What is passive aggression?
Passive aggression is the term used to describe anger expressed indirectly through what we do or don't do. It's a hostile act to indirectly express anger. It comes in many forms including: lateness, forgetting, sulking, blaming, withholding, being uncooperative ,sarcasm, belittling humour and speaking with an aggressive tone.
Passive aggression is usually seen as something ‘other people’ have ! It's much easier to see it someone else. This article looks at our passive aggression and what we can do about it. I wish to normalise that passive aggression is common. It occurs when we are out of touch with how we feel. Let's see what we can do to deal with our passive aggression when in occurs in our relationships. Here are some suggestions on what you can do if your partner points out your behavour is passive aggressive:
Dealing with Our Own Passive Aggression Checklist
- Make the connection. What’s challenging about passive aggression is that we are unaware that we angry and find it hard to make the connection that what we have said, done or not done might be an indirect expression of hurt or anger. Sometimes we are late just because we are late, or sometimes we forget because we are distracted. Nonetheless it’s worth acknowledging that unconsciously we can act out feelings that we unaware of. Take a moment to see if there is a connection between your actions and your unexpressed feelings.
- Find out what you are feeling. Take some time to connect to what we are feeling. A good way to do this is use Genlin's focusing technique. Put your attention on your body particularly focusing on your chest and stomach area. Notice the sensations and overall felt-sense. See what words come to mind that fit the overall felt sense. Eg. Am feeling..angry, hurt?, stressed, misunderstood..Keep trying words until one resonates with what you are feeling. Anger, frustration, irritation often hide more vulnerable feelings underneath. Ask yourself ,'what am I feeling underneath my anger..hurt?,disrespected?, ignored?, powerless? not good enough? left out? small, useless? not valued or trusted? Sad? Alone? Not cared about?
- Have compassion for yourself. Being angry in itself is not a terrible thing. We need anger to inform us of violations to our boundaries or our values or that something important to us is under threat. We do need to learn how to accept, express and manage our anger responsibly. You can get support to learn how to accept how you are feeling and not make yourself wrong.Accepting one's humanness , including one's shadow parts is challenging. It's easy to get stuck in shame which is judging ourselves to be 'bad in our being". Talking releases shameful feelings and it's much better to accept and face feelings than numb them out.
- Be in relationship, which means caring about what your partner is feeling. Your partner may be feeling uneasy with what they perceive as passive aggression because they sense the underlying hostility. They don’t know for sure what you are feeling and sense you are not in touch with your feelings. They may feel they have done something wrong or be uncertain of what you might do next. It helps to remember if they accuse you of being passive aggressive that their main motive It is to feel safer. It's understandable they want to know what is going on or want to know what they are feeling makes sense.
- Take responsibility. What are your options when you are accused of being passive aggressive? Option A is to deny it. Option B is to take responsibility. Consider that your partner may be onto something. If they are feeling you are being hostile, it's probably accurate. Take some time to connect to your feelings. Consider making an apologly. Find words to acknowledge that they may be right. Give reassurance that you will do your best to communicate in a cleaner way in the future. To take option B you will need to accept your feelings and keep the perspective that you are essentially good, not a bad person for having feelings you were unaware of.
Getting Support As A Couple
I work as a relationship counsellor. Much of the work I do is support couples feel safe enough to communicate what they feel in a responsible way. I witness the difficulty couples have accepting their feelings and expressing them. I suggest using the principle of “keeping your heart clean“ to couples. If you are hurt about something your partner’s done or not done that you are holding onto, then it's your responsibility to communicate your feelings about it. Your relationship commitment to each other can include keeping your heart clean rather than allowing resentment to build. Resentment is repressed anger from holding onto hurt. It often leeks out as passive aggression.
To be able to express your feelings and avoid passive aggression requires a commitment to yourself. You need to be willing to be vulnerable at times. You need to willing to rethink some of the messages you received about expressing feelings and anger. It’s really worthwhile to do the required work to build the trust and intimacy and safety together that comes from daring to include your feelings. Many couples discover that there are safe and rewarding ways to do this.