Passive Aggressive Behaviour takes many forms but can generally be described as a non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behaviour. It is where you are angry with someone but do not or cannot tell them.
Instead of communicating honestly when you feel upset, annoyed, irritated or disappointed you may instead bottle the feelings up, shut off verbally, give angry looks, make obvious changes in behaviour, be obstructive, sulky or put up a stone wall. It may also involve indirectly resisting requests from others by evading or creating confusion around the issue. Not going along with things. It can either be covert (concealed and hidden) or overt (blatant and obvious).
A passive aggressive might not always show that they are angry or resentful. They might appear in agreement, polite, friendly, down-to-earth, kind and well-meaning. However, underneath there may be manipulation going on – hence the term “passive aggressive”.
Passive aggression is a destructive pattern of behaviour that can be seen as a form of emotional abuse in relationships that bites away at trust between people. It is a creation of negative energy in the ether which is clear to those involved and can create immense hurt and pain for all parties. It happens when negative emotions and feelings build up and are then held in on a self-imposed need for either acceptance by another, dependence on others or to avoid even further arguments or conflict.
If some of this is sounding familiar don’t worry – we all do some of the above from time to time. It doesn’t necessarily make us passive aggressive, nor does it mean your partner is. Passive aggression is when the behaviour is more persistent and repeats periodically, where there are ongoing patterns of negative attitudes and passive resistance in personal relationships or work situations.
Examples of passive aggression
- Non-communication – when there is clearly something problematic to discuss.
- Avoiding/Ignoring – when you are so angry that you feel you cannot speak calmly.
- Evading – evading problems and issues, burying an angry head in the sand.
- Procrastinating – intentionally putting off important tasks for less important ones.
- Obstructing – deliberately stalling or preventing an event or process of change.
- Fear of competition – avoiding situations where one party will be seen as better at something.
- Ambiguity – being cryptic, unclear, not fully engaging in conversations.
- Sulking – being silent, morose, sullen and resentful in order to get attention or sympathy.
- Chronic lateness – a way to put you in control over others and their expectations.
- Chronic forgetting – shows a blatant disrespect/disregard for others as punishment.
- Making excuses – always coming up with reasons for not doing things.
- Self-pity – the ‘poor me’ scenario.
- Blaming – blaming others for situations rather than being able to take responsibility for your own actions or being able to take an objective view of the situation as a whole.
- Victimisation – unable to look at their own part in a situation will turn the tables to become the victim and will behave like one.
- Withholding – withholding usual behaviours or roles, e.g. sex, cooking and cleaning or making cups of tea, running a bath, all to reinforce an already unclear message.
- Learned helplessness – where a person continually acts like they can’t help themselves, or is deliberately doing a poor job of something for which they are often explicitly responsible.
- Fear of intimacy – often there can be trust issues with passive aggressive people and guarding against becoming too intimately involved or attached will be a way for them to feel in control of the relationship.
Passive aggression might be seen as a defence mechanism that people use to protect themselves. It might be automatic and might stem from early experiences. What they are protecting themselves from will be unique and individual to each person; although might include underlying feelings of rejection, fear, mistrust, insecurity and/or low self-esteem.
Patterns of unassertive and passive behaviour may have been learnt in childhood as a coping strategy possibly as a response to parents who may have been too controlling or not allowing their child to express their thoughts and feelings freely. To cope, a child might adopt a passive-aggressive behaviour pattern.
For example, if a child was ridiculed, put-down or punished for openly expressing their feelings or disagreeing with their parents the child would learn to substitute open expression for passive resistance – agreeing with what mum or dad said in order to be a ‘good child’ or not speaking out honestly or at all.
If there was a consistent pattern within the family of punishment or rejection for asserting themselves the child would learn to become highly skilled at passively rebelling. An example of a child rebelling might be around toilet training, withdrawing from family conversation, choosing subjects at school to please parents and then not working hard, around eating and mealtimes – all causing worry and upset to the parents who may have no idea their behaviour is a contributory cause to the problem.
