Many people are taught from a young age to suppress feelings commonly regarded as negative, such as anger, resentment, fear, and sorrow. Those who cannot or will not express these emotions tend to engage in passive-aggressive behaviors that provide them with a means of redirecting their feelings. Passive aggression can take many forms: People who feel guilty saying “no” may continually break their promises because they couldn’t say no when they meant it. Others will substitute snide praise for a slur to distance themselves from the intense emotions they feel. More often than not, such behavior is a cry for help uttered by those in need of compassion and gentle guidance.
When we recognize passive-aggressive patterns in the behavior of others, we should never allow ourselves to be drawn into a struggle for power. Passive aggression is most often wielded by those who feel powerless in the face of what they perceive as negative emotions because they hope to avoid confronting their true feelings. They feel they are in control because they do not display overt emotion and often cannot understand how they have alienated their peers. If someone close to us shows signs of frustration or annoyance but claims nothing is amiss, we can point out that their tone of voice or gestures are communicating a different message and invite them to confide in us. When we feel slighted by a backhanded compliment, it is important that we calmly explain how the jibe made us feel and why. And when an individual continually breaks their promises, we can help them understand that they are free to say no if they are unwilling to be of service.
As you learn to detect passive aggression, you may be surprised to see a hint of it in yourself. Coping with the natural human tendency to veil intense emotions can be as simple as reminding yourself that expressing your true feelings is healthy. The emotions typically regarded as negative will frequently be those that inspire you to change yourself and your life for the better, whereas passive-aggressive behavior is a means of avoiding change. When you deal constructively with your feelings, you can put them behind you and move forward unencumbered by unexplored emotion.