At the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, a group of freshman students are learning about passive aggressive behavior, based on the book, The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, 2nd ed.  Among the topics covered, the students are learning to identify five, increasingly pathological levels of passive aggression and how particular behaviors show up in student-teacher relationships.  In the writing that follows, one student describes typical compliant defiance that marks interactions between a harsh, critical teacher and a passive aggressive student:

Level 1: Temporary Compliance

My teacher is a demanding, harsh, and strict. I am passive aggressive, a term that sounds like it contradicts.

You see I’ll get angry and upset, I’ll want to get up and flip the table. But that only happens in my head because on the outside I’m calm and stable.

I won’t show my anger on my face, I’ll just show it through my actions. I’ll do only part of the whole task, kind of like a fraction.

The teacher will command me to do something and I won’t ever say no. But don’t be fooled because there’s plenty of frustration I won’t show.

The teacher will mistake my aggression for an act of kindness. One method I use is called temporary blindness.

The teacher thinks I am going to follow her directions but I have something else in mind. Now I am off to look for what she has asked me to find.

I go to the back of the room to start looking for the dictionary on the top shelf. I see it right away but I’ll pretend I need help.

I’ll say to the teacher “Oh the book is not even here.” She has no patience herself so she’ll respond saying “Did I not make myself clear?”

“It’s right on the top shelf, I swear you’re looking right at it. I repeat myself saying it’s not there, I know it’s my bad habit.

I mean if she wasn’t always so bitter, always finding a way to be rude. Maybe I would listen to what she says, maybe we’d both be in a better mood.

So it’s really not my fault, she can’t blame me for making things so hard. She’ll say to look harder this time but I’ll continue to disregard.

Next thing you know, I’ll start looking at the shelf in the middle. I know it’s better to just grab the book, I know this could all be so simple.

But this is my way of getting back at this lady, without getting in trouble. So I continue to look for the book, I continue this self made struggle.

My teacher becomes so furious that she comes to the back and grabs the book. She demands why I couldn’t find it, I say “I swear I really looked.”

“I just couldn’t find it, that’s not even my fault.” And that is how I get away with my mental assault.

Many thanks to Samira Ashrafi for granting permission to share her writing.

For more information on the five levels of passive aggressive behavior or strategies for changing passive aggression, please visit 

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