Have you been called Passive Aggressive by people close to you? Have you ever wondered if you are passive aggressive? Or is someone you know using PA words and behaviors with you? If so, the following information is written as a non-shaming support for individuals who express their rage, fear and upset through passive aggressive words and actions (and for those impacted by your PA choices).
To begin, it is important to remember that passive aggression is a form of anger wrapped up in a smile, a "witty" remark designed to sting, a below the belt dig, or an expressed irritation as humor, or gossip and rumors. It leaves the receiver feeling gas lit, manipulated, drained, offended, bullied and wounded. And often leaves the PA offender feeling activated, anxious, angry, vindictive and ashamed.
It is a wound that is worth healing - for your sake and for the sake of people who would like to be a part of your life, but flee due to your PA choices.
Change is hard. Rather than personalizing the painful reactions your PA behavior has created, and then lashing out and creating more pain, (which often results in shame based thinking), instead try to externalize PA in order to better understand your process. Think about PA as the "mean girl" or "mean guy" of communication.
PA people usually have an awareness that they create these kinds of painful interactions. Due to a number of reasons (such as unresolved trauma, family of origin patterns, shame, rage, personality disorders, etc.) they are stuck in a cycle of abusing others through their harmful communication style, often mistaking intensity for intimacy.
Sadly, when confronted, rather than take ownership and make active changes, they often react with hurt and defensiveness, will sometimes retaliate with revenge, and even attempt to paint the recipient who set boundaries with them as "crazy or wrong." They may even adopt a sudden charming/sweet/professional public demeanor to mask their anger at the person who held a mirror up to their toxic behavior.
And, most troubling of all, when healthy individuals begin to pull away from the passive aggressive person, an enraged PA person will attempt to rally supporters in the background making a case for their position.
PA people are typically highly intelligent and know what buttons to push in order to create a smoke screen of sympathy. If they gain access into your personal world, they may use your sexuality, faith, gender, race, age, appearance or profession to poke at you (Example: "Are you on your period?" or "All Irish people are hot tempered" or "Are you having a blonde moment?" or "Jesus is not happy with you!" usually followed by an LOL or a smiley face on social media).
This creates a consequence for the PA (e.g. they are unfriended, they are no longer included in social or professional situations, they are not offered the job, or opportunities disappear). Because the PA often experiences themselves as unhealthy and out of control, they will then race around for validation, and/or retreat into a victim stance using sympathy to manipulate others into an alliance with them.
When the healthy person refuses to take the bait, the PA may begin posting mean spirited comments, creating a smear campaign, they may manipulate others, and use a number of other tragic responses to control their pain.
And sometimes the most wounded PA offenders will seek out people of status to present a cleaned up version of themselves (i.e. "If this person of status accepts and approves of me, then see everyone will see that I must be OK, and that other person I acted out on is mean/crazy/borderline/wrong").
Without treatment and healing, eventually the truth will surface about the PA offender, their reputation over time will proceed them, and he or she will create a self fulfilling prophecy of abandonment. They will then seek out new "connections", manipulate and charm, begin the toxic engagement, and sadly the cycle starts up again within a new sphere of influence.
Without treatment and support, it is only a matter of time before the PA offender will fall back into old communication patterns, people will leave, the PA will retaliate, and the story of pain continues.
Reasons to change: If you use passive aggression and manipulation tactics on a regular basis you are hurting your self as well as others. Why should you care? Distancing people around you by your passive aggressive choices will eventually impact your health, emotional well being, and ultimately your reputation which undermines you personally and professionally. Folks will eventually figure out it is you at the center of the toxic drama and will separate themselves.
If you suspect that you struggle with PA behavior, and if you are willing to make changes, here are some healthy choices you can begin to make today:
1. Stop comparing yourself to others
2. Develop an internal spiritual life
3. Lead with compassion
4. Respond vs. react
5. Stop retaliating or plotting revenge
6. Choose not to gossip
7. Let your insides and outsides match
8. Seek therapy and support, DBT is an excellent form of therapy
9. Join an anger management or communication group
10. Learn to accept feedback from safe people
11. Own your actions
12. Make an apology
13. Change and grow (vs. using an apology as part of the dance)
14. Learn from your mistakes
15. When it doubt, ask for clarification
16. Never assume
17. Breathe and meditate
18. Respect boundaries
19. Quit blaming others
20. Be gentle with yourself
As a support, I have linked a few books via my Amazon affiliate you may want to look into as a support:
If you suspect that you are a PA offender and you are willing to change, then I commend your efforts as change is never easy.
One measuring rod to determine if you are PA is to ask safe and healthy people you respect and trust. Because PA people have a hard time trusting others and are easily offended, when in doubt, seek out those who have a solid reputation in your personal or professional circles for their thoughts on your communication style. You may feel activated by their feedback, but if you can sit in the challenging emotions, you may find value in their words of support.
If asking others feels too frightening and vulnerable, I would encourage you to gently pull back the lens and take a look at patterns you are creating in your relationships. For example, if you find that folks are reacting to your "directness" by becoming defensive, or by expressing hurt, if you have a history of severed relationships, or have been abandoned by others over and over again in your personal and professional life, then you may want to consider making some healing changes in your communication style.
You may also want to consider working with a therapist to heal the roots to your PA behavior in order to gain insight into your personality and communication patterns. An experienced counselor will compassionately help you learn tools to regulate when you feel flooded with emotion during personal interactions.
Yes, change is hard. But...it is possible.