How to Put a Stop to Your Passive Aggressive Tendencies

Youíve likely heard the term passive aggression, but have you ever wondered exactly what it means? In short, passive aggression refers to indirect ways we use of expressing anger. Instead of directly telling someone youíre angry because they hurt your feelings, you might target them with sarcastic comments or stop talking to them altogether.

One of the things that makes passive aggression so hard to recognize is that it can show up in many different ways. Letís take a closer look at how to spot this destructive behavior pattern and ways to stop it.


A key factor that separates outright aggression from passive aggression is the motivation behind each one. Purely aggressive acts are unplanned and spontaneous. And if you accidentally yell or lash out at someone, youíll often regret your actions and apologize later.

Whereas, passive aggression is deliberate. It may be subconscious and you donít realize youíre doing it, but passive aggressive acts are purposefully designed to hurt others in ways you donít have to feel guilty about. You may be late for an engagement, not follow through with something you promised to do, or you may simply not return a phone call.

In your mind, you have a valid excuse for why you didnít do all these things. But subconsciously, itís all part of a plan to get back at someone for hurting you.

Some common passive aggressive behaviors to watch out for in yourself and others include:

  • Procrastination
  • Running late
  • Being critical or sarcastic
  • Saying ďyesĒ when you mean ďnoĒ
  • Pretending not to remember or understand requests
  • Gossiping
  • Sulking or withdrawing from social interactions
  • Insisting youíre a victim because others treat you unfairly
  • Making up excuses and stories to avoid giving a straight answer

Related: 12 Signs Youíre Too Passive Aggressive


A great deal of passive aggressive behavior stems from the fact that anger is not considered socially acceptable. Many of us are told as children that we must be ďgood,Ē and expressions of anger are often punished or discouraged.

So, we learn to suppress our anger. But this doesnít mean it goes away. It only becomes buried to resurface in another form, such as passive aggressive acts.

A passive aggressive person may also be acting out of feelings of low self-esteem or insecurity. They donít feel confident enough in themselves to confront others directly about uncomfortable emotions.

Passive aggression can also offer an easy way out. Have you ever made up an excuse to get out of doing something you didnít want to do? This is much easier than directly confronting someone and telling them you donít want to do it, which could lead to an argument or make you look bad. Making up an excuse avoids potential conflict and keeps your reputation intact.

Although, any benefits you gain from passive aggressive behavior are typically short lived. If you continue to make excuses or otherwise avoid conflict, people will soon start to see you as unreliable and untrustworthy. They may stop asking you for help, but they may also stop dealing with you altogether.

Finding more constructive ways of expressing yourself and handling conflict will benefit you and all your relationships in the long run.

Related: 8 Tips on Dealing with Passive Aggressive People


It may help to keep in mind that passive aggression is a learned behavior. Itís not part of anyoneís personality from birth, and acting in passive aggressive ways does not mean youíre a bad person. Never beat yourself up about getting angry. Itís a natural emotional response and itís normal to feel angry at times.

Passive aggressive tendencies can be changed by simply cultivating greater awareness of your emotions and changing how you respond. Next time youíre in a situation involving conflict, try the following steps.

1. Pause

Take a few moments to collect your thoughts before reacting to whatís happening. For example, if a coworker criticized a project you just finished, donít snap back at them with a sarcastic retort and walk away. Pay attention to how you feel and whatís going on in your body. Is your heart beating faster? Are you angry or hurt by what they said? Take a deep breath before continuing.

2. Pinpoint the Cause

Passive aggression is often fueled by an inner fear, such as fear of failure, fear of conflict, or fear of being alone. Look closely at why a situation is bothering you. Are you afraid you might be fired because your work isnít good enough? Recognize that a lot of fears are not logical and our minds can blow them out of proportion.

3. Determine What You Want

How would you like this conflict to end? What do you want out of the situation? Considering what you really want can help determine better ways of finding a long-term solution for everyone involved, rather than temporarily sweeping it under the carpet with passive aggressive avoidance.

4. Express Yourself

Express your feelings and the solution youíd like in a non-aggressive way, such as saying ďIím sorry youíre disappointed in the project. How can we work together to fix the weak areas?Ē Donít accuse the person of being unfair or use excuses to shirk responsibility. Simply be honest and open to finding a compromise that everyone is happy with.

Related at Care2


Samantha L.
Samantha L.9 hours ago

I feel very called-in to the table on some of my behaviors - new year new you, right? Will definitely be trying to become less passive aggressive

Renee M
Renee M10 hours ago

This sounds like my entire solution was a divorce. :)

Leo C
Leo C12 hours ago

Thank you for sharing!

Maria Papastamatiou

Thanks for sharing.

Ben O
Ben O14 hours ago

But, don't hold it all in when you're mad as hell...

Janis K
Janis K16 hours ago

Thanks for sharing.

Jaime J
Jaime J21 hours ago

Thank you!!

Anne F
Anne Fyesterday

good communication advice

Lenore K
Lenore Kyesterday


caroline l
caroline lordyesterday

so very reminiscent of my ex