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Passive Aggressiveness is a form of communication and/or behavior that involves an indirect expression of anger and resentment. It's hallmark is that the person who is being passive-aggressive can deny his or her emotion to the other person. Rather than expressing the anger and taking responsibility for the anger, the person behaving this way is "sneaky" about it.
When questions by the partner, the response is often: "No, what makes you think something is wrong?" Or "No, I'm fine", usually expressed in a tone that would indicate to anyone about the age of four months that things are, indeed, NOT fine.
Common But Not Constructive
Garden variety passive aggression, that is, unaccompanied by some form of mental illness, is very common, and there are probably no human beings that have not used this tactic in communication. One one hand it's normal, in the sense that everyone uses it, at least sometimes, but on the other hand, its an absolute relationship killer. So, it's not that there's something wrong with you or your partner if you use it, per se.
It's simply that you have learned this way of handling anger and resentment and now, if you want a better relationship. you need to UNLEARN it, particularly if it's become a habit, and it IS interfering with your relationship.
Ambiguity is almost always part of the passive behavior or talk, because, by being ambiguous, the person can deny any kind of emotional upset. The message can usually be interpreted as benign, or indicating anger and hostility, and that's always the ambiguity.
Incongruity Between Words And Body Language and Tone: Often the ambiguity comes from the words saying one thing, and the tone of voice or body language saying another. The words say: "I'm not angry", but the tone says: "I'm furious", hence the ambiguity.
Claims of "Forgetfulness: People who don't want to do something, let's say, visiting the inlaws, may "forget", and not be available. Then, they can claim they forgot to get around doing something they don't want to do. The problem is, it's always ambiguous. You never know whether it's legitimate forgetfulness, or forgetfulness that is passive-aggressive.
Portraing Victimization: Sometimes, a person will be passive-aggressive by hinting that they are always dumped on, a victim, or always get the short end of the stick. We call it the "poor, poor pitiful me", syndrome. Take a look at an example from the book of the poor, poor, pitiful me syndrome by clicking here to open a new window.
Other aspects of behavior and speech "can" be symptomatic of passive-aggressiveness. For example, procrastination is one (along with forgetting), backhanded compliments, and saccharine, sweet, and obviously insincere compliments can be passive-aggressive markers, but remember that it's the AMBIGUITY of the behavior or talk that is the prime thing that helps identify what is passive aggressive and what is direct communication.
Important To Note:
Keep in mind that passive-aggressiveness applies to the behavior or talk, and not to the entire person. Nobody is passive-aggressive all the time. Some do it a lot. Some do it rarely, so it's not accurate to call, label or characterize a PERSON as passive-aggressive. Labelling will get in the way of improving your relationship.