Mature woman looking out to sea.
Emotional Wellness

7 Keys to Stop Passive-Aggressive Behavior

“We cannot become peacemakers without communication. Silence is a passive-aggressive grenade thrown by insecure people who don’t want the accountability of starting it.” Shannon L. Alder.

Meet Barbara:

“Rant alert! As if caring for your loved ones through terminal illness or behavior issues isn’t bad enough—or even navigating health care systems that promise to offer help but are broken, at best.

“But what gets me is when your f*****g siblings can’t find any f*****g compassion or consideration or even give you a f*****g chance to get back up on your feet after you’ve been knocked down time and time again for years—whether it be emotionally, physically, financially or mentally.

“My mum moved into residential care two weeks ago and loves it. Why? Because she has company and is well cared for. I fully supported her decision. But my brothers? Oh no! One stopped talking to me. The other doesn’t understand why I haven’t found a job yet and moved out of the family home, and he wants me to pay for Mum’s residential care.

“Times like these are when I’m convinced I’m adopted. I’m so f*****g angry! I have had to put my dreams on hold constantly, and I now finally get a chance to rebuild my business with some great products and services but with no f*****g support from family at all!”

(Source: A Family Caregiver’s Guide: 7 Secrets to Replace Negative Triggers with Positive Emotions, 2019)

Barbara felt misunderstood and unheard by her brothers.  Siblings should be part of a strong and supportive circle tied together by a strong familial bond.

Instead, Barbara and her brothers only feel bitterness, anger, and resentment toward each other.

Barbara posted her “rant” on Facebook but needs to speak face-to-face with her brothers.

If communication does not occur, Barbara’s family has failed in the opportunity to get to understand each other’s feelings about the mother’s financial situation and her move into residential care.

If communication does not occur among the siblings and Barbara continues to vent her frustrations on social media, she exhibits passive-aggressive behavior.

This article will:

  1. Define passive-aggressive behavior
  2. Discuss possible causes of passive-aggressiveness
  3. Share the viable health risks of passive-aggressive behavior
  4. Provide 7 Keys to stop such behavior.


What Is Passive-Aggressive Behavior?Mature woman looking out to sea.

“Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. There is a disconnect between what a person who exhibits passive-aggressive behavior says and what he or she does.” (Mayo Clinic)

In other words, passive-aggressive behavior is the inability to express your anger directly. It can have adverse effects on both mental and physical health, both for the person exhibiting it and those around them.

An example is when individuals are unhappy about a situation but insist that everything is okay when asked.

The unhappy person may instead roll their eyes, sigh, or sulk but never communicate their true feelings about a situation.

Other examples of passive-aggressive behavior:

  • Procrastinating is intentionally keeping others waiting to do something and pretending they forgot all about what they had to do.
  • Sulking or Silent Treatment: Instead of addressing an issue directly, someone might give the silent treatment to convey their displeasure or manipulate the situation.
  • Backhanded Compliments: Offering compliments with hidden insults or criticisms embedded within them. For example, “Wow, you did a good job this time.”
  • Sabotage: Intentionally undermining someone else’s efforts or success behind their back while maintaining a façade of support or innocence.
  • Gossiping and Rumor-Spreading: Spreading rumors or gossip about someone as a passive-aggressive way to undermine their reputation or cause social discomfort.
  • Withholding Affection or Support: Do not offer emotional support, praise, or validation to punish or manipulate someone without directly confronting them.

It is important to note that passive-aggressive behavior can harm relationships and communications, often leading to misunderstandings, resentment, and ongoing conflict.

Passive-aggressive behavior also harms your health.

But first—

Potential Causes of Passive-Aggression

Passive-aggressive behavior can stem from various underlying causes, including psychological, environmental, and interpersonal factors.

Here are some common causes:

  1. Unresolved Anger or Resentment: People may resort to passive-aggressive behavior when they cannot express their anger or resentment directly.
  2. Avoidance of Conflict: Some individuals may resort to passive-aggressiveness to avoid direct conflict or confrontation.
  3. Low Self-Esteem: People with low self-esteem may struggle to assert themselves or communicate their needs directly.
  4. Communication Issues: Poor communication skills or a lack of assertiveness can contribute to passive-aggressive behavior.
  5. Stress or Pressure: High levels of stress or pressure can exacerbate passive-aggressive behavior in dealing with emotions.
  6. Personality Traits: Certain personality traits, such as being passive or having difficulty expressing emotions, can predispose individuals to passive-aggressive behavior.
  7. Underlying Mental Health Issues: In some cases, passive-aggressive behavior may be a symptom of underlying mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or personality disorders.

