Passive Aggressive Diaries

Understanding passive aggressive behavior in families, schools, and workplaces

Passive Aggressive vs. Assertive Behavior in Relationships

One of the most common reactions people have when I talk about my work in addressing passive aggressive behavior is an impassioned, “Passive aggression is so frustrating! I can’t stand passive aggressive people!” followed up by a quick and more sheepish, “Wait, what exactly is passive aggression again?” Read More

I know you're right but

I seem to have noticed in the fifty years that I have been alive that when my behavior is aggressive I get results. When my behavior is passive aggressive I get ignored. When my behavior is assertive I get told no and treated like I am a push over. So then I end up removing people from my life. I don't want to keep doing that.

I am seriously thinking about becoming explosive again like I used to be. At least I got results and ended up with some life long friends after I exploded on them.

I have to wonder why people respond to anger with respect. I personally think it's sickening, but it is always what has worked for me.

Maybe you could explain this to me or someone else might be able to explain why being assertive just gets me walked on. Please help before I start exploding on people again.

Maybe it's...

Jack, I don't want to comment on whether you should be one way or another so I'll leave that up to you. I'm more interested in the academic discussion of why angry people get their way and also more importantly why they might gain life long friends.

I think cost vs reward is important to look at here. When an individual is doing anything for someone, they are always conscious of the reaction they will receive. A person who is explosively angry presents a threat, or at the very least, a massive emotional cost, to upset. That said, the spectrum increases at both ends. If something is a greater cost, we expect a greater reward. If we make a person who is typically angry and easily aggravated, instead, appreciate us; we feel great. It's like we won some sort of acceptance that, in reality, we never asked for.

I think it is a further elaborated idea to what Benjamin Franklin observed (at least I think it was him). He found that if he asked someone who didn't like him, for some thing or some service, if they agreed, they would be more inclined to like him. The internal rationale would be "well if I'm doing this for them, they can't be so bad, in fact I must like them to some degree". In the case of why people would like the angry person and be "life long friends", it's usually when they are forgiven. Forgiving someone is an amazing thing, it is about acceptance and the foundation is love. People who are nice and easy to get along with don't ask for that sort of value from people - that love and acceptance. But people who are explosive ask for it, and when they get it, it makes the forgiver more invested.

Request or demand?

Having read your reply, here are my thoughts:

In relation to these people who are ignoring your assertive requests, who are you? Is there some reason why the requests should be honored? Are you making those requests of your employees? Or your underage children? Or adult offspring living in your home? Those are hierarchical relationships, with you in a top-most position. Or are you simply trying to control your peers? And by “peers,” I include a spouse/life-partner, someone on equal footing.

Your reply is written as if you should be obeyed and requests should be honored; but that is not a given. Perhaps it’s also not a given to the people around you. I can’t walk up to a person (even my spouse) and say: “Will you please buy me an ice cream,” expecting that ice cream will be granted. That is not how requests work. However, if a person came up, ranting and raving with the implied violence that erratic behavior conveys and demanded, “Buy me an ice cream,” I might comply.

That’s why people respond to anger; but the angry one just winds up looking incapable of self-control. Do you really want to be that person? Is it worth it to become that person, in order to get your way?

As for having your requests honored:

Ask yourself: Is there some reason why my requests should be honored? First, are they reasonable? Second, is my relationship with the person one that implies that they should do my bidding?

If the answer to those questions is “Yes,” perhaps you’re dealing with passive-aggressive people, who don’t feel they have a voice to (out loud) deny your requests; so they simply ignore them.

This article provided fairly

This article provided fairly accurate examples of the three noted behaviors. That's a sweet start.

Having said that, I am more interested to know the whys rather than the hows in the case of passive-aggressive projections. I am guilty of employing a PA approach at times, either in personal relationships or at work, and I'd like to know what could be the possible triggers (external), or does the answer simply lie in a person's psyche?

Personally, I use the PA approach when I am angry with an individual while hoping to blow off some steam and avoid a direct confrontation at the same time. Mostly, a good dose of sarcasm is involved as highlighted in the article.

Ironically, however, the PA reaction is most likely to lead to a slow and painful meltdown as opposed to the aggressive or assertive approach, and yet I can't help behaving that way.


3 ways of asking a domestic favor

The first 2 are larded down with baggage. The 3rd way of asking is just a simple request.

The first 2, to me as a woman, sound like someone picking a fight, pouting, resentful about something, whatever. Not a nice or loving way to start the day.

I think part of the issue is

I think part of the issue is that we expect our SOs to be tools to a certain degree. We want to use each other to make our own lives easier and marriage gets bogged down with these little expectations.

Personally, I've found in life that people just don't always manage to give you what you want. And there's very little that spouses 'owe' each other. Love isn't about emotional debt.

At this point in my life if I want something done and it's important, I arrange my life so I can do it myself. I've actually found that it isn't that hard. Single people manage to pick up their dry cleaning.

Married or not, as adults we're all responsible, ultimately, for our own lives and our own contentment.

It seems to me that the

It seems to me that the aggressive approach will work - for a while only though. People will eventually move as far away from you as possible. Eventually, they will quit the job, divorce you, refuse your calls, etc.

out of the loop

Obviously I'm completely f***ed up, I found the 2nd request funny and if asked to do something like that I would laugh. I say "fine" quite a bit and I mean just that, it is fine. Now I see that "normal" people take it as a p/a response. No wonder my bf gets angry every time I respond with fine, and I thought it was him. It's me! He'll be pleased to hear this.

passive aggressive

I have been married to a very wonderful woman for the past 3 years,
I moved into her home with her 2 kids a son 18 years old at the time and her daughter 23.
My spouse is a very paasive person and has not "set" any expectation regarding of how they respect community space in the home. She has asked them to pick up thier mess, dirty dishes food left out to rot dirty and clean clothes in the kitchen on table and chairs and in the living room furniture.
They may comply for a day or two but always returning to thier "hard wired" habits.
I have experienced a severe amount of frustration regarding these issues, it has turned me into a very unhappy person as when I adress this to my wife she gets very defensive of the kids and asks me why I choose to let this ruin our time together and why can't I relax about it.
Over the past 2 years we have seen a therapist about 4 or 5 times usually right after me blowing up with anger due to the frustration of the situation never being resolved.
I have been labled an "abuser" now and both kids were rather I not be with thier Mom because of these verbal blow ups. They have never recieved any consiquense for not doing what they are asked so they continue to "not Track" on thier reponsibilities as Mom would say. My wife then precedes to clean up after them which upsets me because she works very hard and is very tired when she gets home.

short of just trying to live with this situation what should I do.
I am at your site today trying to learn more about passive aggressive behavior as this is another label I have been given by my wife.
I Love my wife more than anything in this world but cannot go on living in this enviroment.


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may quote other posts using [quote] tags.

More information about formatting options

Signe Whitson is a licensed social worker and co-author of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, 2nd ed.


Subscribe to Passive Aggressive Diaries

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.