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Dr David Christian Marriage Advice

The Power of Passive-Aggressive People

The Power of Passive-Aggressive People

All people are not created equal. Well, in some ways ‘yes,’ while in other ways ‘no.’

What I mean by this is that there are some people, who by virtue of their upbringing, genetics, environment and other factors, have become hurtful in the way they deal with their emotions and subsequent behavior.

Case in point.

A woman recently shared with me how upset she was with her boss. She shared the following story:

“I don’t like the way my boss runs the department, so I’m just not going to give my everything to the job anymore. Why should I?”


“My boss isn’t fair in the way she treats everyone,” she said, “so I’m going to give her a taste of her own medicine. I won’t do anything destructive, but I’m not going to just sit back and do nothing.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

“I don’t know for sure,” she said. “I know I will end up not working as hard as I normally would. I’ll probably also take more sick time than I really need, and I sure am going to let other people on the team know how unhappy I am.”

“Will you talk to her directly about your unhappiness?” I asked.

“That wouldn’t do any good,” she said. “I’m not going to bother with that.”

I began to see a pattern with the way this woman was dealing with her unhappiness. I decided to ask her about her other relationships.

“How do you deal with unhappiness in your other relationships?” I asked.

“I suppose there is a pattern with me,” she explained. “I guess I mostly stew on things. I’m a brooder and can hold a grudge. I tend to hold my feelings in until I explode. Then I say things I wish I wouldn’t say. I can be blunt with the truth. I don’t often share my feelings when I’m bothered. That has always been hard for me.”

This woman is like many others, people who are either passive or aggressive, having a hard time being assertive. Let’s consider a few emotional truths to be aware of and practical steps to remedy these problems:

First, when we stuff our feelings, our guts keep score. We cannot truly bottle up our emotions. We may think we are bottling them up, but they will come out in a passive-aggressive form such as gossiping, complaining, “forgetting,” sarcasm and sniping at someone. We may also develop physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach issues, sleep problems, depression or anxiety.

Second, passive-aggression is hurtful. We often believe that bottling up our hostility is harmless, but in truth, this aggression comes out in the form of stubbornness, procrastination, refusing to do what someone is asking of us. We use sarcasm to ‘get even,’ or gossip to hurt the other person. Our passive-aggression sows seeds of discord. Make no mistake—the other person can feel it. They can sense your hostility even if you deny it, creating even more ‘craziness’ in the relationship.

Third, passive-aggression is never justified. You may tell yourself that what you're doing is harmless, but that is not true. You may justify your actions, but indirect hostility is never justified. Be careful about allowing hurt to fester, becoming resentment and bitterness.

Fourth, passive-aggression causes disconnection. Pouting, avoiding, withdrawing, all cause disconnection. While you say you want connection and closeness, trust and respect, passive-aggression is a sure way to ruin that. Passive-aggression is hurtful and causes disconnection. The brunt of your aggression will learn to distrust you and will pull away from you as surely as you pull away from them.  

Finally, assertiveness is the solution. Scripture tells us “A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction” (Proverbs 16:23). It is natural to have hurt feelings at times, to feel betrayed and unhappy. However, there is a healthy way to communicate that to others, respectfully and directly. Consider the dangers of passive-aggressive actions and language in replace it with healthy, direct, respectful communication, no matter how the other person responds. You are responsible for your actions, not theirs.

mrc2We are here to help and offer phone/ Skype counseling on issues related to this article. Please go to our website, and discover more information about this as well as the free downloadable eBook, A Love Life of Your Dreams, including other free videos and articles.  Please send responses to me at and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.

Publication date: May 6, 2014