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Passive-Aggressive Behaviour – Counselling Support

Passive-Aggressive Behaviour is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. There’s a disconnect between what a person who exhibits passive-aggressive behavior says and what he or she does.

An example of passive aggressive behaviour might be, you ask someone to complete a task at work, they agree but then take a very long time to complete the task, if they complete it at all. Rather than express how they feel about being asked to do something directly they avoid the task and fail to do it, therefore expressing their feelings indirectly.

Further examples of passive aggressive behaviour include:

  • Resentment and opposition to the demands of others
  • Resistance to cooperation, procrastination and intentional mistakes
  • Cynical, moody, hostile attitude
  • Complaints about being under appreciated or cheated.

Passive-aggressive behaviour can have a massive impact on relationships, as the person on the receiving end of the behaviour can feel very frustrated and the person being passive aggressive will avoid having a direct conversation about the issue to resolve it. This can lead to great frustration and unhappiness in the relationship, particularly if the person being passive aggressive isn’t aware that they are behaving in this way and are doing it unintentionally. Passive-aggressive relationships can be particularly damaging if the person being passive aggressive is in a position of authority, for instance in the workplace or a parent

People may be passive aggressive for various reasons:

According to somatic psychologist and author of Reclaiming Pleasure Holly Richmond, Ph.D., it can stem from being taught to people-please and avoid conflict, often in childhood. “They learned that conflict wouldn’t get them what they wanted so they had to present it in a nice way and be subversive about getting their needs met,” she explains.

Responding to passive-aggressive behaviour – below are some ideas around how you can manage someone who is being passive-aggressive:

  • Identify the behaviour – bring attention to it, by asking for clarification or confirmation on what was said or done.
  • Let the person know that it is safe for them to communicate with you clearly rather than indirectly
  • Set clear boundaries about what you expect
  • Be accurate and specific in what you say, don’t generalize.
  • Stay calm and speak with them face to face.

It is important to remember that all relationships, are complex and nuanced. You may have read this blog and thought, my partner, parent, boss behaves like this, they must be passive-aggressive. They may indeed be passive-aggressive or the relationship you have co-created may contain elements of passive-aggressiveness and elements of other things. Be cautious in oversimplifying your relationships and reducing them down to the binary. Often there is much more going on, and your behaviour may have a role to play in it.

If you are struggling with a relationship and would like to speak with a professional call Paul Carter. Paul is a counsellor and psychotherapist with many years of experience, you can learn more about Paul here on the About Paul Page. If you would like to make an appointment with him please use the Contact Page or call on 07843 813 537. Paul works in Birmingham and Kingswinford, although currently due to COVID is working exclusively online and on the telephone. For more information about how counselling works and current fees please take a look at the FAQs page.

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