Most of us have experienced passive aggressive behavior, we may be the one affected by it or the one dishing it out. Passive aggressive behavior, the act of saying or doing something indirectly in order to send a message of criticism, anger or disapproval to someone else, is anything but harmless. Like many of you, I am part of a social and family circle where passive aggressive behavior is tolerated. Sarcasm and humor are used to mask a judgmental slight and under-handed compliments are spouted as routinely as empty social niceties. But, they feel bad- really bad.
In my personal healing work, I am realizing just how much passive aggressive behavior hurts me. Its affect is very real, and because it is normalized by society, it is often overlooked. Passive aggression at its most basic level, is an act of defense from someone who has difficulty letting down their guard enough to be vulnerable and speak their truth without fear. In an effort to protect themselves (and their position), without being clear and sure of themselves, they opt for a passive (yet aggressive) work around. Case in point, I had a neighbor recently have her visitor park in our parking spot. When I asked if her visitor could park in a visitor spot next time, my neighbor agreed but then went on to say that she, herself, is not particular and doesn’t mind where she parks (implying that my request was petty). She was clearly hurt or angered, but unable to verbalize that to me comfortably. Instead she belittled and nullified my viewpoint. That’s the thing about passive aggression, it is an act of violence against yourself as well as others. She wasn’t able to speak her truth or release her defenses and so acted that out on me. I was left questioning if I had done something wrong.
Where there is aggression of any kind, there is victimization. It is important to realize this and put it into context and not to blame yourself. Again, passive aggressive behavior feels bad…because it’s designed to feel that way. In any life situation, my goal is to listen carefully to my inner voice and needs, share my concerns (in a kind and sensitive way), set boundaries where they are appropriate, and give myself the care I require to maintain a loving relationship with the Self.
Below are some of the ways that I’ve learned to address passive aggression as it comes up in my own life.
- Recognize the comment for what it is- a form of aggression. Don’t react or take the bait. Breathe.
- Listen and feel deeply into how the comment or action makes you feel. Is there an additional “charge” to it? This could be a triggering of other experiences you’ve had in your life which are amplified by the comment.
- Don’t judge and criticize yourself (or the other person). We all have our own wounding, some of us are taking an active role in healing it, others are not there yet. All of us are deserving of compassion and love.
- Speak the truth and say what you mean. Ideally, this should be from your highest self as often as possible. Be kind, but be direct. It should be at a later point in time when the negative charge of the particular situation has dissipated.
- If you can only do one thing- pray for them. An act of aggression is rooted in fear, insecurity and unsafety. Pray that they can receive your love and can heal.
Using ahimsa as a guiding principle calls us to act from a place of clarity, from our highest self, and to feel safe enough that we can share our position with someone else in a healthy way. This takes courage and a strong sense of self love. It is a practice…and it takes time. In our current culture, there are plenty of opportunities for us to practice this skill. Don’t get discouraged and keep practicing until passive aggression no longer has an impact on your life and is no longer used as a tool to hurt each another.
When confronted with those blinded by their own wounding and suffering, I am reminded of this quote from Yogi Bhajan, “If you can’t see love in all, you can’t see love at all.”