Passive-Aggressive Communication

Reduce distress in relationships by communicating with confidence 

“I’M FINE”, or “Wouldn’t it just be great if I could get some help cleaning this house, oh well, I guess it’s all on me again…” 

Have you ever heard the expression: a wolf in sheep’s clothing? How about a lion with a headband on? This expression describes something that is harmful that looks deceivingly innocent. Passive-aggressive communicators are akin to the “mean girl” persona, smiling at someone while talking negatively behind their back, rolling their eyes or giving the silent treatment.

An indicator of passive-aggressive communication is excessive sarcasm or the phrase “I’m just kidding” after an insulting remark or the phrase “I’m fine” but the emotion and tone behind the words are screaming anything but. Passive-aggressive communication is also executed through the famous silent treatment a.k.a “cold shoulder” or stonewalling. 

The passive-aggressive communicator tries to get what they want without ever asking for it. I have to have my needs met right now – but I don’t want to take responsibility to get my needs met. Example: Instead of asking for Friday off work directly (as they feel they have worked extra hard that week), instead, they communicate that it’s the Friday before a long weekend so there won’t be a lot of customers, hoping that their boss will see their “logic” and tell them to take it off anyways. The passive-aggressive individual wants to be saved, and desires to have someone swoop in and meet their needs and recognize how amazing they are and how hard they have been working. While this MAY happen from time to time, you are going to consistently be let down, creating unwanted stress and tension in your relationships

This combination communication type creates  a double illusion to us. Adding the false confidence of the aggressive communication type (reacting out of fear of rejection, not true confidence) and the facade of being a “people pleaser” (not wanting to create conflict or ruffle feathers, being “nice”) while constantly perpetuating the feeling of being walked on by those around you. This is a destructive trap that convinces us that we are not only justified for our behaviour, but also seems to trick us into thinking that no one notices our subtle attempts to control the situation or people around us. 

Don’t kid yourself, people are picking this up and it feels fake! 

This is an ineffective means of communication that will not get your needs met, and will not serve to build authentic connection. Just like in the other communication styles mentioned, it serves to create a barrier between yourself and the people you desire to be closest with. This barrier is ripe with resentment because people feel manipulated, confused, used and may get fed up with the “games” you are seeming to play and the lack of transparency. 

Passive-aggressive individuals will sometimes note that they have been submerged in this style of communicating for so long that they are unaware that they are exhibiting these traits. They may have become detached from their emotions, particularly those of anger and have convinced themselves they are not an angry person, which is why it “covertly” comes out in this style. 

If you find that you are falling into the trap of the passive-aggressive communication, we want you to practice one thing, and we are going to keep it simple: Ask directly for what you need. It may take some time for this to “feel right”, as it is an adjustment getting used to not being able to control the outcome of someone else’s response.  Align yourself with assertiveness and practice this one thing, you may be pleasantly surprised with the results! 

It is important to remember that there is no magic switchover into assertiveness. It takes time, work and effort that needs to be complemented with self-compassion, or else we will revert back to our old comfortable patterns. 

Keep a look out  for the rest of our communication styles blog posts and if you or your relationship needs support, don’t hesitate to reach out! 

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