by Noel Neu, LMHC
So how can it be that a person can be passive and aggressive at the same time? Well, generally one follows the other. As outlined in my initial blog post (four different types of attitudes), passive-aggressive people do not accept anger within themselves nor from someone else’s behavior. Where the aggressive person is okay with his/her anger and the passive person is okay with someone else’s behavior, the passive-aggressive person is not okay with the expression of either. A passive-aggressive person at the point of conflict will react in a passive manner initially, and then follow up in a “side-ways” aggressive style to get his/her point across. This is caused by an effort to control themselves and the surrounding environment rather than accepting the actual flow of feelings and behaviors and responding to them appropriately as they arise. The results of not accepting anger as a natural emotion (passive type), and not accepting that someone can at times do something to anger or hurt them (aggressive type), are that the passive-aggressive person ends up living with resentments, prejudices, anxiety, stress, tension, and a hyper-vigilance in relating to those around him/her.
An example of passive-aggressive responses is an employee arrives at work to find another car parked in his parking spot and he becomes furious wanting to inflict harm on this person’s car. However, he does not say anything directly to the employee parked in his space, but rather goes on a smear campaign against this employee to other co-workers. Another example is a student becomes angry at her teacher from whom she received an average grade on a project that she worked on, and then does not exert as much effort in her work and shuts-down subtly, although she continues to attempt to act as if the average grade she received was actually no big deal.
In dealing with a passive-aggressive personality type it is important to understand that when they are angry they will express themselves with complaints and frustrations, however, they usually are not open to solution-based suggestions until they feel they are listened to and validated. If you do not validate a passive-aggressive person when they feel angry or slighted, they may then include your suggestions and/or actions as part of the problem and most often will not inform you of this as they walk away from you. A little validation and understanding can go a long way in helping a passive-aggressive person follow through with an assertive technique to help them feel relieved of their anger and move through their frustrations.