Go to Top

How to Recognize When You’re Being Passive-Aggressive

2 woman at oddsWho among us can honestly say they’ve never behaved in a passive-aggressive way?

When I’m not being assertive, passive-aggression is my go-to. I figure it’s better than outright aggression, and I don’t seem to be wired for passivity, so sometimes it feels like the best option.

There are hundreds — maybe thousands — of subtle ways to avoid being assertive.

This week’s article, in which I happen to be quoted, is a survey of just a few of the twisted moves we make to get around saying what we mean.

Most of these sound pretty intentional to me, and fall more on the aggressive side.

But as I say in the article, I don’t think passive-aggressive behavior is used as a weapon on purpose. At least, not usually.

I doubt most of us even recognize what we’re doing when we make a passive-aggressive maneuver.

In those not-so-proud moments, we’re setting aside our right as adults to simply state our wants, needs, preferences and opinions clearly.

Why is being passive-aggressive so much easier than asserting ourselves?

Check out the article at this link and let me know what you think:

Don’t fool yourself: Seven signs that you’re being passive-aggressive – The Washington Post

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
, ,

0 Responses to "How to Recognize When You’re Being Passive-Aggressive"

  • bookishheather
    April 18, 2015 - 9:40 am Reply

    One of the irritating things (to me) about the term “passive-aggressive” is that I don’t think there’s a generally understood definition and people throw it around quite a bit as a catch-all for unsavory behavior.

    I read an article a few years ago that defined passive-aggression as someone’s inaction that serves their real desire to be met. (For example, Person A wants to go out to a concert, Person B doesn’t and gets ready very slowly, making them both late so Person B gets to stay home as they wanted to do anyway.) The Washington Post article has some examples that conform to that, but some others that I might label something else. Perhaps just regular old aggression, quiet aggression, or micro-aggression (although that term is being used in a different context already)?

    Anyway, I’m always skeptical when I see people throwing the term around, particularly without defining what they mean. Tina, how would you define passive-aggression?

    • Tina Gilbertson
      April 18, 2015 - 12:07 pm Reply

      Bookishheather, you are so right; the term gets thrown around a lot without being defined.

      I think of passive-aggression as attempting to get your way without appearing to be trying to do that. It’s purposeful action (or inaction) with deniability.

      In other words, the “aggressive” part of the phrase is a misnomer, probably brought about by trying to create a neat 3rd term that lies “between” passive and aggressive styles.

      That’s my two cents. Maybe others will weigh in as well. Thanks for asking the central question.

  • multnoma
    April 19, 2015 - 1:38 pm Reply

    Why is being passive-aggressive so much easier than asserting ourselves?

    If you view behavior “styles” as means to an end then whatever works. And what works (low risk/reward) for many is passive aggressive.

    If one views the behavior as an end in itself, then assertive stands out. Being assertive/authentic feels. And it feels better. After a while.

    And I say that as Unassertive Man. My supper power is asking for something other than what I want. (hand to god) I once bought a car that was sitting next to the one I wanted, merely because i would/could not put my cards on the table with the salesman. With time and effort my super power has faded.

  • anonymous
    April 20, 2015 - 9:29 am Reply

    These are helpful. Sigh. I wish I wasn’t one of the most passive aggressive B’s ever. (Wait, is that wistfulness???) I am an expert at procrastinating with a friend who likes to get together way more than I do (I really do like her but I think I’m an introvert, and I’ve actually said that to her, but my procrastinating behaviors continue, and she keeps trying anyway. She is a good gal.) I need to be braver about saying no, but on the other hand, I know that getting together and doing activities is good for me in the long run, so I WANT to say yes. So wishy washy! And, I realize my hubby does the ignoring behavior all the time. (Okay, not “all the time”. He’d really hate that kind of generalization, as he should.) But I’ll be chatting away at a restaurant and he’ll just turn and look at a t.v. and not respond. It’s good to be able to recognize that as passive aggressive. On the other hand, I do that myself a lot when people are talking, but I swear it’s not that I’m ignoring them, it’s that I just drifted off, kind of ADD like. Man, I need to take a much closer look at that. How do we develop these kinds of behaviors, anyway? Our parents? Am I a horrible selfish person???? Some of this has got to be human nature; it’s so subtle! Are there any studies about this? The article had clear examples of how NOT to be PA, but I clearly need more ways to practice it and be aware of it. Anyway, thanks for the heads up!

Leave a Reply