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January 28, 2013 at 3:04 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Passive Aggression: Actions Speak Louder than Words

By Jeany Miller More Blogs by This Author

What Does It Mean to Be Passive Aggressive

I’ve heard of passive aggressive behavior hundreds of times, and I’m pretty sure I exhibit this highly stress-inducing, counterproductive conduct. To be sure, I did some research and discovered some pretty daunting information. According to Dr. Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, "passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. There is a disconnect between what a passive-aggressive person says and what he or she does." Passive-aggressive individuals share their feelings through actions rather than words. Some common warning signs include:

  • Procrastination
  • Sulking and silent treatment
  • Intentional inefficiency (performing tasks to unacceptable standards)
  • Excessive excuses and feigned misunderstanding
  • Shutting down conversations with “fine” and “whatever”

Yes, I am certainly guilty.

While passive aggressive behavior isn’t considered a personality disorder, it is recognized as a harmful way of dealing with daily situations. Others classify it as a form of abuse, in which the abuser avoids problems by being "evasive, ambiguous, and forgetful." These abusing individuals struggle to express their anger through direct confrontation and problem-solving methods. Instead, they deflect conflict and build deep resentments.

Causes and Consequences

Passive-aggressive behavior often stems in part from the stifling of freedom of opinion and expression at a young age. This characterizes the home I grew up in to a tee. My parents did not permit - in any way, shape, or form - an opinion that deviated from theirs, so I learned to just shut my mouth and say nothing at all. And now, as an adult, I largely do the same thing. I avoid confrontation and arguments, instead holding in my anger until I erupt like a volcano. In the meantime, I handle problems with passive-aggressive tactics.


This behavior is harmful in so many ways. It has a tendency to create stress and weaken people who consider themselves to be stong. For instance, rather than expressing myself, I cower and become anxious and resentful. Equally important to what this behavior does to me is the havoc it wreaks on my relationships. The person on the receiving end of my activities really doesn’t have any means of recourse, which means the lines of communication slowly shut down. This behavior is also manipulative, indirect, and dishonest. In other words, it’s hurtful.

Fear Breeds Insecurity

At the heart of passive-aggression is fear. You’re afraid to be more direct – perhaps because you don’t want to start an argument or because you feel powerless to change a situation – and you’re afraid to be more honest. The first step to overcome this is to be conscious of your actions. Learn to recognize situations that involve the following:

  • Gossip
  • Avoiding conflict indirectly
  • Passing judgment
  • Seeking Revenge
  • Stewing and exploding
  • Using dismissive language (i.e. "Can't you take a joke?)

By being cognizant of these types of behavior, you can then become more proactive and direct in dealing with conflict.iving in to old habits.


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