Passive-aggressive means that you first do something passive and then you do something aggressive.
In other words, first you do something you don’t want to do, then you do something hostile.
Let me give you an easy example first.
Your friend tells you to wash her dishes. If you wash the dishes even though you feel this was an unjust demand, and then later blow up at her for telling you to do it, your action is passive-aggressive.
A much better strategy is to neither be passive (you don’t wash her dishes in the first place) nor aggressive ( you don’t blow up at her).
It would be best for you to simply ask your friend right away why she expects you to wash her dishes. Then based on the response, you can decide whether you want to do it or not. You can say “No thank you”. Your friend may have miscommunicated and her request may make more sense, or you may realize your friend really wants to treat you badly and in that case, explain to her how you’d like to be treated! If she still treats you badly, stop being her friend.
Another point I want to make is that the aggressive part is sometimes more sneaky. An example would be you sleeping with your friend’s boyfriend instead of yelling at her. This is simply a much more extreme and unhealthy case of being passive-aggressive.
(Side note: when girls sleep with their friend’s boyfriend, it’s often because they feel inferior to the girlfriend in some way and really want to feel on equal footing.)
The “passive” part can also be more complex. An example of doing something you don’t want to do can be something like not getting enough hugs from your lover. The aggressive response would be to start pointless fights and be constantly critical. A much better approach would be to just tell him/her what you want and why, “I love cuddling with you! It makes me feel so loved. *open arms asking for a hug*”. Which girlfriend would you rather hug? Haha. Just say what you want! [By the way, this is an example from my own life, so you see I'm not without past blunders!]
Most people (both men and women) are passive-aggressive to some extent. They are afraid to say No, they keep disrespecting themselves, but then they find some way to get back at the other person and themselves.
The problem with this is that most of the time their interpretation was off anyway because the other person didn’t mean to hurt them. We tend to think others see us the way we see ourselves. And in extreme cases where the other person was intentionally hurtful, the conflict is calmer and shorter when dealt with the direct approach. Anger is actually not necessary since we can just contently decide to leave due to an incompatibility. (Although this is a topic for a lengthier discussion.)
Lastly I want to say that we have all been passive-aggressive at some point. We learn this strategy from our parents, other family members, peers and even teachers. Generally speaking, no one sits us down and gently says, “Ok hun, I am going to show you a better way to get what you want”.
Just examine your life for this pattern and see if you can be more aware and direct from now on. You’ll see your relationships becoming easier, lighter, and generally of better quality.
"Self-discovery is the most important kind."
Len Sone is a life coach and mentor, who works with young women.
If you are female and 18-25, and would like a private session with Len, email Len@KissesAndHearts.com