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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How do I avoid being passive aggressive?

    When I am angry or upset, I don't like contronting that person. I like to avoid any conflict/drama. However, my husband often calls me out on passive aggressive behaviour. So what should I do? I know being passive aggresive isn't healthy…
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • Anthony Merritt

    Clinical Psychologist, Health Psychologist, Psychologist

    I have been a Clinical Psychologist for ten years. I initially specialised in health psychology with a focus on pain management. More recently my focus … View Profile

    Being passive aggressive generally means displaying overt passive behaviours with implied or undertones of aggressive behaviour. I think that it can often be the worst of all worlds in terms of communication because it shuts down communication without helping you to express how you feel. It also leaves the other person confused about what you need or how to respond.  

    I would suggest that you spend some time thinking about what you want to communicate and what the appropriate response and outcome would be. it's ok to be passive at times, and it's also ok to aggressive at times, but generally speaking try to aim for being assertive. There's a lot of literature on assertive communication, including what it looks like and how to do it. I think it's important that you choose to either be passive, assertive, or aggressive, rather than acting out an old pattern of autopilot that leaves you unsatisfied and the other person confused. 

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    Keryl Egan

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Clinical Psychologist, experienced psychotherapist and executive coach. I work with depression, anxiety, conflict, emotional and relationship issues and couples therapy. I also specialise in individual … View Profile

    Perhaps you need the skills to speak up constructively instead of moving to silence. Once you have those skills you can get away from the clam up or blow up scenarios. These skills are teachable and they really do make a difference.  I have a course which includes videos and exercises and this makes it easier to practice and gain confidence to speak. 

  • I have been working in Eltham, Melbourne as a relationship and family counsellor for over twelve years. I draw on current theory and research about … View Profile

    As well as learning skills in how to communicate assertively, it may be important for you to understand what your fears are about confronting someone directly.

    It may be that you've grown up in a situation where it wasn't OK for you, or others in your early environment (at home, at school etc), to say they were unhappy with something. You may have learned that speaking up meant you and/or others were punished or shamed in some way.

    We live in a society that until recently (and still today, in some parts of the world) believed that it wasn't OK for women or girls to express anger, and so many of us learned from an early age to disconnect from our deeper sense that ‘something isn’t right and I need to speak up about that', that our own needs and wants don't matter and that we are not allowed to ask for things to change.

    Counselling can help you work out what experiences have shaped your ideas/beliefs about how to manage conflict, and to support you to overcome the fears you may have about the negative consequences of being assertive.

  • Dr Joanne Dennison

    Counselling Psychologist, Counsellor, Psychologist, Psychotherapist

    Dennison Psychology is a private psychology practice, with a location in South Yarra (Melbourne). Appointments are available on weekdays (appointments available from early mornings through … View Profile

    Acting passive-aggressively is something that is entirely within your control. What emotions we experience isn't completely within our control. Furthermore, thoughts can seem automatic, and take conscious effort to challenge; we can acquire control over our thoughts. Whereas, as in the case of being passive-aggressive, our behaviour is something we always have control over.

    When people experience emotions intensely, sometimes they do not think they have any control over their behaviour. Whilst they may not feel like they do, they actually do. If you struggle with behaving passive aggressively, I suggest you work on building your level of emotional tolerance, and build on your emotional regulation skills - increasing your tolerance for the emotions you think fuel your behaviour will help you to recognise you are in control. Further to this, acquiring an understanding of how to behave assertively will provide you with a means of expressing yourself to others in a way that increases your chance of being listened to and respected. When you behave in a passive aggressive way, you are showing disrespect to others, which is likely to adversely fuel their emotions in the situation, and reduce the chance of the situation being resolved.

    You may benefit from considering why you feel compelled to behave in a passive aggressive manner; many people who behave passive aggressively identify with wanting to feel more power relative to others in a situation, and behaving passive aggressively helps them do this. The problem is, it comes at the expense of causing further problems between you and whoever else is in the situation.

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