It happens all of the time. There is that one person in a group who is upsetting everyone else. Maybe they show up late all the time. Or maybe they ignore emails. Or maybe they just expect everyone else to clean up after them. Most of the time, you won’t see people outwardly reacting to such a person.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t reacting at all. Many people internalize their anger and frustration when this happens so it is kept from being out in the open. As that anger festers, however, it needs to have a release at some point. This is how the passive-aggressive cycle begins.
The symptoms of being passive-aggressive can be as mild as a sarcastic response to extremely hurtful actions. Instead of creating such a negative cycle, you can stop passive-aggressiveness before it requires a release. Here’s how you do it.
#1. Evaluate the situation. What made you upset in the first place? For many, passive-aggressiveness begins when it feels like someone else is trying to take away your personal power. They’re invading your boundaries. So ask yourself this: will you be angry about what has happened next week? If not, then choose to let the anger go.
#2. Summarize the problem. Why is it that the actions which have triggered you are so bothersome? Sometimes the roots of our anger have grown quite deep. Childhood trauma, religious teachings, personal bias – they can all affect the levels and depth of our passive-aggressive responses. We must honestly summarize the feelings which triggered the cycle in order to stop it. It’s usually not the person, but an accumulation of internalized feelings that causes us to spiral out of control.
#3. Connect the feelings to your response. We always have the chance to make a choice. We choose to be passive-aggressive. We choose to let things go. We choose to let anger fester. When we can connect the feelings to our triggers that cause us to lash out, then it becomes easier to recognize and avoid situations and people who create such an internally toxic environment – often through no fault of their own. It’s not about them in most cases. It’s about you.
#4. Explore alternative outcomes. Instead of being sarcastic with someone, what is another way you could respond to them? Could you walk away? Could you give them an honest answer? Maybe you could tell them that you didn’t appreciate their actions? When we explore more acceptable ways to respond than what passive-aggressiveness can provide, then we are giving ourselves a chance to improve our future.
#5. Practice the best alternative. Stand in front of a mirror and practice saying an alternative response. Or practice walking away from a difficult situation with a trusted friend, co-worker, or loved one. Bring a journal with you if writing down your feelings and thoughts is your alternative to letting anger and frustration fester. If you can practice this skill once per day for just 7 days, you’ll be able to have it available as an option when the next frustrating event takes place.
Dealing with passive-aggressiveness is more than just learning a new coping skill or trying to return yourself back to “normal” functioning. Unless each of us can clarify the events which cause us to enter a passive-aggressive cycle in the first place, those negative spirals will never really stop.
Take a moment, be honest with yourself, and think about why you react when someone makes you angry and frustrated. Then implement these steps to stay in better control.
Have you used these steps to help you stay out of a negative passive-aggressive response? Did it help? Was it challenging? I’d love to hear your perspective about how helpful these steps happen to be.