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What is passive aggression?

This definition has fallen out of favor because the behavior is so common now, but recognizing it helps you not take it seriously:

Passive-aggressives are literally aggressive in a passive way. They aren’t hostile one moment and then kind the next. Instead, they perform the maddening trick of being both at the same time.

Essentially, passive-aggression is kid stuff. When you tell kids to go clean up their room, they grudgingly say okay, then the “forget” or find other flimsy excuses. Most of us outgrow this behavior. But for some people, this techniques works so well that they carry it into adulthood. “It’s an avoidance pattern, and that’s the essence of the passive-aggressive person,” explains Dr. Sapadin.

Using passive-aggression is a way to control situations and people without seeming to be in control. “Passive-aggressive behavior is a tremendous way to manipulate people,” says Hall.

The passive-aggressive person usually lacks the self-confidence to ask for, do, or say what he really wants. He’s so uncomfortable with self-assertion that he tries to get his way by doing nothing. After, of course, telling you whatever you want to hear. By allowing others to take charge, he leaves himself only one option for getting what he wants: sabotage.

Passive-aggressive hostility is so subtle, the skilled practitioner is often in a good position to deny it’s even there – blaming you for the inevitable confrontation that results. You blow up; he remains calm. Suddenly you seem like the aggressor. Maybe even to yourself. The incredible final straw, Dr. Wetzler says, is when you apologize to him. Because your inner voice is telling you that he’s not being open with you, you experience conflict and stress.

From “Oh, that Hurts” by Ed Pavelka in Prevention Magazine, June 1998

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