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Laurie Gardner     Laurie Gardner
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Passive-Aggressive Behavior
A Dangerous Choice for Dealing with Anger

Passive-Aggressive Behavior - A Dangerous Choice for Dealing with Anger

Within the world of modern psychology, it is somewhat commonplace to describe certain behaviors as passive-aggressive. While the definition seems almost plain as day, spelled out within the term itself, the question remains. What is passive-aggressive behavior?

To help us dissect this somewhat complicated subject, we sat down with our friend and certified behavioral modification expert, Juanita-Beth Morgan. An expert on the psychological aspect of the human condition, Morgan asserts that passive-aggressive behavior may be one of the most insidious traits she's ever come across.

"For the most part, it is an anger style," says Morgan. Adding that we must consider the fact that all individuals express their anger differently. The problem for people who are passive-aggressive is that they purposely avoid feeling their anger and thus process it in an indirect and unhealthy way.

According to Morgan, passive-aggressive behavior begins to take root between the ages of two and five. This is when many of us are taught that it is bad to feel angry, and even worse when we show our anger. She says many of these lessons are taught to us unknowingly by parents and teachers, but then are ratified as we go through life.

Morgan wanted to make it very clear that passive-aggressive behavior is not just limited to anger, claiming that it applies to other personality characteristics as well. She suggests revisiting the July 2008 issue of YOU Magazine, and rereading her interview entitled, "The Fear of Success", claiming that many of the warning signs can be described as passive-aggressive behavior.

Spotting PA behavior
Because passive-aggressive behavior encompasses a variety of personality characteristics, there are an abundance of telltale signs of its presence. Morgan says a complete list would take far too long, but offered up a few of the most common potential warning signs.

Fear of confrontation
Morgan says that a passive-aggressive person will do anything to avoid confrontation. Much of this stems from their feeling that they always have to be nice. They will surrender to a situation or a person, despite being angry about it.

Making excuses for others
A passive-aggressive person will make excuses for other people despite knowing that the person in question is wrong.

Doing it the hard way
Due to a PA person's dislike for confrontation, they have a tendency to take a complicated path instead of the most direct whenever attempting to accomplish a goal.

Congenial facial expressions
Congeniality is obviously not a bad thing. On the other hand, an overly congenial facial expression during a tense moment such as an argument or heated debate is considered to be passive-aggressive.

"I was only joking"
Passive-aggressive people will pass things off as jokes when they actually wish to be taken seriously. "I was only joking," and "Can't you take a joke?" are many times the verbal follow-ups to this behavior.

Doing the opposite of what they say
A person who is PA will oftentimes say one thing, but then do the opposite. The example Morgan drew was promising someone a ride to work only to sleep in and not show up. When confronted about it the PA will then make somewhat inarguable excuses like "I'm only human," or "I really wanted to do it, but it just didn't work out."

Exploiting situations as an excuse to not follow through with a stated intention
This is very similar to the last warning sign except that situations such as illness, an emergency, or other commitments are used as excuses.

While occasional tardiness is to be expected, passive-aggressive people are constantly late.

There is possibly nothing more passive-aggressive than talking behind someone's back.

Frequent and/or unexplained illnesses
Morgan says that various medical studies have shown that unresolved anger compromises the immune system. In terms of our mental health, passive-aggressive behavior can be a contributing factor to depression, anxiety, diminished mental clarity and an overall lack of vitality.

Ms. Morgan states that while passive-aggressive behavior is never acceptable, everyone partakes in it to some degree. Aside from minimizing the occurrences, Morgans says, "The best policy is to be honest about your anger." She adds that it's the only way to resolve the situation that produced the reaction, and to ensure that it won't happen again.

When asked about the effects of passive-aggressive behavior on relationships, Morgan had nothing good to say, reiterating that it is one of the most destructive and insidious personality traits she's come across.

"Indirect communication styles dramatically increase the likelihood of being misunderstood," claims Morgan. She went on to say that passive-aggressive behavior goes a step further and actually lays the groundwork for a reoccurrence of the same misunderstanding. Even worse, she says, is its ability to destroy trust, something that every relationship must have in order to thrive.

Dealing with passive-aggressive behavior
When asked about the proper interaction with a passive-aggressive person, Morgan says you must first understand that this is someone who has issues with anger. You then need to examine the possibilities for an angry situation to arise between the two of you. These two factors, she claims, will help you determine the extent of the relationship.

"You are dealing with a person who has unresolved anger, so it is only a matter of time before it shows up somewhere in their life," asserts Morgan. In addition, she says that passive-aggressive people don't realize they're angry, or passive-aggressive. Because of this unawareness, addressing their behavior with them is almost futile.

Instead, Morgan says you have to head it off at the pass, taking constructive steps to keep them from either overcomplicating or sabotaging a situation. This can be a big undertaking in many ways, so she recommends proceeding with caution.

If you recognize any of the warning signs for being passive-aggressive in your own behavior, Ms. Morgan says that they absolutely need to be addressed. The first step is to redefine your anger, realizing its potential for being positive. Feelings of anger not only have the ability to tell you that something is wrong, but also that something should be done about it.

The steps you take in dealing with your anger and passive-aggressive behavior are relative to your situation and can include everything from greater introspection, to therapy for anger management and assertive behavior techniques. Whatever the case, the benefit of taking action creates a feeling of being a strong self-advocate and proactive. Morgan claims this is how you begin to break the patterns associated with passive-aggressive behavior.

As a certified behavior modification expert, Morgan likes to give her clients a variety of scripted verbal responses they can use to bridge the gap between their anger and passive-aggressive behavior. When confronted with a situation that's shocking, one of Morgan's favorite responses is, "I don't know what to say, but I'm not feeling comfortable with this." She says it's both honest and diplomatic. It also gives you time to think about how you feel, as well as a good way to gain confidence in expressing your true feelings when confronted with a passive-aggressive situation.

Morgan says she's had a lot of success helping her clients create a positive and constructive approach to dealing with situations that involve compliance versus anger. She believes this is mostly due to her feeling that anger is more of a reaction than an emotion. But, when left unresolved, anger can become an emotion, and that's where the danger lies.

The key, she says, is to develop an emotional equilibrium to anger, as well as to realize that passive-aggressive behavior is an anger style that involves a choice. According to Morgan, choosing not to be passive-aggressive does not mean you are choosing to be angry. "Believe it or not," she says, "You are choosing to have peace of mind."

Juanita-Beth Morgan, C.H.T is a graduate of the Hypnosis Motivation Institute, having continued her studies at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, under the direction of Walter E. Brackelmanns, M.D., Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA.

Morgan is a member of the National Guild of Hypnotists, American Hypnosis Foundation, American Counseling Association and the Hypnotherapist Union. She is a recognized public speaker on a national level and is available for speaking engagements for groups of any size. Always accepting new clients, she can be reached at (213) 389-2715. Ms. Morgan asks anyone contacting her for an appointment to mention YOU Magazine as their referral.

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