The Inherent Aggression in Passive-Aggressive Behavior

It can be annoying, confusing, disheartening, infuriating, and upsetting all at the same time.

Many people practice passive-aggressive behaviors.

What IS the meaning of passive-aggressive? According to Dictionary.com:

For example, I had an ex-girlfriend who would get mopey, her tone would be low and lacking in its usual sparkle, and she’d act obviously unhappy. When asked, “What’s wrong?” the response tended to be a long-suffering sigh, followed by, “Nothing.”

Now I found myself trying to guess what the hell was bothering her, and if it was something I did (or did not) do.

Chances are, along the way, you have encountered passive-aggressive behavior from someone. I think this, from Psychology Today, is an excellent explanation:

I can understand how this may be unintentional…however, what I have noticed over the years is that there is inherent aggression in passive-aggressive behavior.

The keyword is passive. Passive is indirect. As such, aggressive behavior being displayed is indirect. I know that for some people this is a defense mechanism. That’s where unintentional passive-aggression comes from.

For others, though, it’s not a defense mechanism, it’s much more a means of manipulation. The target of this behavior is now put in a position of trying to not just understand but potentially correct an issue.

Aggression versus passive aggression

First, it really needs to be stated here that this is not about physical aggression. This is mental and emotional aggression. The difference is huge because the impact of physical aggression tends to be immediate, while mental/emotional can both take longer to be fully effective, and tends to linger for a longer time.

Mental and emotional aggression tend to be extremely similar. They differ, however, in the targeting. Simply put, mental aggression attacks thought, emotional aggression attacks feeling. For that reason, though, they can be one-in-the-same.

Such aggression tends to be obvious in approach. It looks like this:

· Yelling or shouting at a person out of anger, frustration, and the like

· Hurling insults

· Obvious passion in tone

· Expressing how you feel directly

· Walking away to forestall, end, or otherwise prevent escalation

These are just a few examples. All of them are direct and have rather clear intent behind them.

Passive aggression, however, is utterly indirect. It takes a lot of similar mental/emotional attacks but is less obvious. Further, it also can be mistaken for something else, and as such can lead to escalation all-too-quickly.

Passive aggression can look like this:

· Avoiding eye contact during conversation

· Excessive sarcasm

· Crying

· Claiming nothing is wrong when something obviously IS

· You are being subtly insulted by the other person

It is important to note that these behaviors are NOT always a matter of being passive-aggressive. Sarcasm, for example, can simply be a deflection or humor or a tone-changer. These become passive-aggressive when they demand to be addressed.

Crying, for example. If there has been hurt caused, crying may be an obvious emotional response. But when you cannot recognize the hurt or are otherwise confused about the cause it may be emotional manipulation.

That, overall, is the gist of the inherent aggression of passive-aggressive behavior.

Being mentally and emotionally manipulated

When I was much younger, I tended to be passive-aggressive in my behavior. It was, I realized later, emotional manipulation on my part.

Some of this was the result of examples I had during much of my early life. Certain members of my family have extreme passive-aggressive tendencies. They run the gamut from the unintentional to the mentally and emotionally manipulative. Because this is what I saw, it was how I believed things should be.

My passive-aggressive behaviors tended to be obfuscation. I would say something misleading in order to keep the other-person moving the direction I wanted them to go. It was manipulative of me, but it was how I thought people behaved.

Years later I came to recognize this for what it is. Though I still sometimes will default to passive-aggressive behavior, I actively work on being mindful in order to not manipulate my friend/coworker/loved one/etc.

When you know someone is using this sort of behavior to manipulate you to their preferred way for you to be thinking and/or feeling, it can be extremely upsetting. Even if they may not necessarily be doing this maliciously, recognizing that you are being manipulated feels pretty lousy.

For some people, this is what they know. For any number of reasons, they are not aggressive in their tendencies, specifically when it comes to expressing their feelings. This gets even more complicated when their feelings will impact how someone else feels. So to avoid direct confrontation by being aggressive, they resort to passive-aggression.

This, however, can turn ugly because of its potential to lead to escalation.

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What is escalation?

Let me give you an example. The following conversation is how passive-aggressive behavior can escalate to unpleasant levels.

Now you wind up in an argument because, rather than be direct about what was going on, the other person has manipulated you into a much more involved and potentially convoluted situation.

Escalation could have been avoided with the following conversation example.

No further escalation occurs.

Yes, I recognize that is a broad generalization of this, but I think it still illuminates how the inherent aggression in passive-aggressive behavior manifests.

Working with or working-out passive-aggressive behavior

Because passive-aggressive behavior is frequently not malicious, and may even be unintentional overall, working with it may be your only option.

This is because unless a person recognizes that they are being passive-aggressive and chooses to work on not behaving that way, they won’t change. Period. You cannot change someone and how they behave. Only someone who desires to change can and will.

You, on the other hand, can change yourself. Thus, if YOU tend towards passive-aggressive behavior, you can change it. That is if you desire to change it, and take action to make that happen.

When it is another person, you have to recognize their passive-aggressive behaviors. Working out that they may be emotionally and/or mentally manipulating you means you either have to choose to accept this and do what you can to forestall escalation; explain to the other person how the behavior makes you feel, and if they desire to change help them do so; or walk away from the person and situation if you can.

When it’s a family member or a boss or co-worker who is passive-aggressive, you may have no choice but to accept it. The best way to do so is to be alert for it, and do what you can to forestall escalation.

Sometimes you have to either accept that you are in the wrong, even if you do not feel that you are, or use your own logic and reason to get to the endpoint prior to escalation.

Avoiding escalation can prevent additional hurt feelings between both parties. This is because responding to passive-aggressive behavior and the way it can be annoying, confusing, disheartening, infuriating, and upsetting all at the same time, can help both parties find satisfaction.

What can you do if you are passive-aggressive and want to change that?

The simple answer is to be mindful. Mindfulness is your awareness of what you are thinking and what and how you are feeling. When you have that awareness you can take steps more quickly and easily towards addressing and altering any and all behaviors.

On the other side of that same coin, mindfulness can also help you better deal with another person’s passive-aggressive behaviors. How? By being aware of the impact that they are having on your mindset in the now.

Oftentimes I believe that passive-aggressive behavior is a product of a lack of mindfulness. Because the person is not aware of their current, present thoughts and feelings, their subconscious is in control. So because of that, there are a number of mixed thoughts and feelings that cause them to behave passive-aggressively.

Passive-aggressive behavior is still inherently aggressive. But you can work on being mindful both to avoid being passive-aggressive yourself and to handle passive-aggressive behavior from others.

I wish there were a much better and simpler solution, but there isn’t. There rarely is in most matters, but that’s part of what keeps life interesting and full of potential and possibility.

You can be mindful and work with or work-out passive-aggressive behaviors.

You are worthy and deserving of using your mindfulness to find and/or create the reality in which you desire to live. When all is said and done you matter, and you have every right not to be mentally and/or emotionally manipulated.

Here are my Five Easy Steps to Change the World for the Better.

Written by

I am a practitioner of mindfulness, positivity, philosophy, & conscious reality creation. I love to inspire, open minds, & entertain. http://www.mjblehart.com

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