Passive-aggressiveness is a learned response to the home life dynamic experienced in youth. Passive-aggressiveness includes the obvious passive, withdrawn or apathetic, approach to relationships. The adult passive-aggressive grew up in a home with too many rules to count, strict, regimented laws, no chance at personal adventures. Youth who grow up like this come to believe that speaking their truth, or simply saying ‘no’ to something they don’t want to do, is dangerous, and will jeopardize their chance to receive love and affection from their parents or caregivers. This cycle will continue into adulthood, if never addressed. This passive-aggressive approach will spill over into all sort of adult relationships, from friendships, intimate partners, school and on to the workplace. Passive-aggressiveness never serves anyone well, and will only harm the passive-aggressive persons themselves, and those relationships they truly wish to cultivate.
Here are 12 ways your passive-aggressiveness is slowly killing your relationships.
1. You are not letting people know how you really feel or what you really want.
When you hold back from speaking up or clarifying where you stand on an issue, your passive-aggressiveness is triggered because you feel scared, unsafe or concerned that doing so will mean you no longer will receive the approval of the person you want to impress or be liked by. This passive-aggressive pattern is dangerous in a relationship because if the person you are in a relationship with doesn’t know what you really think or want they are not really in a relationship with you, as you truly are. With time, this only becomes more detrimental to your relationship. You will feel resentment at living phony and forcing yourself to walk on eggshells and they will feel they don’t really know you. And in fact, they don’t. These are two very big red relationship flags and some of the worst feelings one can feel in any relationship: unaddressed resentment and communicating like a stranger. Meditate on this thought by Daphne Rose Kingma, ”Make sure it’s your true self you are showing. Because it’s your true self that needs love.”
2. You are forfeiting special connections with people you like out of fear of conflict.
Passive-aggressiveness always chooses conflict avoidance, because you have come to experience conflict or disagreement as terrifying. It doesn’t have to be. Your past may have provided limited occasions at self-expression. The passive-aggressive certainly wants to connect with those they admire and respect, but often feel they have no tools to do so. When you, as a passive-aggressive, begin to feel attachment or real love for one who has inspired you, it’s common practise to retreat and forfeit the connection because of fear that something will go wrong or perceived rejection. Passive-aggressive people will often break their own hearts, constantly giving up on relationships or experiences that open them up to any potential for failure, intimacy or heightened risk of rejection, even though it’s the very relationship or experience they truly want to pursue.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has classified passive-aggressiveness as many things throughout the years. It first appeared in 1952. Since then, it’s been called a ”personality style”, ”hidden hostility”, a ”defense mechanism”, a ”personality disorder” and ”negativistic.” Regardless of how you view it, or which title you prefer, it’s a confusing and harmful defense that leaves both sides less clear on their relationship. This cloudy communication style is detrimental to any relationship.
3. You are giving up before you try.
For many years, I heard my parents opinions in my head before I made a decision. I stepped away from my own dreams, desires or other exciting prospects because I could hear their critique instead of my own. I was filled with dread and fear whenever I had to make a firm plan or answer to a pressing matter. Accepting advice from family is not an inherently bad thing. Of course, hearing out others counsel can be very beneficial, indeed. But when other’s opinions on what is ”right”, ”good” or ”appropriate” or what they would do in their own life consistently surpasses your own, you are not developing your own soul compass and decision-making skills. You are living an inauthentic existence. You are experiencing life through others, and not even attempting things you want to do because your parents, other family members, friends or colleagues told you that you will fail.
4. You keep choosing the “easy” way out because you think it will avoid pain.
If you identify as a passive-aggressive or are starting to think you may be, or are experiencing passive-aggressiveness in your relationships or decision-making, you are familiar with doing things sub-par, half-hearted or out of convenience, the choice that you believe provides you with minimal discomfort or pain. You think it’s “easy” but it’s not. You believe that this way you won’t expose yourself too much. The fear always lurking around the corner for a passive-aggressive is that by succeeding or going out on a limb, will open them up to rejection, failure, ridicule or criticism. Passive-aggressiveness will always stunt your spirit.