Addressing the underlying causes of passive-aggressive behavior through self-awareness, effective communication, and, if necessary, seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor is essential.


Health Risks to Passive-Aggressive Way of Acting

Passive-aggressive behavior can have significant health risks both for the individual exhibiting it and those around them.

Here are some potential health risks associated with passive-aggressive behavior:

  1. Increased Stress: Passive-aggressive behavior often leads to tension and conflict in relationships, personal or professional.
  2. Poor Mental Health: Individuals who consistently engage in passive-aggressive behavior may be prone to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
  3. Impaired Relationships: Passive-aggressive behavior undermines trust and creates a toxic relationship environment.
  4. Physical Health Problems: Chronic stress resulting from passive-aggressive interactions can have adverse effects on physical health, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, weakened immune system, and digestive issues.
  5. Escalation of Conflict: Passive-aggressive behavior often fuels a cycle of escalating conflict. Rather than addressing issues directly, individuals may resort to indirect forms of retaliation or manipulation, exacerbating tensions and straining relationships.

However, if you are short of seeking professional help, there are effective ways you can start using today to stop passive-aggressive behavior.

Let us dive into the Seven (7) Keys!

Key #1: Recognize the Behavior in Yourself

Recognizing passive-aggressive behavior in yourself can be challenging as it often involves the subconscious.

Passive-aggressive behavior often manifests subtly, so it is critical to be aware of it. Pay attention when you avoid communication or indirectly express hostility.

Recognizing behavior involves:

  • Pay attention to your actions, gestures, facial expressions, and body language.
  • Looking for recurring patterns in your behavior. Trying to understand the underlying motives or needs driving your behavior.
  • Reflect on and analyze your observations and analyses. Consider how various factors interact to shape behavior and evaluate the reliability of your interpretations.

Key #2: Ask for What You Want

Instead of resorting to passive-aggressiveness, express your needs and concerns directly and respectfully.

Use “I” statements to convey your feelings and thoughts without blaming others.

Follow these tips:

  • Be clear and specific. Articulate what you want concisely.
  • Use assertive language that conveys confidence and certainty. Avoid using apologetic or uncertain language that might undermine your request.
  • Provide a reason, if appropriate, which can help the other person understand why your request is essential.
  • Approach the conversation with respect and consideration for the other person’s perspective.
  • Use “I” statements. For example, instead of saying, “You never help me with the dishes,” you could say, “I would appreciate it if we could take tuns doing the dishes.”
  • Listen actively to the other person’s response and be prepared to clarify any misunderstandings or address any concerns they may have.

Key #3: Communicate Clearly

Be honest and transparent in your communication. Openly address any issues.

Learn how to communicate openly, honestly, and assertively.

Ideas to communicate clearly:

  • Understand who you are communicating with and tailor your message accordingly.
  • Before communicating, organize your ideas.
  • Avoid unnecessary details and wordiness. Get straight to the point.
  • Use language that is clear and straightforward. Avoid jargon, acronyms, or technical terms.
  • Please pay attention to the responses and be willing to adjust your message based on their feedback or questions.
  • Practice empathy. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and consider their feelings when communicating.
  • Clearly express any expectations or actions you expect.
  • Be open to answering any questions to prevent misunderstanding.

By following these tips, you can communicate more effectively to prevent misunderstandings.

Key #4: Manage Your Emotions

Learn to express your anger in healthy ways.

Express emotions healthily, essential for overall well-being and maintaining healthy relationships.

Here are some tips on how to express emotions healthily:

  • Identify your feelings and recognize what you are feeling. Sometimes, simply labeling your emotions can clarify and help you understand why you feel a certain way.
  • Find healthy coping methods, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or mindfulness practices.
  • Do not hesitate to reach out for support when needed from friends, family, or a therapist.
  • Be kind to yourself and recognize that it is okay to feel a range of emotions, even uncomfortable ones. Treat yourself with the same understanding you would offer a friend.
  • Cultivate a practice of gratitude—always. Reflecting on the things you are grateful for can switch your focus from negative emotions to positive ones, improving your mood and overall outlook on life.

