Something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is what is known as passive aggressive behaviour. It’s something I have wanted to write about for a long time but had troubles coming up with examples of how passive aggression has affected my relationships.
In order to share my own personal experiences with passive aggression, I first had to look up what the term actually meant. I spent some time yesterday after writing my post on my Facebook stalker doing some research, and it felt like a lightbulb went off in my head. I had one of those a-ha moments. Everything about my last relationship became clear.
Passive aggressive behaviour
This type of behaviour is often a result of when people do not know how to openly communicate their feelings or emotions. Or they are afraid or don’t want to admit their true feelings. Instead, they use snide remarks, sarcasm or guilt trips to express negative feelings that are often meant to hurt their victim.
In some cases, abusers are very aware of what they are doing while others are in denial about how their actions and words hurt others. There is a clear disconnect between what the person says and what they do.
Passive aggression is a form of emotional abuse and is often difficult to detect. From my experience in relationships, I have come to recognize that my past relationships were extremely unhealthy and that many of my partners used passive aggression instead of openly communicating their feelings.
The more common examples of passive aggression that I’ve experienced include guilt trips, gaslighting, “goating” a person for a negative reaction or worse – being shut out by my partner all together as a way to avoid conflict or to purposely punish me. Shutting out your partner, purposely ignoring them is one of the worst forms of abuse and can cause serious emotional damage.
Examples of passive aggression
My mother was the queen of backhanded compliments. “Your hair looks nice, but it would look better curly.” Or “I like that color on you, but the top makes you look fat.” She got better over time as she recognized how damaging these comments were. But those words still sting after all these years.
My ex Greg, would go radio silent every time we had a fight or if I was upset. I didn’t ask for much from him. My main ask was that he keep regular contact. Whether that was a phone call once a week, bi-monthly visits or whatever – we had agreed to regular communication. He would blame his weeks of silence on his PTSD – which eventually sounded more like an excuse. He would ignore me for a few weeks until I got so mad at him that I picked a fight over something small. Things would be okay again for a month or two. Then he went right back to his old patterns.
It grew to be a very toxic relationship and we hurt each other more than we were there for each other. It was more of a relief when I finally realized this. You might say I finally woke up and said – that’s enough.
Giving the silent treatment is a tactic abusers use to punish their victims. Cutting them out is hurtful. It usually winds up with the victim apologizing to the abuser.
Goaters and baiters are people who are looking for a negative reaction. Their main purpose is to inflict pain or humiliation onto their victims. They will find a weak spot, or something that the victim is sensitive about – and make a big deal about it in a public setting.
I had a family member who loved doing this to me during family dinners. We get along better now – but she used to goat me all the time by either calling me a liar, or trying to tell me that I was crazy and didn’t remember things correctly. Or she would outright insult me and then say, “I’m just kidding, can’t you take a joke?”
Eventually, I stopped giving her what she was looking for – a reaction. Eventually, she came around and apologized for her behaviours. We’ve become fairly close in the last few months and even more so since I moved closer to her. But years of her goating did a lot of damage to our relationship. Sometimes damage from emotional abuse can’t be repaired because the scars run deep.
Guilt trips are one of the more commonly recognized traits in passive aggressive people. Mothers in general are infamous for guilt trips. My ex was also great with the guilt trips. He had a knack for not only making me feel guilty for wanting to spend time with him – but he would often blame me when things went wrong.
“It’s not my fault you want regular communication. I can’t help it if I lost my phone,” he would say – which happened about once a month. It got to the point where I just didn’t believe him anymore.
And then there was my exchange yesterday with the Facebook Stalker, when I told him that his messages were making me uncomfortable and I unfriended him. I would use Facebook often to ask friends for recommendations for products or services. He was always quick to offer to buy me something – even though I had never met him in person. One day I asked if anyone could suggest a store where I could find stones for home decor. I had a specific project in mind. He offered to collect stones for me and I turned him down as I didn’t want to owe him anything.
“I even found stones for you and was going to send them to you, guess I won’t do that now. Oh well,” he said to me on Facebook yesterday.
This is where I lost my cool and flipped out on him. I put a stop to it recognizing exactly what he was doing. You can read the response here.
The one common theme I’ve seen with this toxic trait is that these people never take responsibility for their own mistakes. It’s always someone else’s fault. Like with my Facebook stalker –
“I’m sorry you feel that I’m guilting you” instead of “I’m sorry for making you feel this way.”
Here are some other examples of comments you might see from passive aggressive people.
Correcting passive aggression – within yourself
The most important thing to remember about passive aggression is that most of the time – the abuser is well aware of what they are doing and saying. They know their actions will hurt their victims and they get pleasure from doing so.
It’s one thing to say, “I really wish I could go with you to Hawaii, but I really can’t afford it.” Instead of, “It must be nice to be able to afford expensive vacations, but I have rent to pay.”
“I am mad. But I don’t want to talk about it right now.” Instead of blowing someone off with cold remarks like, “I’m fine.”
“I hear you when you say that you need regular communication. But this is something I can’t give you.” Instead of blaming the person for their needs.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with your comment.” Instead of, “That’s bullshit.” Or “No offense.” – people who use no offense know full well that their comments are offensive.
“That is a terrific color on you. I think a different style could be more flattering.” Instead of, “It makes you look fat.”
I have been guilty of using passive aggression from time to time in my own life. I’m trying to be more mindful and aware of how my actions can hurt others. I do practice what I preach. Kindness goes a long way. I cut my ex out of my life because we had unhealthy attachments to each other. My mother was one of my best friends before she died and I loved her dearly.
At no point in my post, or the previous post, have I called anyone an asshole or bitch or other derogatory name. The information I’m sharing in this post is to help people realize what is unhealthy behaviours. As someone who has attended therapy to better myself, and heal myself from abusive relationships – I’ve learned a lot about the importance of setting healthy boundaries.
I used to be a door mat. The kind of person who would let people walk all over me. I would agree to things even if I didn’t feel they were okay to do. And this led me to getting hurt – a lot. Setting boundaries for yourself is a completely healthy thing to do. If someone doesn’t respect those boundaries, they do not respect you. If a person calls you an asshole or bitch because you’re being “difficult” – they are projecting their own misery onto you. This is the very text book definition of emotional abuse.
You do not have to put up with emotional abusers. Set your boundaries. And look after you. Life is too short to dwell on the negative. Learn from past mistakes. And learn how to move on from them in a healthy manner.
I also worked in addictions and mental health for FOUR years. If you don’t get by now that this blog is used to speak about my experiences and promote mental health awareness, then this is not the blog for you.
What are some examples that you have dealt with in your life? Let me know in the comments!
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- Dealing with difficult people