5. You are mistaking an honest and respectful dialogue with malicious confrontation.
Any direct dialogue, to some degree, is a terrifying prospect to a passive-aggressive person. All dialogue is confused with pain, discomfort, and other overwhelming emotions of the past. Confrontation, in almost any form, is a trigger for the passive-aggressive. It can make them recall their childhood or other experiences of their past, when confrontation was peppered with insults and obscenities or an unresponsive party. What the passive-aggressive doesn’t quite understand is that being assertive, not aggressive, can help empower a bond or relationship. If the passive-aggressive, goes out of their comfort zone, and attempts to have a honest and respectful dialogue, and is met with resistance or abusive tactics, there may be other issues at play in the relationship that are being ignored. It’s not uncommon for the passive-aggressive to get involved with co-dependents, narcissists, domineering and demanding or other inappropriate partners due to their passivity and low self-esteem.
6. You are imagining the worst-case scenario even when things are positive in a relationship.
Passive-aggressives are often seen by those that know them as complainers who never make any changes. They can be contrary, fatalistic and overall negative. According to The Angry Smile workbook, a passive-aggressive individual may make comments like, ”It doesn’t pay to be good” or “Good things don’t last.” Passive-aggressive people have come to believe that not only does the worst-case scenario always happen to them, but that it’s what they deserve. This is another example of the damaged self-confidence of a passive-aggressive. This makes me think of the words of Mark Twain, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
7. You keep recycling old ways of dealing with complicated situations.
Because the passive-aggressive doesn’t think they have many tools to deal with the ups and downs of relationships, they rely on old patterns or what they saw parents or siblings or friends do in their relationships. If you let it, the cycle will continue on, with no end. Don’t recycle the same lines you used in a past relationship. Not only is it dishonest but prevents you from being present and aware to the relationship troubles you are experiencing.
8. You prolong an annoyance or disagreement.
Passive-aggressive people are often waving like a flag in the wind. Back and forth, they sway from one direction to the other, intensely conflicted. Prolonging a decision, a change that needs to be made or a disagreement they’ve ignored, only morphs into a terrible beast to be slain later. The passive-aggressive sometimes hopes the problem will go away, without them having to maturely confront the issue at the hand. Your prolonging for what ails you will not benefit you. You will be faced with it again days, weeks, months, or years later.
9. You are repressing, denying and ignoring your true thoughts and feelings.
Repressing your true thoughts and feelings is dangerous. The passive-aggressive doesn’t realize the harm they are inflicting upon themselves and those around them. This is another emotionally dishonest way the passive-aggressive maintains relationships.
10. You are burning bridges.
Passive-aggressiveness burns bridges. It doesn’t build them. They fear the end result and incorrectly believe that all ends bad, anyway, so who cares? This is very harmful to all relationships because this only isolates the passive person. And others feel naturally less connected to them. Passive-aggressives believe that appearing to be polite and cooperative on the surface is the same as building good rapport with others. All the while their true opinions are festering beneath the surface. This is not the same as a good relationship with others.
11. You are saying, ”yes” to every request and then blaming others for making you do things you don’t want to do.
In the psychology guide book, The Angry Smile, the authors write that passive-aggressives will say yes to things they don’t want to do and then blame and resent the person for making them do something. This, like all the other behavioral patterns of a passive-aggressive allows problems to escalate. Stop agreeing to things that you don’t want to do or don’t believe in or that no longer serves you. The more yes’s you utter the deeper you fall into your passive-aggression. The more trapped, obligated and unhappy you become.
12. You are ambivalent and indecisive, following the lead of every one else but yourself.
Passive-aggressives will often look to their supervisor, parent or spouse to tell them what to do even though they resent it. When their supervisor, parent or spouse changes their opinion, they are confused. What the passive-aggressive hasn’t yet taken to heart is that others’ ideas may change. If you rely on others to make your decisions or tell you what to do, you will never find peace. Many times, the passive-aggressive doesn’t find refuge in their own heart and mind, but instead spends a great deal of energy avoiding things. Placing their direction on another person makes it hard for the passive-aggressive to find resolution.
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