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Passive Aggression

I was recently asked as part of the wellbeing team at Zoe Clews & Associates to write about passive aggression and I jumped at the opportunity!

When it comes to being able to write about anything, that helps us realise we are not making things up and gives us an opportunity to be validated and feel really understood, then I want to be a part of that.

I want to be a part of supporting people, to realise all the subtle ways, we may be on the receiving end of behaviour that doesn't feel good and harms us. It also doesn't sit well within us sometimes, when we are on the receiving end of passive aggression, because ultimately we are not saying what we really want to say. None of us are perfect, so we can all do things like this.

However when it's a repetitive pattern, that is slowly eroding your sense of self and impacting many areas of your life, then it's something that potentially needs more of our attention, so that we can find ways to set boundaries and be kinder towards ourselves and others.

I wrote 7 different ways we can identify when passive aggression is happening or when we ourselves are being passive aggressive. I am going to include them here as not all of them are included in the article.

Some of the ways passive aggression can show up in daily life are:

- Using humour as an indirect way to insult – this is a really common way that people can undermine and attack a person’s sense of self-worth, right at the very core. Picking a known insecurity and turning it into a backhanded joke, isn’t funny, and in fact is very hurtful. The humour is a way of deflecting the nature of aggression and can leave the person on the receiving end confused, hurt, ashamed and not sure how to respond.

- Saying yes to doing daily tasks, but secretly feeling resentful – you might ask you partner to take the bins out, or to cook dinner and they say "yes". But actually they wanted to say no and didn’t feel able to, for one reason or another. What can proceed is a very resentful making of the dinner, and a highly-likely argument about the bins and negative atmosphere for that evening, because the person said "yes" but with a whole load of resentment.

- Picking important moments to sabotage – this is when you may have an important job interview, deadlines to meet at work, success in your career or going to an important family occasion. It is at this time that a historical argument might be brought up or they might create a distraction at home, which means you end up being late to the interview. Or they might withhold any supportive or encouraging words, or give a criticism about how you hair looks, just as you leave the door, so that you leave the house feeling not as ready to seize the day and be your best confident self.

- Give you the silent treatment – silence, of a passive aggressive kind, can be extremely hurtful. The person may withdraw completely and not be at the end of the phone for hours or even days. Or they may be in the same house, but not offer any form of dialogue with you, just keeping themselves separate. This silence can leave the person on the receiving end having to do a lot of emotional labour and loop-like thinking, trying to play Sherlock and work out what went wrong and how to fix it. This can be exhausting and will not lead to the all-important resolution that needs to happen - as quickly after the argument as possible.

- Resist ideas, activities, and solutions – the person will actively dismiss ideas that you have proposed, that could bring something positive to your relationship and ongoing life struggles, such as couples' therapy or coaching or making important changes, to the divide of household duties. This can lead to ever-increasing frustration, anxiety, emotional burden, and upset, which the person may secretly get a sense of satisfaction from, with a sense of ‘victory’ that they won in the end.

- Deliberate button pushing – the person will have identified what things really trigger you and will bring this up in a hurtful and critical way, when you may already be feeling your worst self, bringing your level of self-esteem even further down than it was before and reducing your capacity to bounce back, to your usual, contented self. This can seem like truth-twisting, giving mixed messages to keep the person off balance, continually making excuses, strategically withholding information, that could bring more sense to the picture, and lying.

- Invalidation of feelings – continually responding to a person’s feelings with a dismissive, critical or minimising attitude. Or another common way is to gas-light with phrases such as ‘everything happens for a reason’ or the classic ‘don’t you think you are making a mountain out of a molehill’. The person on the receiving end will feel like their feelings do not matter, and this can have a devastating impact on their sense of feeling loved and being worthy of love.

You can read the article here -

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