10 signs you’re being passive-aggressive (and how to stop)

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Passive aggression is regular aggression’s moody teenage sister.

It can be hard to interpret, it’s cutting when it wants to be, and it makes others walk on eggshells.

Yet, some people are naturally averse to conflict, so they express their frustration in subtle ways.

Are you one of them?

Here are 10 signs you’re being passive-aggressive, along with advice on how to stop.

Otherwise, you risk damaging your relationships for no good reason.

1) You don’t feel appreciated

Feeling under-appreciated or taken for granted by those around you – whether we’re talking partners, family, friends, or co-workers – can make you act out in unhealthy ways.

At the same time, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t feel comfortable speaking up when they’re unhappy, you end up building resentment.

This leads to increased stress and emotional burnout in the long run.

Here are a few signs that you’re close to becoming exasperated with everyone:

  • You snap at others seemingly out of the blue
  • You engage in negative self-talk and beat yourself up for not speaking up about your concerns
  • You get frustrated when someone you feel takes you for granted asks for a favor

Becoming exasperated reduces your patience.

Passive aggression is just around the corner.

2) You’re a people pleaser

On a similar note, you can’t lead an authentic life if you try to please everyone.

People pleasers never want to hurt, annoy, or inconvenience someone, so they avoid conflict when they feel wronged.

This can easily lead to passive aggression.

The even worse news?

Continuing to ignore your wants and failing to set boundaries will lower your self-esteem to dangerous levels.

That decreases your chances of confronting someone directly even further.

3) You keep score

I never understood couples who keep score in their relationship.

You know the type.

“I surprised my partner with a thoughtful gift last month, but they did nothing to reciprocate.”

“I made dinner for my spouse last night, but they didn’t offer to do the same tonight when I was the busy one.”

“I always accompany my boo to their doctor’s appointments, but they let me go alone to mine.”

The cherry on top is that these complaints are made to friends, not to the person who can actually do something about it.

Keeping score in relationships is another way in which you build resentment over time, which can translate to passive aggression.

Instead, you should focus on communicating your feelings directly, which will deepen your relationships.

4) You sulk

Everyone sulks from time to time.

Life is unfair.

It’s perfectly acceptable to take a couple of days off and wallow under the covers when someone lets you down, or you experience failure.

Preferably while ignoring the outside world and stuffing your face with mini pizzas.

(Just me?)

But then it’s time to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move forward.

In contrast, if you’re always sulking and are known to sigh profusely at least a couple of times per day, you might be passive-aggressive.

Instead of facing the problem, you hint that something is wrong but never spell it out or do anything about it.

How do you expect things to get better if pouting is all you’re willing to do?  

5) You give people the silent treatment

A passive-aggressive person comes up with creative punishments for people they’re upset with.

Case in point: the dreaded silent treatment.

If your first reaction when someone disappoints you is to cut all communication with them, you need to find more constructive ways to express yourself.

6) You become distant

You know what goes hand in hand with giving someone the silent treatment?

Distancing yourself from them without explaining why.

You might occasionally reply to their messages, but you employ other means of disengagement:

  • You avoid one-on-one interactions
  • Even when you make plans to hang out, you cancel last-minute
  • You exclude the person when making plans with common acquaintances
  • You withhold support and emotional intimacy

Doing this to a loved one is not only hurtful but doesn’t fix what was wrong in the first place – especially since the loved one might not understand what’s going on.

7) You complain

Someone who is passive-aggressive won’t address a problem directly but will complain around it.

They frequently whine about feeling persecuted or dismissed.

However, whenever asked to give a specific example of what made them feel that way, they avoid bringing up particular incidents.

Do you recognize yourself?

Hints only go so far.  

8) You procrastinate or do shoddy work “in protest”

A clear sign of passive aggression is expressing your displeasure by doing shoddy work, procrastinating tasks, or conveniently forgetting to keep promises.

You likely do this to indirectly punish the person you’re angry with as a form of silent protest against their behavior.

If the person calls you out, you’re likely to deny that anything weird is happening altogether, to the annoyance of everyone involved.

9) You don’t let things go

Passive-aggressive people have a knack for stating that a problem is resolved even if it isn’t.

They want to avoid further confrontation, so they’ll say everything is fine.

Deep down, though, they’re still unhappy with the situation, so they won’t let go of their dissatisfaction or anger anytime soon.

This is unfair to the other person, who assumes the issue is now fixed and goes on as usual.

After all, they can’t read your mind.

10) You use humor as a weapon

Finally, a passive-aggressive person will often use cruel “jokes” or sarcasm to inflict pain on those who wronged them instead of tackling an argument head-on.

They might mock and tease the person or downright criticize and insult someone but disguise the comment as a harmless gag.

If they’re called on it, they state they were misunderstood.  

Passive-aggressive people also use humor to mask their emotions and feelings or to de-escalate tense situations.

Does that sound like anyone you know?

How to stop being passive-aggressive

Passive aggression leads to misunderstandings, unresolved conflicts, and a breakdown in relationships.

Furthermore, it undermines trust and open communication, often perpetuating conflicts rather than resolving them.

If the above signs apply to you, you’re doing a disservice to those around you. Being on the receiving end of passive-aggressive behavior is emotionally draining.

More importantly, you’re doing a disservice to yourself.

Passive aggression creates a cycle of resentment and anxiety, severely impacting your mental well-being.

The first thing you need to do in order to stop is understand that conflict can be beneficial, especially when you approach it in a constructive manner.

Conflict can bring people closer together, builds resilience, and promotes personal growth.

Here are a few steps you can take to curb your passive-aggressive tendencies:

  • Try to understand what prompts you to be passive-aggressive so that you can address the root of the problem
  • Practice being honest about your feelings and concerns
  • Use “I” statements when confronting others instead of generalizations: “I feel hurt when you do that” instead of “You always do that”
  • When you notice that you’re being passive-aggressive, take responsibility for your actions
  • Practice mindfulness – meditation can help you acknowledge and handle your emotions more efficiently
  • Focus on problem-solving rather than holding grudges
  • Develop coping strategies – exercise, listening to rage anthems, or video games might help you process your anger better

If this feels overwhelming, reach out to a therapist.

They can help you identify triggers and develop strategies for healthier communication.

At the end of the day, modifying behavior takes time, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

Have you read this entire article and considered making a change?

You’re already dealing with the issue.

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