Passive Aggressiveness: Origins and How to Respond
By Crystal Tsui
At one point or another, we have all seen or engaged in passive aggressive behaviors, whether it’s giving the silent treatment, making subtle insults, or sending one of those “as per my last email” emails. We do this because we are suppressing our anger or frustration from someone or something. Fear and anger are controlled by a region in the brain called the amygdala. Passive aggressiveness stems from that basic emotion of anger.
Anger is neither good nor bad. It is a basic, spontaneous, neurophysiological part of human emotion. As children, we were often scolded or punished for expressing anger. For example, throwing a temper tantrum is considered unacceptable. So at a young age, we started to perceive anger as taboo. As a result, we learned to suppress our feelings and engage in an indirect expression of hostility through subtle acts.
Children are most likely to act in a passive aggressive manner. Nonetheless, children are the most susceptible to change. Teaching our children that anger is just like every other emotion and directing their anger towards a positive, productive activity will help the child grow into an adult knowing how to manage their emotions properly. Some positive activities may include writing, exercising, drawing, meditating, and listening to music. These activities provide a form of distraction that can alleviate one’s mood, by stimulating another part of the brain that is not associated with the amygdala.
However, adults act this way as well because it’s easier to be passive than to be assertive and emotionally open. When children are taught to suppress their anger and they mature into an adult, it’s harder for them to stand up for themselves and to confront their source of anger.
It is best to avoid raising your voice, lecturing, or knee-jerk consequences that can exacerbate the situation. If an individual is trying to express their anger through communication, it is best to listen instead of reprimanding them for being angry.
When someone is passive-aggressive towards you, fight the urge to mirror their behavior. Instead confront the behavior because when passive-aggressive behavior is confronted directly and assertively, the hidden anger is weakened. Assertive communication and being emotionally open, no matter how hard it is, is the most effective way to acknowledge and accept anger. This builds a foundation for lifelong emotional intelligence and strong, secure relationships.
If you or someone you know has difficulty managing their anger, please contact our psychotherapy offices in New York or New Jersey to talk to one of our licensed professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling & Psychotherapy. Contact our Paramus, NJ or Manhattan, NY offices respectively, at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment. For more information, please visit http://www.counselingpsychotherapynjny.com/ .