Passive aggression in the workplace
In the workplace, a passive-aggressive employee or employer may use these techniques as a form of control and/or intimidation. The worker might sulk, make faces, scowl inwardly when given jobs to do or may agree politely and then take ages to do them. By doing so, they are showing annoyance in the hope they will not be asked to do those tasks again.
Employers can also use passive aggression when confronted with employee problems, turning a blind eye, not facing facts or dealing with genuine cases of bullying and intimidation. This avoidant behaviour can be very damaging to individuals and teams of individuals within organisations.
Consequences of passive aggressive behaviour
In being passive aggressive, you are not giving yourself or others an opportunity to listen to what you think or feel. When on the receiving end of passive aggression, you can feel confused, upset, offended, guilty and frustrated. You may think you’ve done something wrong, but have no clear idea what it was.
- It avoids communication in a very negative way.
- It creates insecurity in all parties.
- It creates a bad atmosphere between people.
- It’s a form of conflict where both/one party cannot engage sensibly.
- It avoids the real issues.
- It creates negative feelings and resentments in an unassertive way.
Tips to help you overcome the effects of passive aggressive behaviour
If you have got this far in the article then it’s likely that passive aggression is an area of interest to you, or possibly a problem in your life or the life of someone close to you.
Five tips for overcoming your own passive-aggressive behaviours
- Become aware of the underlying feelings causing your behaviour.
- Become aware of the impacts of your behaviour and how your desire to defeat others, get back at them or annoy them creates yet further uncomfortable feelings for yourself.
- Take responsibility for your actions and reactions.
- Try to not feel attacked when faced with a problem but instead take an overall objective view of the situation.
- Learn to be assertive in expressing yourself. You have a right to your thoughts and feelings so communicate them with honesty and truth and strengthen your relationships.
Five tips for coping with the passive-aggressive behaviour of others
- Become aware of how passive aggression operates and try to be understanding towards your partner.
- Explain to your partner how their behaviour towards you is affecting you. Communicate calmly without blaming, e.g. talk about how you feel and what you think without using language that will inflame the situation more. For example, you might say “I feel upset by your behaviour” rather than “you’ve done this or that”.
- Be aware of your responses to others and yourself– do not blame yourself for the behaviour and reaction of others.
- Be honest about your part in the situation If the aggressive behaviour of others continues to affect you in a negative way, set clear boundaries around yourself – rules for what you will and won’t accept.
- Stay strong and focused and get on with your life in a positive way.
Resilience “The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and change”.
I like the word “bouncy”.
There is no doubt that life can be challenging and there is no escaping difficulties and constant change. Why is it that some of us seem more “springy” yet some of us are left floored?
An ever-growing theory is that resilience is very much influenced by our overall wellbeing. Think about the last time you drank too much alcohol or stayed up worrying all night with little sleep – your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing would be resultantly low, impacting your resilience. On days like this even the smallest obstacle can seem insurmountable.
Wellbeing is a state of feeling happy and healthy; being productive and being able to perform at our best. When looking closely at Wellbeing it is crucial to acknowledge the multiple areas influencing this.
The London School of Economics conducted a study “The Wellbeing and Resilience Paradox” They describe Wellbeing as a state at a point in time for an individual. Their insight reveals that Resilience is less than a point and more of a continuum. Resilience traits add an element of future proofing wellbeing – the concoction of both future shocking unpredictability.
For those of you who have experienced our training, using an analogy is not unusual for us. With Wellbeing, I like the analogy of a motor car. Servicing and maintaining the entire vehicle, the sum of all the parts offers an enjoyable, effective and reliable ride.
Checking in with yourself today what vehicle would you compare yourself to? What make, model and colour are you? In thinking about your vehicle consider this.
The multiple Wellbeing areas:
Emotional Resilience (Diesel/Petrol)
Filling the tank with low grade fuel or none at all is going to impact the engine and running performance. Keeping a close eye on the fuel gauge and choosing a quality product is key.
Our thoughts and emotions coarse through us influencing our self-talk; motivation and mental health. Cultivating self-awareness and ways to manage psychological stress means rich emotional health resulting in enthusiasm, creativity; empathy and contentment.
