Andrea Brandt in 8 Keys to Eliminating Passive-Aggressiveness delivers a fantastic overview of what passive aggression is, how it develops and how you can fix it.
- Passive Aggressiveness is holding back our anger
- It stems from childhood
- Needs an enabler in long lasting relationship
- You overcome it with assertive communication
8 Keys to Eliminating Passive-Aggressiveness has lots of great examples, so I recommend you get the full book to get the most out of it.
What Is Passive Aggressiveness
Andrea Brandt says that passive aggressiveness arises from the taboo our society places on anger. Passive aggressive people don’t set, and don’t how to set personal boundaries.
Passive aggressive people swallow their anger. But Anger doesn’t go away, it’s an energy which needs to be expressed.
So the passive aggressive often project their anger onto other people. They might not be angry at all, and the passive aggressive actually provokes anger in the other person to then justify their feelings.
A feeling of powerlessness
Andrea Brandt says that passive aggression is born out of a feeling of powerlessness and it’s no coincidence the roots are often to be found in our childhood.
If one of the parents is dominant and the other subservient children are likely to develop some passive aggressiveness personality traits. From the subservient parent children learn powerful people shouldn’t be approached directly.
Passive aggressiveness checklist:
Andrea Brandt gives us a handy checklist to see if we’re being passive aggressive:
- Withhold praise, attention or positive feedback when someone deserves or ask for it?
- Fail to follow through
- Stall when an important issue needs to be resolved
- Withhold intimacy as a way of punishment
- Engage in sabotaging behavior
- Respond with minimal words during important discussion (ex. “aha, hmm, I don’t know, fine”)
- Respond in sarcastic ways about life, yourself or others
- Feel frustrated, disappointed or irritable a lot sometimes without reaching anger
- Look at situations negatively even when they are going well
- Make small negative comments underlying someone else’s self esteem
- Feel depressed frequently
- Never say no or always say yes
If you said a lot of yeses here it means that showing anger is a problem for you
Characteristics of weak boundaries
Andrea Brandt also gives us a list of what weak boundaries look like:
- Not protecting personal space;
- Revealing too much;
- Geting caught up in other people’s troubles;
- Neglect own needs for others;
- Tolerate abuse;
- Confuse sex and love (and give in to pressure for sex)
- Easily persuaded by one religious creed or another;
Luisa and Katka work together at a book store.
Luisa asks for an important favor to be taken care of ASAP.
Katka does her own things though as the task takes some time and then goes to lunch.
When she comes back Katka is doing the task herself and gets angry
-“I don’t understand why you say you can help if you really can’t”
-I didn’t know it was that urgent
-I told you it was ASAP
-I had some other stuff to finish. I can do it now if it’s important, I don’t see why you’re so angry
Katka said sure without asking a time frame and without considering her own agenda. She just said yes almost always to avoid saying no.
Then she delayed doing it and said it didn’t know it was that urgent when she actually knew it was ASAP and could have easily figured out how important it was.
And she could have easily figured out whether or not she could have managed and easily said no.
Andrea Brandt says there are three different communicator types:
Aggressive communicators are loud and domineering, winning is everything.
Passive communicators say little, don’t stand up for their rights and ignore attacks. If they have an outburst they are immediately ashamed. They say sorry. Their body language is tentative.
Passive aggressive on the surface seem similar to passive, but the anger comes out in criticism and sarcasm. They send double message: their face is smiling but the words sound mean.
Speak for yourself
Andrea Brandt says that when we treat each other with empathy we see the situation from the other’s point of view. But this is different than assuming you know what they’re thinking or feeling. An essential part of assertiveness is seeing other as individuals and we reflect this understanding with “I” statements without accusations.
Wrong: “you really hurt my feelings when you criticized my cooking in front of everyone”
Correct: “I felt embarrassed and angry to hear you didn’t like the dinner I made for our friends. I want to know what you think, but I’d rather hear it privately”
Wrong: You should really go to the dentist for your teeth, they’re really yellow
Correct: I was reading about… (news about whitening) … have you heard about it?
Passive aggressive communication assumes all discussion will lead to a quarrel, these examples show how criticism can be conveyed in non threatening ways.
To read more examples check:
A passive aggressive needs an enabler
Andrea Brandt says that a long lasting relationship with a passive aggressive needs an enabler. The enabler creates an environment where passive aggressiveness can survive.
The enabler is usually the follower in the relationship.
They keep quiet when they should speak up, excuse outrageous behavior and bail the other out. They say things like “he’s trying” or “if I say something he’ll get mad”.
Andrea Brandt says that if you’re the enabler and want to fix your relationship you’ll have to become the leading figure.
Andrea Brandt says it’s incredibly helpful to confirm people’s feelings. She provides a few dialogue example, and I propose a similar one based on hers:
-“the president is hosting a retreat and I haven’t been invited yet
-“so they’re having a retreat and you want to go but you haven’t been invited yet, that’s the issue?
-“But I feel there’s something more. Is it so important for you?
-“blab la bla”
-“OK, so you’re feeling cut out and you’re worried it might impact your career” (confirm understanding)
-“I would feel the same in that situation, you are part of the team and you deserve respect and inclusion” (validation)
-“thanks, I think so too and I don’t know why I’m being left out”
-“I had the same experience … bla bla bla” (express empathy, let your partner know you had the same feelings)
+ bonus point if you can draw a positive message from your similar experience, or at least a new understanding and self development
My Note: This dialogue is golden. When people say what they’re feeling way too many people would reply “oh come on, what do you care about that stupid retreat”, which is wrong because that’s YOUR point of view.
Real Life Applications
Take responsibility for changing!
And take responsibility for changing your relationship if your partner is passive aggressive.
Start by forcing yourself to change by associating pain to not changing (read on Tony Robbins how to change neuro-associations).
Excellent book that will shed light on what passive aggressiveness really is, how it works in relationships and how you can overcome it in communication.
I particularly enjoyed that it has tons of examples and practical tips.
I believe many of us have at least some hints of passive aggressiveness. You will recognize the people who have none of it, the people who say no very easily and very quickly, and you’ll realize that’s a minority.
I highly recommend the book if you’re dealing with a passive aggressive personality or if you are passive aggressive yourself.
But if you are into communication and human relationships, I would say this is a must read no matter where you stand on the passive aggression scale.
Check my book summaries and Get the book on Amazon