Passive-aggressive behaviour

When communication breaks down

At one time or another, every one of us engages in “passive-aggressive” behaviour, be it at home, school or the office.

This is a type of behaviour which we often adopt unconsciously to avoid confrontation. In some couples, for example, if the woman wants to go out shopping on a Saturday afternoon, the husband may initially agree to go with her. However, later on, he may bring up all sorts of reasons to get out of it (e.g. I forgot to plug in the car last night. I’m coming down with the flu). Instead of expressing his feelings, he shows his displeasure by sighing, making angry gestures or demonstrating a general lack of enthusiasm.

This is not a very healthy form of communication. Passive-aggressive people are afraid of getting a negative reaction from the other person and would rather agree to any request. They would rather avoid confrontation and look like good guys, instead of dealing with the problem head-on. They often believe that relationships must not involve any conflicts. However, the consequences of this type of behaviour are often negative, the immediate benefits quickly turning into long-term problems.

This type of behaviour is frequently seen in children who learn to say “yes” to please their parents and avoid being scolded. In many cases, they end up using various strategies, each one more creative than the last, to get out of an obligation or responsibility. The academic and professional communities are no exception: for example, students who do not agree with their teachers or employees who have a grudge against their bosses, may be inclined to express their disapproval in a “passive” manner through chronic absenteeism or tardiness.

The real problems are never addressed and the people who are behaving this way are not necessarily aware that they are playing an unhealthy game. To avoid passive-aggression, we need to know ourselves well. We are often unaware that we are behaving in a passive-aggressive manner and are often inclined to feel victimized while failing to acknowledge that we are partly responsible. In addition to becoming aware of the problem, we must learn to control our emotions and express our feelings in a clear, respectful and, of course, non-violent manner. It is certainly worthwhile: it is a problem of which we are not always aware, but which may account for many irritants in a relationship.