Physical Wellbeing (Chassis)
Keeping the chassis in good shape; clean and polished not only offers good functionality but an appealing appearance which eludes to success.
How we physically treat our bodies is important – the conduit for everything else. Feeling physically well is pivotal to productivity and performance, energy and longevity.
Relationships (Electric board)
Cars today incorporate latest technologies with extremely high-tech computing power. These are fabulous in maintaining multiple components like safety features, fuel supply; airbags; navigation to name a few. Glitches with technology equals dysfunctional potential.
Fostering healthy, happy relationships enables us to be who we are. Founded on good communications skills, listening and being heard, effective interaction – our partnerships undoubtedly affect our stress levels and influence how we feel.
Work-Life Balance (Tyres)
Tyre pressure not only maintains safety but maintains fuel efficiency too. Maintaining tyre pressure and balance requires ongoing care.
Finding harmony between home and work is something many of us crave and getting the balance right can be tricky. Making healthy choices, introducing flexibility, managing expectations and being able to prioritise well aids in offering us control in this often precarious dynamic.
Health of your Wealth (Leased or owned)
It may be that you cannot afford your vehicle outright and leasing offers a monthly payment plan avoiding depreciation costs. Whatever your financial choice; affordability and paying for your vehicle is ongoing, so it needs to be achievable and manageable.
Money worries keep a large percentage of us awake at night and they often influence our relationships too. Managing our personal finances is crucial to tempering stress levels and overall wellbeing. It is something that not only affects us individually but can have a knock-on effect on businesses too.
We don’t jump into our cars and drive around aimlessly. We drive with a destination in mind; we use the sat nav to help us navigate to a final point.
Having a sense of purpose helps us get out of bed in the mornings. It is about knowing exactly where we fit in; what our contribution means and knowing where we are heading. This is intrinsic to our motivation; sense of optimism and resilience. A strong sense of purpose helps us overcome challenges and transcend difficulties.
How is your vehicle looking now? Having a vehicle that manages changing terrain and weather conditions; is energy efficient and gets you to your destination smoothly means servicing it regularly and looking after it.
“A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness,” AND “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Intimacy is defined as a close, familiar and unique bond existing between humans, both physically and emotionally. A strong relationship survives on both forms of intimacy that has grown and evolved over time, thriving on a slow release of trust and self-disclosure.
As a basic need, we require love and affection, both in spoken word and in gentle touch, cuddles and hugs. A lack of intimacy can bring problems for a couple, particularly if it was once an important role in the relationship or if one partner is more intimate than the other.
Intimacy builds strong foundations for couples to survive through the toughest of times, an anchor for when the going gets tough and the constant reassurance that you aren’t alone. It’s the need to be as close as emotionally possible to the one person we’ve promised to spend the rest of our lives with.
Couples counselling can provide support during these very difficult times.
Physical and emotional intimacy
Physical and emotional intimacy go hand in hand: for a long standing relationship, you can’t create a physical connection without inducing emotional intimacy. Lacking emotional intimacy whilst the physical connection is thriving can develop complications with trust, anger, frustration and confusion for couples.
In a similar breath, possessing a fiercely unique emotional intimacy without having physical intimacy, is incredibly difficult to maintain a relationship that has both individual and collective needs.
- Emotional intimacy
If you know you can give your partner a ‘knowing’ look from across the room, and that they’ll respond with that special wink or smile, then you’ve developed an emotional intimacy in your relationship.
- Physical intimacy
It’s in a human being’s nature to require physical intimacy – this is why simple physical affection, such as hand-holding, cuddling, hugging and kissing is important to your relationship – alongside emotional understanding and capability.
“Communication is at the heart of sexual intimacy. In the early days of the relationship, lust can often carry you through, but over time, sexual relationships can change. In healthy relationships, although the level of passion may decrease, the emotional connection gets deeper and more fulfilling; partners who are able to talk openly feel no inhibitions about sharing any concerns and expressing their needs and responses.
