I Can Be Really Passive-Aggressive & It’s A Hard Habit To Break

When was the last time you told someone that you were “fine” when you were obviously enraged? So many of us engage in passive-aggressive communication to feel secure and maintain a sense of control. I’ve been spending the past few years really trying to hone in on breaking this bad habit but that’s easier said than done.

Setting boundaries can be really hard. In theory, it’s a simple thing to do. You tell someone how you feel—no means no and yes means yes. On paper, these statements seem so obvious. With that said, even though I logically understand the significance of setting boundaries, I emotionally recognize the consequences that come with the implementation process. People may not like what I have to say; they may reject me. Oh, and I may also feel downright mean and that’s never a pleasant sensation. As a reformed people-pleaser, this fear still gets to me.

I can’t always identify my immediate feelings. There are times I don’t recognize that I’m feeling angry or scared until days after the fact. Although I’m continuously striving for that holy grail of emotional attunement (being aware of what’s happening in my body when it’s actually happening), I don’t always know exactly what I’m feeling. As a result, I find myself lashing out on the people I love because I’m not even aware that another need isn’t getting met.

It can happen automatically. This goes hand-in-hand with struggling to identify immediate feelings. Communication happens so fast—when was the last time you truly and intentionally thought about each word coming out of your mouth? I know that for me, pausing before I speak is the best remedy for this “automatic response.” Regardless, I’m far from perfect in this process.

Communication styles run in families. Passive-aggression exists in my family; I suppose some would argue that it’s a “safer” form of diffusion when conversations or dynamics become tense. However, I come from an upbringing of occasionally beating around the proverbial bush. As a result? It’s a normal reality for me and I have to continue to tell myself that normal isn’t synonymous with healthy.

It’s a control thing. When it comes down to it, passive-aggression is about manipulation. It’s about contorting your words and tone to ensure that a particular need gets met, even if it’s at the expense of someone else. While that sounds malicious, it’s not. It usually comes from an unintentional place of desperation.

It helps when I feel defensive. Nobody likes to get their feelings hurt. Nobody. I know that when sometimes I need to internalize constructive criticism, I experience that urge to respond with some form of passive-aggression or sarcasm. It’s like a blanket to protect myself from pain. Ineffective? Of course, but that’s not really the point. The point is that a security blanket can be hard to release.

I can justify it as being superior to aggression. I hate violence. I won’t tolerate it in any relationship. With that, I also despise any form of emotional aggression—and I’m talking about the spectrum from critical statements to shouting and yelling. It’s intolerable to me, and because I perceive it as unfathomable, I suppose I inadvertently justify the passive-aggression as being a better option.

I can also justify it as being superior to passivity. Like aggression, I also recognize that complete passivity is ineffective and toxic in interpersonal communication. I say this as a reformed doormat, meaning that I used to be that girl who put every single person’s needs before my own. Today, I look back on that old self and cringe. It was humiliating then but I can now contextualize it from a place of horrifically depleted self-esteem. Again, this gives me another justification for passive-aggression. Not healthy, I know.

Change is hard. I’ve made leaps and bounds regarding how I communicate with others. I do my best to practice assertive communication in my current affairs, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel uncomfortable on a regular basis. Yes, practice always makes transitions and changes easier, but it doesn’t take away that icky feeling that you’re doing something wrong or bad. In times of stress, I can feel myself slipping back into old communication patterns. After all, it’s what I know, and it’s what I used to “safely” get my point across when I felt angry, hurt, or merely unheard in a relationship. Fortunately, I have an amazing husband who refuses to tolerate that kind of communication.

A healthy relationship helps the most. Through my relationship with my husband, I have dramatically improved in breaking my nasty communication habit. He’s probably one of the most assertive people I know, but he conveys himself in a way that mutually commands respect and compassion. The right people can show us the road to change. I’ve learned that we just have to be willing to embark on that journey with them.

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