Passive-aggressive behavior is a common form of anger. The three different types of anger are outward, inward, and passive-aggressive expressions of anger. We’ll look at these types of anger and what to do about them from a biblical perspective.
The Problem of Anger
Anger is a common human emotion we encounter daily. There are plenty of possible triggers for an angry reaction from someone – if they feel belittled, a goal of theirs is thwarted, or they feel threatened because their beliefs and views are challenged. All that can result in a person feeling angry and expressing that anger. Because anger often results in unpleasant consequences, such as verbal and physical violence, anger is often seen as a negative emotion.
However, even though anger is often seen as a negative emotion, many people feel no qualms about expressing that anger vocally and very visibly, whether in person or on online platforms. Anger as an emotion isn’t either good or bad. It simply alerts you that something has triggered you and made you feel under threat of some kind. What you do with your feelings of anger is what can be considered problematic or sinful.
The Bible says, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26, 27 NIV) This helps us understand that being angry isn’t the same thing as sinning. What you go on to do with your anger like the ongoing thoughts and subsequent actions are what are concerning.
The verses from Ephesians alert us to the possibility that we can react to our feelings of anger in ways that aren’t sinful or problematic. But they also carry the warning that we can also react otherwise. There are several ways that a person can express their anger, and we can find ourselves having a dominant expression of anger that fits one or more categories.
Three Types of Anger
Outward expressions of anger include visible expressions of anger, including shouting, shoving, and punching others, throwing objects, and so on. This is a cluster of negative outward expressions of anger that tends toward destruction and harm. But it is possible to express anger outwardly in an assertive and constructive fashion by stating your needs, expectations, and feelings in a clear and calm manner, or by channeling anger into addressing a problem.
Inward anger will often take unhealthy forms such as negative self-talk, self-harm, or denying yourself basic needs as a form of self-punishment. It can lead to anxiety or depression if not treated.
A Christian counselor can help you deal with all types of anger, including passive-aggressive behavior, which we will discuss below in greater detail.
Examples of Passive Aggressive Behavior
Passively expressed anger, otherwise known as passive-aggressive behavior or passive aggression, is when a person expresses their anger in subtle, covert ways. Whereas outward expressions of anger are overt and not easily mistaken for anything else, passive anger is anger that is masked and not always obvious.
Some examples of passive-aggressive behavior include the following:
- responding to people with sarcasm
- making snide comments or remarks
- procrastination when action is required
- arriving late to meetings or work as a means of displaying dissatisfaction.
As noted above, passive-aggressive behavior is subtle and indirect. Instead of appropriately expressing concerns about a work assignment to a boss, a person may drag their feet, delay giving updates, fail to address time-sensitive concerns, and essentially sabotage the project without looking too obvious.
Sometimes, the person who is the recipient of passive anger may realize what’s happening. At other times they may simply be confused by the disjuncture between what the person says and does. In yet other cases, the person who is a recipient of passive-aggressive behavior may experience anxiety due to the discordance that exists between what they are perceiving and what the perpetrator is saying or doing.
Causes of Passive Aggressive Behavior
There are several possible causes of passive-aggressive behavior. For one, a person’s upbringing may have taught them that outward and explicit expressions of anger are not acceptable, so they struggle to be up front about their anger and dissatisfaction. If what they saw modeled was passive-aggressive behavior and avoidance of confrontation, then they may pattern their behavior similarly in their adult life.
In other circumstances, passive-aggressive behavior is culturally conditioned. For instance, many women are taught to be nice at all times, and passive aggression is one way to express anger without outright stopping being nice. The cultural pressure to be a certain way, and the concomitant fear of losing face or stature if you’re outwardly angry can force many people to resort to passive expressions of anger rather than more outward expressions of anger.
Another powerful reason why people may resort to passive-aggressive behavior is they are afraid of losing their job or source of income. Rather than jeopardize such an important aspect of life, a person may subtly express their anger in ways that feel less risky. The power dynamic in a given situation, such as between a manager and their subordinate, can make it nearly impossible for a person to feel comfortable enough to express their true feelings.
Lastly, if a person doesn’t know how to express anger in a calm way, passive-aggressive expressions may seem the best and safest way to express their frustration. This perhaps goes back in part to the various ways in which expressions of anger have been modeled.
In the case where someone grew up in an abusive home, for example, the only expressions of outward anger that they witnessed were negative and harmful toward others. Rather than subject others to that kind of anger, they opt for the seemingly more innocuous form of passive aggression.
Overcoming Passive Aggressive Behavior
Whatever the reason is for predominantly using passive-aggressive behavior, there are several ways to move beyond
it toward more healthy expressions of anger.
If you tend to express yourself in a passive-aggressive way, you need to understand that passive-aggressive behavior is ultimately self-defeating, and not as subtle as you may think. People notice passive-aggressive expressions of anger. Though they may either bring about confusion or anxiety in the people who experience it, people do notice it and are affected by it. Our actions always have an impact on others, and that includes passive-aggressive behavior.
Apart from the fact that passive expressions of anger aren’t always as subtle as intended or hoped, they are also self-defeating. The reason passive aggression is self-defeating is that by not expressing your anger more directly, the other person might not know what’s rubbing you the wrong way and whether there is an issue that needs addressing. Perhaps they get the message, but it is also likely that they don’t and are left puzzled by the inconsistency between your words and actions.
All they know is that you are irritable for some reason, or that you say you’ll do something and then you don’t. But instead of thinking there’s an issue over which you’re feeling a little raw, they may begin to think it’s your general disposition and personality. Rather than raising the issue directly and dealing with the concern, the focus might then land on your behavior, which doesn’t help you or the situation in the least.
To begin dealing with passive expressions of anger or passive-aggressive behavior, apart from realizing how self-defeating it can be, it’s important to also work at confronting any beliefs about anger that you may harbor. Anger can be expressed outwardly and in a healthy, constructive manner, so it is not to be avoided at all costs. It is possible to express your anger outwardly in an assertive manner that lays out your concerns without necessarily making you lose face or jeopardize your job.
Expressing anger in healthy ways is something you need to work out in each situation involving hurt or frustration. You can develop the skill to express yourself in an assertive but calm and clear manner. A Christian counselor is equipped with the skills to help you learn how to express your anger in healthy ways. Get in touch with us today to learn how we can help you overcome passive-aggressive behavior.
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