However, some couples, especially those who have never really discussed their sexual behaviour, struggle to accept and embrace change and may harbour feelings of disappointment or loss. Rather than talking about issues which they find uncomfortable or embarrassing, they can get into a routine in which lovemaking is in danger of becoming a routine chore and thus less rewarding for one or both partners.”
– Jenny Oyston, Counsellor
What happens when one partner is more intimate?
It’s very common for one type of intimacy to be more important to one partner than the other or one partner more comfortable with intimacy. In this instance, couples often find themselves thinking all is well until one partner finally speaks up and lets them know that the intimacy levels are not what they should be. Or, even more tragic, neither partner says anything and they find themselves ending the relationship without really knowing the true cause.
If you can’t be intimate with your partner, whether physically or emotionally (or both), it will make having a lasting relationship with your partner difficult. The reason for this is quite simple: without the emotional and physical bond between mates, there’s nothing to hold onto when things get rough and both partners find themselves feeling as though they haven’t an anchor to keep them safe in the rocky ocean of life.
A lack of intimacy
Without intimacy, there isn’t the security in the relationship of knowing that the other person is there for you, or of knowing that they truly love you. Where intimacy is lacking, most partners don’t intend to hurt their significant other, or are even unaware of the lack of intimacy which is why a lacking relationship, whether emotionally or physically, doesn’t have a promising success rate.
Keeping intimacy important
A relationship can survive without intimacy, but it will become a real struggle for both partners as time goes on; neither partner will be happy or feel secure in the relationship. Without happiness and security, the basis of a relationship is complicated. Once intimacy is lost or if it never existed in the relationship, it takes a lot of determination and commitment to get intimacy back in the relationship, but it’s not impossible if both couples are committed.
To form a strong, long-lasting bond, intimacy is required to fulfil a human’s basic need: it’s what human beings crave in order to create a safe, loving and happy relationship, and intimacy is a key ingredient.
How to improve intimacy?
“To improve intimacy in your relationship, think of it as a living thing that changes throughout your life. As you mature, both you and your partner’s needs change, so be open to that and acknowledge it in your relationship.”
- Read more on Happiful from counsellor Graeme.
If you feel that intimacy is lacking in your relationship and you once had a strong bond, it’s important to try to be as open as possible and communicate with your partner. Intimacy is an important aspect of developing as a couple and you aren’t criticising your partner or their capabilities as a partner.
If you are lucky enough to know and care about someone with dyslexia, the following may be of help in understanding them and helping them to understand themselves.
They may not be great at remembering things
This isn’t because they don’t care but because that magical dyslexic brain tends to hold everything in mind all at the same time. Imagine a head full of bubbles, with each bubble containing lots of exciting, creative thoughts. This means that it is difficult for them to prioritise things, and some things get forgotten.
A simple way of keeping track of life and events is to make sure things get written down – post-its, diary, journal. The very act of writing or drawing something helps to imprint on the memory that something needs to be done – even if they can’t quite remember what it is – but then they know where to look to find out.
They can get easily overwhelmed
It takes about five times more energy to be a dyslexic person living in a predominantly linear world (search for Dean Bragonier). Dyslexic people tend to compare themselves to what they think of as ‘normal’, but being dyslexic means that you are processing the world in a fundamentally different way. Different, not wrong, and most neuro-typical people can’t begin to do the things that dyslexic people find easy. Usually being photo-realistic thinkers, it means that they are processing trillions of bits of visual data to make sense of what they are seeing and sensing. This also allows them to make connections that a linear thinker would be oblivious of.
They might find it hard to find the right words
That visual brain can sometimes have difficulty in tracking a specific word because they are seeing the story running like a film in their head. So, they may describe the colour, shape, or landmark of something they are trying to remember rather than being able to locate the actual word. Remembering road names is a perfect example of this. They may not remember the name, but they will be able to describe everything else in minute detail.
They may be sensitive to light, sound, temperature, and texture
The senses of a dyslexic person are highly tuned. Everything tends to come in at the same velocity (sight, sound, temperature, texture) and there is likely to to be little filter on incoming stimuli. Don’t be surprised if your dyslexic darling finds it hard to concentrate on what you are saying when the television is on, or there is lots of cross conversation.
