How To Correct Your Passive-Aggressive Behavior
A psychotherapist offers three tips to help you manage passive-aggressive tendencies.
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | February 1, 2023
Passive aggression typically occurs when we believe someone has taken advantage of us. It spans many different emotions, such as anger, frustration, and hurt.
Because we believe (real or imagined) that we can't be honest and say what we feel in the heat of the moment, we often choose to behave passive-aggressively to conceal what we are truly feeling.
Shutting down communication in situations like these can lead to full-blown hostility. It can also produce long-term disruptions in our close relationships.
Like many maladaptive behavioral patterns, it is usually easier to spot passive-aggressiveness in others than it is in oneself. If you suspect that your behavior may be bordering on passive-aggressiveness, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you avoid people with whom you are upset?
- Do you stop talking to people while keeping them in your life when you are angry with them, as a way to punish others?
- Do you use sarcasm more than direct language to avoid engaging in meaningful conversations?
If you feel that you utilize passive-aggressiveness in your relationships to an unhealthy degree (and, don't worry, we are all guilty of this from time to time), here are a few ways you can go about correcting it.
#1. Focus on the here and now instead of using over-generalizing words
Try not to use the words like "always" and "every time." Instead, focus on the present moment.
When we feel angry, we tend to operate in a black-and-white, binary fashion. As a result, we rush to judgment or overgeneralize other people's actions, saying things like, "You always ignore my feelings," or "You never take responsibility."
In these situations, take a few moments to calm yourself by taking a few deep breaths and reframing your statements.
One study published in Journal of Marital and Family Therapy found that mindfulness contributes to greater intimate relationship satisfaction by fostering more relationally skillful emotion repertoires.
For example, instead of lashing out at people, you can say, "I was trying to say something and you cut me off. Can I finish what I need to say?"
#2. Take preventative measures. Recognize and manage your triggers.
Take preventive action whenever possible. If you are going to interact with someone who has the potential to aggravate a normal conversation, you can let them know in advance.
For instance, if you have a friend who is noisy and it bothers you, you may say, "Hey, we're about to go into the hospital, remember to keep your volume down."
Anger cannot be entirely eliminated. However, by choosing to alter how these occurrences impact you and how you react to them, you can avoid the urge to resort to passive-aggressive behavior.
#3. Do not assume. Communicate honestly about what works for you.
It's essential that you understand your emotions and discover appropriate ways to communicate them if you want to put a stop to passive-aggressive behavior.
Be truthful about what works for you. Talking out your feelings will help you find clarity and provide you with the space you need to solve the friction. Processing difficult interpersonal situations with a therapist can help you gain clarity more quickly.
Although conflict is an inevitable aspect of life, understanding how to express yourself successfully during conflict can lead to more favorable outcomes.
Consider talking to your aggressor using "I" statements instead of "you" statements, which make it look like you are shrugging off your responsibilities.
Use phrases like, "I do not like it when you crack jokes in a serious situation. I understand that it may have come off as funny to you but could you please wait for the tension to dissipate before cracking such jokes in future? It makes me uncomfortable."
As odd as it sounds, passive-aggressiveness typically comes from a good place. You're trying not to escalate a situation that has upset you. Unfortunately, we cannot disguise our true emotions forever; they will eventually find a way to seep out. Therefore, it's best to be direct and honest when confronted with conflict. It's the quickest path to a mutually-beneficial resolution.