a form of behaviour that can impede relationships and leave individuals frustrated and resentful.

Therefore, in order to foster healthier adult relationships, it is essential to recognise and address passive aggressive behaviour early and without compromise.

What is Passive-Aggressive Behavior? What are Some of the Signs?

As previously stated, passive aggressive behaviour is a form of communication aiming to express negative feelings or emotions indirectly. This type of behaviour is typically subtle and difficult to identify, but it can be detrimental to interpersonal relationships.

Examples of typical passive aggressive behaviour include:

1. Silent Treatment

When someone is angry or upset with another person, they may use silent treatment to punish them without directly confronting them. This can be accomplished by ignoring emails, text messages, and phone calls and avoiding eye contact and conversation in person.

2. Sulking

Sulking is a form of passive-aggressive behaviour in which negative feelings are expressed in a very subtle manner. This includes actions such as heaving sighs, rolling their eyes, and making sarcastic remarks.

3. Procrastination

Passive aggressive behaviour can also manifest itself through the use of procrastination. To procrastinate means to put off doing something until the last minute or to do something that could have been done earlier. This can be done to get back at someone, as a way to keep someone in line, or to show that you don’t like something.

4. Backhanded Compliments

The use of backhanded compliments is another marker of passive aggressive behaviour. They consist of making a compliment-sounding comment intended to be rude and offensive or dismissive. Examples include, “That dress looks nice…for your age” or “That’s a good idea…if we were 20 years old.”

5. Criticizing Others

Criticizing others is often indicative of passive aggressive behaviour because it is a subtle way to express disapproval or frustration without having to say it directly. This can be accomplished by nitpicking, complaining, or making negative remarks about another person behind their back.

As mentioned previously, passive aggression can be difficult to recognise due to its indirect nature; however, it is essential to recognise the signs of passive aggressive behaviour in order to appreciate how it affects others.

As the preceding examples demonstrate, passive aggressive behaviour is frequently characterised by subtle expressions of anger or hidden hostility. It can take on a variety of forms, including sarcasm, procrastination, and refusal to cooperate.

Passive Aggressive

And we know that this type of behaviour can significantly negatively impact relationships and work environments, leading to increased feelings of frustration, resentment, and helplessness in those around the passive aggressive person.

As a result, it’s crucial to learn how to deal with passive aggressive behaviour as relationships can never fully function healthily while it’s frequently present.

With that in mind, let’s look at some examples of passive aggression in romantic relationships specifically.

Passive-Aggressive Examples in Romantic Relationships

In a romantic relationship such as a marriage, passive-aggressive behaviour can be highly damaging and cause great tension and mistrust. This type of behaviour can end up causing the other person to feel resentment and confusion, making it difficult to resolve issues and build trust within the relationship.

One example of passive-aggressive behaviour in a marriage is withholding information from the other partner.

For instance, if one partner is angry about something but chooses not to discuss it with the other, this could be considered passive aggression. In addition, withholding physical affection or avoiding spending time with a partner can also be markers of passive aggression.

Another example of passive aggressive behaviour in a marriage is when one spouse undermines the other’s ideas or opinions. That may involve diminishing or mocking the other person’s ideas, talking down to them, or not taking their opinions seriously.

That form of behaviour can often create a power imbalance in the relationship and make the other person feel disrespected and unheard.

Passive Aggressive

In a marriage, passive-aggressive behaviour can also take the form of “silent treatment.” That occurs when one partner completely shuts down communication with the other, refusing to discuss their feelings or address any potential tension-causing issues.

That type of behaviour can be especially harmful because it can leave the recipient feeling rejected and alone.

So, as you can see from the above, passive-aggressive behaviour in a marriage can be highly detrimental and must not be ignored.

Therefore, both partners must communicate openly about their emotions and work together to resolve any issues in the relationship.

Defeat Passive-Aggressiveness with Compassionate Assertiveness

Passive aggressiveness is a common problem in relationships, and it can be challenging to deal with, as has been mentioned multiple times.

Fortunately, “compassionate assertiveness” is a common strategy for overcoming passive aggressive behaviour.

Compassionate assertiveness is essentially a strategy for responding with understanding and respect to passive-aggressive behaviour while also establishing firm boundaries.

It is a communication style that combines assertiveness with empathy and understanding. It involves setting boundaries, expressing your feelings and needs directly and respectfully, and being considerate of the feelings and needs of others.

However, compassionate assertiveness is not as easy as it sounds because it requires self-awareness, self-control, and an awareness of how one’s words and actions may affect others.

And this can be challenging for many individuals.

However, compassionate assertiveness has the potential to help you build stronger relationships and create win-win circumstances, so it is worth exploring.

Therefore, it is essential first to recognise passive aggressive behaviour when you observe it.

As you’ve discovered, this may involve snarky remarks, sarcastic remarks, or procrastination.

Once you identify the behaviour, you must maintain your composure and avoid becoming defensive. That will help you respond constructively to the situation.

Next, it is essential to confront the problem head-on.

Use “I” statements and avoid assigning blame to the other person.

If you’re experiencing passive aggressive behaviour, expressing your frustration and asking the other person for help finding a solution that works for both of you is essential.

Lastly, be sure to establish and adhere to boundaries.

This fundamental principle is extremely useful in marriage, friendships, and professional relationships.

Let the other party know which conduct is unacceptable and why (or why not).

During this stage, it is also essential to remind yourself of your own worth and value and practise self-care, as it is easy to sacrifice your values to maintain harmony.

Keep in mind that responding to passive-aggressiveness with compassionate assertiveness can help create a healthier and more productive relationship, despite the fact that it may be initially painful when attempting to improve things.

With patience and tolerance, however, you can work together to find solutions accommodating both parties.

Conclusion

In conclusion, passive-aggressive behaviour is often a complex, difficult-to-identify and-manage behaviour.

It is frequently rooted in deeper issues and must be addressed with careful understanding and effort.

And people who engage in passive-aggressive behaviour may benefit from therapy or counselling to learn how to communicate their emotions and needs more appropriately.

The most important thing to remember is that passive-aggressive behaviour can be harmful and should not be tolerated.

So if you recognise this behaviour in yourself or another individual, addressing it and encouraging healthier relationships is essential.

Although challenging, it is possible to learn to express yourself honestly and respectfully and to develop healthier, more fulfilling relationships with the proper support and understanding.

About the author 

The Relationship Guy

Gideon Hanekom is the founder of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a top-50 relationship blog (2021) and top-100 marriage blog (2021) which focuses on providing healthy relationship advice about love and life. He earned a Master's degree in theological studies before training as a professional counsellor and hypnotherapist (DipProfCouns., DipMSHT.) almost 10 years ago. He completed a graduate diploma in Psychology and is currently pursuing postgraduate Psychology studies at Massey University. He has been married to his wife for over sixteen years and is the dad of two children. His articles have been published on Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

more Related posts