You just found out that your best friends made plans to go to the beach without you. Why wasn’t I invited? Do they not want me there? Instead of confronting them and the problem head on, you ignore their phone calls and their texts. You don’t invite them to your house-warming party this weekend and avoid them at work.

It’s your anniversary and your boyfriend tells you he has to cancel the nights plans to stay late at work. When he finally gets home, red roses in hand, you say an aloof thank you and head to bed without another word. He asks you the next morning if you’re angry with him and you respond with a no, but don’t give him the usual kiss on the cheek before heading out the door.

Are you angry or upset but expressing it indirectly? Rather than admitting something is wrong are you acting distant or unattached? Stubborn or hostile? This means you’re probably being passive-aggressive.

Passive-aggression is characterized by indirect and unassertive displays of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression. For those that have a fear of confrontation or would simply rather avoid it, they’re likely to turn to this alternative. However, this road can and likely will lead to an eventual argument and also even heighten emotions. So next time you give your loved ones the cold shoulder or bottle up your feelings, consider taking a less rocky path. Let’s look back at the given scenarios and explore how they were handled and how they could be handled:

Scenario 1

You’re hurt that your friends left you out of fun plans that you want to be a part of. You reacted by ignoring their efforts to reach out to you and gave them a taste of their own medicine by not inviting them to your party. This is passive-aggression at its finest. Rather than asking why you weren’t invited on the beach trip or flat out asking if you could join, you assumed the worst (that they don’t want you there) and distanced yourself from their friendships.

How Could This Be Handled Better?
Instead of jumping to a negative conclusion from the get-go, you decide to be warm and say, “Your plans sound fun, anyway I could join?” It turns out your friends thought you were traveling for work and wouldn’t be able to come. They invite you right there on the spot and apologize for the misunderstanding and delayed invitation. See, when you’re passive-aggressive the truth of the matter is often buried and a lot of unnecessary negativity surfaces. Give people the benefit of the doubt and be direct to avoid this ongoing and unwarranted negativity.

Scenario 2

You’re upset that your boyfriend had to stay late at work on your third anniversary when you had a big, special night planned. You expressed this pain by becoming distant, uninterested in endearing acts and the flowers he gifted you. This is a different example of passive-aggression but passive-aggression nonetheless. There isn’t any ambiguity about what happened, he simply had to stay late at work and you’re upset that it ruined the nights plans. But you didn’t express these feelings directly, instead channeling them into your actions.

How Could This Be Handled Better?
Rather than hiding your true feelings, you express your disappointment to your boyfriend. You explain how excited you were for the night and to be celebrating another anniversary. He apologizes and explains why he had to stay late at work and you two reschedule your plans for the following night—problem solved. Sometimes you may feel the need to refrain from expressing yourself to avoid confrontation. But really, expressing yourself (reasonably and openly) is what airs out the negativity and solves problems in the long run.

It’s easy to let passive-aggression take over but it’s not so easy to deal with the consequences. Rather than becoming passive-aggressive, make a point to confront your problems and your feelings head on in order to avoid an eventual stickier situation. You’ll solve issues a lot faster, prevent a lot of headaches, and make life easier for everybody including yourself.

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