Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Passive-agressive behaviors: how to recognize them and how to deal with them

Have you ever gotten a sweet-yet-scolding comment? A comment that makes you stop and think “was that a compliment or an insult?” You may be dealing with a passive aggressive personality. While I researched this topic, I recognized a few behaviors I’ve been guilt of in the past. I realized that passive aggressive behaviors are common especially when someone feels powerless and needs to regain that power. I found something interesting in my research. Passive aggressive behaviors are significantly correlating with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator results of Introverted (I), Intuitive (N), and Perceiving (P) personality types. The questions I asked myself were how are passive aggressive behaviors developed? What types of behaviors occur? And how do can we effectively deal with such behaviors?


Passive aggressive behaviors develops in childhood with our parents. Parents who enforce strict rules and consistently put down, shout at or ignore the child. This can lead to a child learning repression rather than expression of their emotions, thoughts, ideas and opinions. When a child isn’t encouraged to express their emotions, they bottle it up. They learn to fear speaking out in case they are met with rejection or conflict. Essentially, passive aggressive behaviors stems from trying and failing (in the child’s eyes) to please his or her parents. When a person bottles up their emotions, they learn different, non-verbal and indirect ways of channeling true feelings. This secretive behavior leads to resentful feelings that stems from trying to keep people happy. They appear docile and accommodating while finding ways to covertly carry out desires and express their emotions.


There are three main types of passive aggressive behavior. First, the intentional ineffectiveness is the approach to doing a task with laziness and subtle mistakes intentionally in order to aggravate someone. For example, a boss gives a task to an employee who doesn’t like the task. The employee will then do the task enough to anger the boss but well enough to not receive any punishment. This behavior essentially gives a person a sense of power and satisfaction in a powerless situation. Because who is willing to say to the boss "no, I won't do that?" Second, intentional lateness and forgetfulness is when someone will exaggerate characteristics he or she knows someone hates. For example, if a friend is constantly being nagged for being late, that person will take control by deliberating being late. Lastly, sulkiness occurs when someone becomes sullen, cold and withdrawn instead of putting up a fight. It’s the use of the phrase “fine, whatever” when someone doesn’t want to do something but won’t stand his or her ground to avoid doing it.


You now recognize passive aggressive behaviors, how do you deal with them? First, don’t take the behaviors as a personal attack and don’t feel guilty. Passive-aggressive behavior is often a defensive mechanism which has nothing to do with the person who is on the receiving end and more about the person who is committing the behavior. Second, be patient, refuse to play their games and avoid tit-for-tat behaviors. Continuing the cycle of passive-aggressive behaviors will only escalate and make the situation worse. Third, let the person simmer and calm down before approaching the real problem. A real solution usually cannot be reach when someone is angry. The best course of action is to let the person calm down and allow them to be able to think rationally. Then a possible solution can be reached without any hurt feelings. Lastly, talk about it. Be frank, open and blunt but show respect for someone’s emotions, ideas and thoughts. Ignoring the behaviors isn’t going to make the behaviors go away. If the behaviors bother you, confront them and discuss the real source of the behaviors.


In conclusion, if we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we all have committed passive-aggressive behaviors from time to time. Sometimes we can’t help ourselves when it feels better to seek revenge than confront the person who made us angry or annoyed us, etc. However, passive-aggressive behaviors are not healthy and hurts us more than we realize, leaving us with resentment and bitterness. If you are not willing to confront the person with their behavior, you need to let it go. Don’t let it fester and build up. If you experience passive aggressive behaviors, confront the person with their behaviors, sometimes I’ll bet, they weren’t even aware of what they were doing. The number one, most important key to any healthy relationship is communication. Open communication can stop more angry fights and arguments than we probably realize. I know it may sound easier said than done, but believe me, it is worth it.