Everything they hear gets unconsciously linked to what they already know about the subject matter. This is their way of making sense of the world, but it takes a fair bit of processing to get there because of the mass of data they are processing. They have to concentrate really hard, and while this is going on other things get missed. It’s not that they are not listening to you, just that they are trying really hard not to listen to absolutely everything and anything. A difficult work scenario for a dyslexic person would be an open plan office where you have to hotdesk, with loads of interruptions, lots of noise, and an AC at the wrong temperature. Noise-reducing earphones will help, but if the person themselves doesn’t realise they are super sensitive, they may feel like they are heading for a meltdown, as it will put their nervous system on ‘high alert’. When they ask you to not interrupt them, they are actually looking after themselves.
They find change difficult
Dyslexic people are, on the whole, very bright with an average or above-average IQ (An Spld – specific learning difference – is not intelligence-related). That bright brain has enabled them to develop lots of higher-level thinking strategies for situations that they have found difficult to understand. Unfortunately, when change happens, those strategies no longer work, and they have to think up new ones; that takes time and energy.
So, if at all possible, they will resist change, and this can feel quite controlling to the person trying to get them to change. It can take a few goes at something for them to know what they are doing or where they are going, but once they do – they fly. Let them ask about something as many times as they need. This highly-tuned, intuitive creature can pick up on body language and micro-expressions very easily. The first sniff of being laughed at or someone getting irritated with the length of time it is taking to understand something will have them shutting down and withdrawing – probably in a state of anxiety.
They can be disorganised, a bit over-organised, or a bit of both
It seems strange doesn’t it, but they can be both all at the same time. They will have a pretty good idea where something is in their own space, but not have a clue where to look for something if they don’t know or didn’t decide on its home. Equally, one of the best strategies for dyslexic people to keep calm and centered is to make sure they put their things back in the same place. It takes self-discipline but saves a lot of friction when something goes missing. A word of warning – do not remove their things without their permission. They have created a safe structure so that they don’t get over anxious and not finding something where they ‘know’ they put it can send their nervous system into overdrive.
A nervous system on overdrive
Sadly, many dyslexic people have had a pretty hard time throughout their educational years, and their nervous system may be primed towards anxiety-related responses (fight or flight). A nervous system in flight or fight response is not one that can engage with learning or feel safe from threat. The best way to help is to allow them to develop a window of tolerance – a place where they get to know what it feels like to be safe and calm, not on alert and wary. Many of us take this place of calm for granted, but someone who has spent a lifetime with a focus on deficit is someone who may find it very hard to feel relaxed and centered.
A note on environment
Because of their general sensitivity, dyslexic people need to be very careful about the environment they live and work in. As said before, the worst scenario is somewhere open-plan where they can get really distracted by what’s going on around them. Being constantly interrupted will mean they lose their train of thought and have to start a task again and again from the beginning – or never finish. Noise can make them super sensitive and jumpy, and if it’s too hot or too cold – beware. They will do their very best to make it just right. You may find them sneaking off for a bit of peace and quiet if they feel they are getting a bit overwhelmed, which is exactly what they should do and be allowed to do.
Just a few of their strengths…
These wonderful, creative, idiosyncratic, truly individual and unique creatures come with amazing strengths that they are often unaware of or dismiss because they don’t feel they meet society’s perceived values. You may not be able to get a degree for these attributes, but it makes for being a great human being.
- critical, lateral, and big-picture thinker
- strong reasoning skills
- brilliant at oral comprehension
The person you have in your life may have had a rocky road, especially through education, and may come with some unresolved issues that have impacted on their confidence and self-belief. However, those same experiences have often helped to craft them into the loyal, intuitive and sensitive person you have in your life. Focus on their strengths. Let them know what they do right. Listen to them to understand not to reply.
So often they have already experienced a lifetime of focus on their deficits. We would take care to put a plant in the right spot in the garden so that it could flourish and get all its needs met – let’s do that with our beloved dyslexic people. Simply love them for who they are – they definitely don’t need fixing, and a little understanding can go a long, long way.