Key #5: Empathize with Others

Rather than seeing others as your rivals, try to see from their point of view and empathize with them.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.

Empathy is essential to build strong relationships and foster understanding between individuals.

Here are some ways to improve your ability to empathize with others:

  • Listen actively when someone shares their feelings or experiences with you, giving them your full attention.
  • Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine what it would be like to be in the other person’s situation—considering how you would feel and react in their place.
  • Validate their feelings and let them know that you understand, avoiding dismissing or belittling their feelings, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.
  • Express empathy with nonverbal cues such as nodding, making eye contact, and using facial expressions that communicate warmth and empathy.

 Key #6: Let Go of Things Beyond Your Control

Letting go of things you cannot control can be challenging, but it is essential for maintaining mental and emotional well-being.

Here are some strategies to help you in this process:

  • Practice acceptance by recognizing that some things are beyond your control.
  • Direct your energy towards things that you have the power to influence, such as your thoughts, actions, and attitudes.
  • Practice mindfulness techniques such as meditation or deep breathing exercises.
  • Recognize when you need to set boundaries with yourself and others. This means saying no to things that are beyond your capacity or letting go of unhealthy or toxic relationships.
  • Practice self-care by engaging in activities that nurture your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Remember that letting go of control is a process that takes time and practice.

Be patient with yourself and celebrate small victories along the way.

Key #7: Build a Healthy Support System

You want to distance yourself from people who communicate passive-aggressively. Instead, you want to fellowship with people who are direct and honest.

Building a healthy support system is crucial to maintaining mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Here are some steps to help you build one:

  • Start by reaching out to those closest to you, such as family members and close friends. Sharing what you are going through and letting them know how they can support you.
  • Look for support groups or communities that focus on topics or issues you are dealing with, whether it is mental health, addiction recovery, chronic illness, or challenges.
  • Cultivate relationships with people who uplift and support you, surrounding yourself with individuals who are empathetic, understanding, and positive influences in your life.
  • Being willing to offer support as a support system is reciprocal. Being there for others.
  • Stay connected and regularly nurture your relationships, checking in with loved ones and spending time.

Keeping connections strong will help you weather life’s challenges more effectively.

Building a healthy support system takes time and effort, but the benefits to your overall well-being are well worth it.

So, there you have it!

The Seven (7) Keys to Stop Passive-Aggressive Behavior.

Why would you want to be less passive-aggressive?

I can think of at least five (5) benefits of being less passive-aggressive:

Benefits of Being Less Passive-Aggressive

  1. Improved Communication: Passive-aggressiveness often obscures true feelings and intentions, but more direct and assertive can lead to clear communication and understanding between parties.
  2. Increased Trust: People are likelier to trust you when you communicate openly and honestly. They know they can rely on you to express your thoughts and feelings without hidden agendas.
  3. Enhanced Relationships: Passive-aggressive behavior can strain relationships and create tension. Being more open and transparent can foster stronger and more meaningful connections with others.
  4. Greater Self-Confidence: Assertiveness is a sign of self-confidence and self-assurance. Communicating directly and honestly demonstrates belief in your worth and abilities.
  5. Reduced Stress: Constantly suppressing emotions and resorting to passive-aggressive behavior can be stressful. More direct and assertive communication can help reduce stress.

So, are you passive-aggressive in your interactions with others?

If so, stop it!!

Key Takeaways

This article presented ideas or 7 (seven) keys to stop passive-aggressive behavior.

  1. Recognize the behavior in yourself.
  2. Ask for what you want.
  3. Communicate clearly.
  4. Manage your emotions.
  5. Empathize with others.
  6. Let go of things beyond your control.
  7. Build a healthy support system.

Why is passive-aggressive behavior not desirable?

Passive-aggressive behavior can lead to:

  1. Communication breakdown.
  2. Damaged relationships.
  3. Emotional distress.
  4. Conflict escalation.
  5. Self-sabotage.

The opposite of being passive-aggressive is direct and assertive communication that leads to more positive outcomes and healthier relationships.

Stop passive-aggressiveness right now!


You will be healthier and happier if you do so.

*****  *****

“Being assertive does not mean attacking or ignoring others’ feelings. It means that you are willing to hold up for yourself fairly without attacking others.”—Albert Ellis.