Episode 6 of “One Day You’ll Thank Me” was another solo with Anna and I. During our light-hearted mother and daughter discussion we decided to tackle the term "passive-aggressive behavior." We admitted to our listeners that in our home although we are very aware of this type of behavior, we often tend to "police" and call each other out when someone is exhibiting it. Our goal was to share what exactly passive-aggressive behavior is, the impact that it has on family relationships, and the various ways we may be using it in our relationships and with our families.
So what exactly is passive-aggressive behavior?
When you appear passive on the surface, but you're really acting out anger in a subtle, indirect, or behind-the-scenes way. A defining feature would be manipulating someone's feelings to elicit a particular behavior/response.
How I often illustrate an example of this type of behavior is by discussing an incident with a doughnut…let’s say for example that you are sitting at the kitchen table eating a doughnut and I walk in and say, “oh, I love doughnuts, I am so hungry. I haven’t had a doughnut in forever.” In this scenario, I am trying to manipulate your emotions and trying to make you feel bad so that you share the doughnut or give it to me, instead of just being direct and asking you to have part of the doughnut.
Passive aggressive behavior manifests itself in many ways, here are some examples:
* Sarcasm - this may sound like. “Thanks for sharing,” when somebody took the last cookie. The sarcastic comment would be used to disguise an emotion instead of being vulnerable and just telling them that your feelings were hurt when they ate all of the cookies and didn’t see if you wanted any.
* Back-handed compliment - a real life example I often use is when a woman that I know told me that I was such a good, caring person and it was so hard to believe that I was, seeing that I do not spend that much time in church.
* Playing the victim - this is very common when a kid is asked to do something by a parent and they don’t do it. After many requests that are ignored, the parent gets angry and loses their cool, then the kid will play the victim, describing the parent as mean for yelling at them or punishing them.
* Feigning helplessness - “I can’t do this (struggling voice), I don’t know how!” This type of behavior is used to play helpless so someone will help or take over for you.
* The silent treatment - Sometimes someone will just straight out say “I’m not talking to you” and other times it can be more subtle like someone not looking in your direction. It is a form of pausing the communication, but building resentment, guilt, and shame.
* Acting sullen, pouty, or moody - When someone (often teenagers) is in a mood, withdrawn and irritable, not quite giving you the silent treatment, but you can feel the tension and it feels uncomfortable in the room.
* Acting deliberately obtuse/stupid - Acting in a way that you don’t understand, pretending you don’t understand, so as to prove a point. They don’t want to agree with the other person and admit that they were right. Ends up being a go round and round.
These are just a handful of examples of all the ways in which passive-aggressive behavior is used within families. For most of us, this type of unhealthy communication is very common. Once aware, we can then see the impact that passive-aggressive behavior has on family relationships; including disconnection, emotional fatigue, inducing shame, feeling like they're always "in trouble," & emotional manipulation.
Although we cannot change someone else’s mode of communication, we can control ourselves and respond in a more healthy and direct way by pointing out the other person's feelings in a way that is non-judgmental yet factual, "you seem to be angry with me for asking you to clean your room." Passive aggressive behavior can appear to "work" sometimes, reinforcing its use, but is a very unhealthy form of communication that can impact families in a negative way, creating anxiety in kids and teens and the entire family.
By understanding what causes these behaviors and how you can deal with them, you can address them with people in your life and minimize the potential damage to your relationships.
It may take time to make changes, but it starts by becoming aware, then practicing a different form of communication. Listen in to the full episode to hear us share our funny examples in our home and learn some tips to create more positive interactions, HERE.
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