I know all about being passive aggressive. I have been guilty of it. But I do it less often now than I used to. And almost never intentionally. Because being passive aggressive has costs, and no benefits. And because I have a much better choice.
Passive aggressiveness: the what and why.
According to the urban dictionary, passive aggressiveness is “[a] defense mechanism that allows people who aren’t comfortable being openly aggressive [to] get what they want under the guise of still trying to please others. They want their way, but they also want everyone to still like them.”
At one time in my life, I too wanted everyone to like me. So I didn’t want to upset anyone. Yet, I had needs. Sometimes, meeting them meant risking the un-riskable: upsetting people. And passive aggressiveness was my solution.
I was also passive aggressive when people upset me. I wasn’t self-aware enough to deal with my feelings directly. So, they remained un-dealt-with. I felt resentful. I unsuccessfully juggled that resentment with my need to be liked. And passive aggressive behavior was the result.
It seemed like my only option. It wasn’t malicious. Or even intentional – I didn’t sit down and plan to act that way. It was a knee-jerk reaction to feeling like no matter which way I turned, I would lose. It was what I felt I had to do to survive. And more often than not, I wasn’t even aware I was doing it.
I have now learned that being passive aggressive is futile, and counter productive.
First, our true feelings always come across, no matter how “nice” our words or actions seem. Because it is almost impossible to hide the energy we put out into the world. When someone is passive aggressive towards us, we know exactly what they are doing. Despite their nice words or actions, their negative energy hits us like a ton of bricks. It doesn’t feel “nice.” At all.
Second, rather than leading to people liking each other, passive aggressiveness leads to people resenting each other. The recipient of the aggression feels the mean-spiritedness, and resents it. Whether they are aware of it or not. The propagator of the aggression feels resentful about being in a relationship where their needs must be negotiated, and their feelings remain unresolved. Resentment underlies the relationship. And leads to more passive aggressiveness.
Finally, being passive aggressive takes serious effort. It takes effort to pretend to be nice when resentment exists. It takes effort to keep up the game. And effort to fight off the negativity that lives in our bodies, and eats us from the inside.
Passive aggressiveness never helps. It only hurts.
So, what’s the solution? What do we do when we’re not feeling good about something; but we feel we have no choice but to play it nice?
Be honest. The solution is to tell the truth about what we need. Not from the defensive place of needing to ensure that our needs are met. But from a place of wanting to find a way for everyone’s needs to be met. Including our own. And from a place of respect for ourselves and for others (see, A Meaning of Respect).
The solution is to tell the truth about our feelings. Not from a place of needing to feel vindicated. But from a place of wanting to be emotionally healthy. From a place of not wanting resentment to fester. And from a place of wanting to nurture our relationship so that they remain healthy.
The solution is also to realize that we don’t need people to like us. We are beautiful, perfect, and worthy of love just the way we are. And as long as we truly like ourselves, we need no other approval (see, How I Stopped Worrying About What Other People Thought of Me).
I find this to be a much more effective way. When I live like this, I more often and more easily get what I need. I more often and more easily have my feelings acknowledged. There is no space for resentment. And very little, if any, negativity. I feel emotionally healthier. My relationships feel cleaner. And I can truly enjoy them.