About Passive-Aggressive Behavior

(From Q & A page about passive-aggressive behavior)

"Passive-aggressive behavior is the expression of anger indirectly. This happens because we got the message one way or another in childhood that it was not OK to express anger. Since anger is energy that can not be completely repressed it gets expressed in indirect ways. This takes the form one way or another, overtly or subtly, of us acting out the Codependent battle cry I'll show you. I'll get me. As a kid I was very angry at my mother for not protecting me or herself from my father - but it was not ok to be angry at my mother so I was passive-aggressive in various ways. One was to not show any feelings. By the time I was 7 or 8 I was being cool in a passive-aggressive response to her attempts to be close to me I would not let her touch me, I would not show happiness if something good happened or pain if something bad happened. I would just say it's okay no matter how much it wasn't. I also showed her and my dad by not getting the type of grades as I was capable of getting in school. I have spent much of my life sabotaging myself to get back at them.

Passive-aggressive behavior can take the form of sarcasm, procrastination, chronic lateness, being a party pooper, constantly complaining, being negative, offering opinions and advice that is not asked for, being the martyr, slinging arrows (whatever have you done to your hair, gained a little weight haven't we?), etc. If we don't know how to set boundaries or will go along with anything to avoid conflict, then we often will agree to doing things we don't want to do - and as a result we will not be happy doing them and will get back at the other person somehow, someway because we are angry at them for making us do something we don't want to do. A classic codependent scenario is being asked where you want to eat and saying oh, I don't care, wherever you want to and then being angry because they take us somewhere we don't like. We think they should be able to read our mind and know we don't want to do whatever. Typically, in relationships, one partner will ask the other to do something and the person who can't say "I don't want to do that" - will agree to do it and then not do it. This will result in nagging and scolding which will cause more anger and passive-aggressive behavior.

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The way to stop being passive-aggressive is to start being honest (first of all with ourselves), having boundaries (the more we get in touch with our inner children the more we can have boundaries with the angry ones that are causing us to be passive-aggressive), saying no when we don't want to do something. It is easier said than done. On one level what we are doing is recreating our childhood dynamics of being criticized by our parents. It is because at our core we feel unworthy and unlovable that we have relationships - romantic, friendship, work - where we will be criticized and given the message that we are bad or wrong. Because we don't Love our self we need to manifest people outside of ourselves that will be our critical parent - then we can resent them, feel victimized, and be passive-aggressive. They are in fact just a reflection of how we treat ourselves internally. The more we can learn to defend ourselves internally from the critical parent voice the more we will find that we don't want critical people in our lives."

"I dated a woman for a while who had been practicing meditation for many years - it was very interesting for me to observe (I was at a point in my process where I was working on letting go of rescuing and needing to change the other person - so I was just observing) how she ignored conflict. We never did any processing of difficulties which arose because she would act as if it never happened. Avoiding conflict also denies intimacy - we cannot be emotionally intimate with someone we can't be angry at. Conflict is an inherent part of relationships and is to be worked through to grow from - conflict is an important part of the garden that grows deeper intimacy."

The following is an excerpt from a handout I wrote recently for a Workshop based on my next process level book

Wounded Souls Dancing in The Light

"Empowerment through Internal Boundaries"

"In order to become empowered and stop being the victim of our self it is very important to recognize the different parts of ourselves so that we can set boundaries out of the adult that has knowledge, skills, and resources, the adult that is on a Spiritual/healing path. We can access our Higher Self to be a Loving Parent to the wounded parts of our self. We have a Healer Within us. An Inner Mentor/Teacher/Wise Wizard that can guide us if we have the ears to hear/the ability to feel the Truth. That Adult within us can set a boundary with the Critical Parent to stop the shame and judgment and can then Lovingly set boundaries with whatever part of us is reacting so that we can find some balance - not overreact or under react out of out fear of overreacting.

All of wounded inner child and archetype parts of us affect our ability to have a healthy Romantic Relationship. Here are two that have a great impact.


Idealistic, dreamer, lover, creative part of us that is a wonderful asset when kept in balance - can lead to disastrous consequences when allowed to be in control of choices. Not good on taking responsible action would rather day dream about fairy tales and fantasies than deal with reality.

We often swing between:

- letting this part of us be in control - in which case the romantic wants the fairy tale so badly that he/she inevitably ignores all the red flags and warning signals that tell us very clearly that this is not a good person to cast in the part of the prince or princess;

- to shutting down completely to this part of us which often causes to be cynical, lose are ability to dream, give so much power to the fear of making of a "mistake" that we can lose the ability to risk opening up to the Joy of being Alive in the moment.

It is very important to find some balance with this part of ourselves in order to have any chance of success in a Romantic Relationship. The romantic is a wonderful part of us that can help our Spirits to dance and sing and soar.

Deprived, wounded, lonely child

Desperately needy, clingy, wants to be rescued and taken care of, doesn't want to set boundaries for fear of being abandoned - very important to own, nurture, and Love this part of ourselves because relating to this part of our self out of either extreme can be disastrous.

Allowing this desperate neediness to come out in our adult relationships can drive someone away pretty fast - no one can meet the desperate needs of this child but we can love this part out of the Loving compassionate adult in us and keep those needs from surfacing at inappropriate times by owning how wounded this part of us is.

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Not owning that part of us can be just as damaging - being terrified of letting ourselves feel the woundedness of this part of our self can cause us to shut down our ability to be vulnerable and open to emotional intimacy. If we cannot own how deprived we were emotionally as children and try to keep this part of us shut away we cannot Truly open our heart and be vulnerable as an adult. People who tend to be counter dependent and can't stand being around needy people are terrified of the needy part of themselves.

When this emotional deprivation is associated with a teenager within us it can cause us to act out sexually to try to get this emotional neediness met. The fact that we have in the past acted out sexually in ways that we are ashamed of - or found ourselves very needy, vulnerable, and powerless to suppress the emotional neediness in sexually intimate relationships - can cause us to shut down to our sensuality and sexuality out of fear the loss of control we experienced in the past."

next: Spring and Nurturing

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 6). About Passive-Aggressive Behavior, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Last Updated: August 7, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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