September 28, 2017
Passive aggressive behavior can range from subtle innuendos to intense moments of quiet expressions. It can be difficult to identify passive aggressiveness at first glance. What can initially seem like an innocent remark or action can suddenly lead to anger, hostility, and hurt that can impact relationships or other areas of life.
Aggression begets aggression, and whether it takes a passive form or more active modality, it can easily lead to an overall increase in aggressive experiences, interactions, and exchanges. When unintended, this can lead to confusion, stress, and challenging mental anguish. However, with the proper steps, guidance, and insight one can develop a better means of handling their innate aggressive instincts and ultimately create a better experiences and smoother interactions for themselves and those they care about.
Passive psychological aggression is a means of protecting an individual’s vulnerable or unconscious emotional lives through non direct emotional, verbal, or mental means.
Passive aggressive behavior can be blatantly obvious at times, although it’s commonly expressed in a more subtle manner. This can include:
Passive aggressiveness is not just a mild form of aggression, but can be considered “aggression ” in and of itself; carrying with it hurt, pain, and potential emotional injuries.
Sigmund Freud touched on passive aggressive behavior in his theory of psychoanalysis. According to this theory, aggression is an unavoidable part of human life and is instinctive and not just situational.
Freud theorized that because aggression is an integral part of our human experience, the need to express these feelings rests in our subconscious. According to this theory, aggression is something that cannot be eliminated and is in fact something that lives within all humans. Therefore, as humans, each one of us is tasked with the work of finding productive ways to incorporate this emotional state into our lives.
In positive expressions, this can manifest in: advocating, sublimation, or more direct expression of our aggressive instincts. However, when these aggressive instincts are repressed or disavowed then this “aggression” can express itself in more subtle or destructive ways, such as: passive aggressiveness, projection, micro-aggressions, and righteous indignation.
Some forms of passive aggressiveness can be hard to identify since they’re not explicit. Micro-aggressions are a form of projective aggression seen as a comment, statement, or action that is indirectly or unconsciously demeaning or hostile towards a member of “another” group. Often directed towards marginalized cultures, orientations, or genders, these aggressions are so subtle that they often remain out of the conscious awareness of those making the remarks.
While it’s often easier to identify passive aggressive behavior in others, it can be hard to do the same in ourselves. The reactions we have or the responses we show in certain situations can feel as though they are ingrained in our personality. However, by identifying our own passive aggressive tendencies, we can create more emotional bandwidth within ourselves. Through identifying and understanding, we can change aggressive behaviors and feelings that at first glance may have appeared like fixtures of our persona.
Learning how to access and accept the most vulnerable and aggressive parts of ourselves while we balance productively managing aggression from others in the world takes resiliency and courage. Doing so can create deep personal changes that are truly rewarding and life changing. I recently had a client share with me, that he “simply does not engage in self-destruction anymore”. This is an example of the reward I’m speaking of.