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Mya Williams: Dealing with Passive Aggression



Passive aggression as a behavioural pattern is sometimes not quickly picked up on; this is simply because some passive aggressive traits can also be manifested by people who aren’t inherently passive aggressive. Some examples of these traits are procrastination, stubbornness and playing the victim. Passive aggression is a combination of these traits and their manifestation in a repetitive, persistent and intentional manner. The Elephant Journal (2015) describes it as a form of anger/hostility, except that the anger is hidden/unassertive. Some passive aggressive people are not even aware they are passive aggressive and in the same vein, one may for years be on the receiving end of passive aggression and not identify it immediately.

What is worse is that the world sees them in a completely different light, as calm, good-natured and charming, because most times their traits are only exhibited towards people who are close to them – a spouse, close friend, employee/employer. The dictionary defines passive aggression as: “Denoting or pertaining to a personality type or behaviour marked by the expression of negative emotions in passive, indirect ways, as through manipulation or non-cooperation”

Andrea Harrn MA MBACP in her article “what is passive aggressive behaviour” suggests that patterns of unassertive and passive behavior may have been learnt in childhood as a coping strategy in response to not having been able to express your thoughts and feelings freely. It may also be linked to issues of self esteem. Passive aggression in a relationship is deemed a form of emotional abuse because it is unhealthy and damaging. It leaves the receiver in a state of constant confusion, hurt and frustration or how else do you relate with someone who rarely means what they say or say what they mean?

In my experience, for years I blamed my passionate/vocal personality for the problems that kept resurfacing with the person I was dealing with but picking up on repetitive patterns and the sheer indifference shown by the person to the impact their actions had, led me to start thinking otherwise. I started reading and looking for answers.

You may go through this list and think to yourself “but normal people show some of these traits” and yes they do but if you identify a pattern and these traits recur in your relationship, it is most likely passive aggression and you need to be aware of it so as to deal with it.

It can also help identify if you are passive aggressive:

Communication – You’ve had an in-depth conversation about an issue and you’ve both reached an “agreement” or so you think. A few weeks maybe months down the line, they tell you they’ve changed their mind. No notice, no discussion, nothing. You later find out they were never onboard with the idea in the first place and do not care the impact it may have on you. A good number of times they will even completely deny what they said.

Procrastination – Theirs is hinged on blatant stubbornness and intentionally not wanting to fulfil a request or responsibility. It may sometimes be the simplest thing such as returning a fork to its place in the cupboard, to which you may get the response “I’m busy” when the person is right in front of you doing nothing.

Lack of Empathy – Finding it difficult to show genuine concern and sympathy.
Unreliability/ Lack of Accountability – You feel you can’t rely on the person because they never say what they mean; their words are just words, you cannot hold them to it. They never want to be tied to any decision and would hardly commit to anything. In this case, trust is therefore difficult.

Misdirection of Emotions – They are not able to take up the grievances they have with certain people either because those people are in authority over them or they want something from them and want to project a certain image to them. They therefore send their frustrations your way and you’re left to deal with the implications.

Playing the Victim – They are unable to acknowledge their own part in any situation and will turn the tables around to become the victim.

Lying – This trait has one of the farthest reaching implications. Some are compulsive liars, so compulsive that they tell even the most ridiculously unnecessary lies. Sometimes the lie is to disguise their own inadequacies, sometimes it is to get what they want, sometimes it is just to get you off their back, and sometimes it is by way of throwing you under the bus to avoid taking the fall for what was their fault.

Chronic Indecisiveness – When a joint decision has to be made and they have the last say but go round in circles thrashing or finding fault with every suggestion you make.

Selfishness – They mostly think of only themselves and will blame someone else for everything that is wrong with a situation but themselves. They will claim you are the selfish one because you didn’t do what they wanted.

No Apology – No matter how badly they hurt you, most times they do not acknowledge it and will not apologise. An apology stems from accepting your part in a situation and they would not do that.
Excuses – They are full of excuses and there is one for every single thing.

Silent Treatment – They will say to you “I’m not mad, this is just how things are going to be” yet it is very obvious they are but the hostility is hidden.

One can try to overcome passive aggressive behaviour by trying to understand how the person thinks and operates and very calmly explain to them how their actions impact you and your relationship with them. Acknowledging your part in a situation is also important and crucial because the aim is to achieve balance. However, if the behaviour persists and continues to affect you negatively, clear boundaries have to be set and a preferably non-confrontational strategy for how to deal with these traits be devised.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Kiosea39 

Mya Williams is a fiercely passionate and fun loving rebel/nonconformist. She loves to write in her free time. She emphatically believes that certain societal customs and norms must be challenged if one is to have a truly fulfilled and happy life.


  1. me

    July 20, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    Some traits you just mentioned pattern to me,does dis mean that I am dealing with passive aggresiveness??i have just lost a good relationship because I was very indecisive,constantly duelling on the past and this exhausted my partner alot.he ended it and I feel bad.what do I do to change?? I want to make better decisions…

    • onetallgirl

      July 20, 2015 at 11:29 pm

      My dear, you have to practice speaking up when you don’t agree with what someone wants you to do but don’t raise your voice, just calmly tell them you don’t want to and look them in the eye when you are saying or people are just going to keep taking advantage of you because you don’t know how to say no. I used to do just like you. It helps sometimes to practice in the mirror. what you are going to say before you say it to someone. Good luck my dear.

  2. Jane

    July 20, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    mehn this sh*t is beastly….as i was reading this article,i could imagine a particular ‘friend’ of mine…passive aggressiveness is worse than overt aggression. I am a quiet person but I am a straightforward person. He can be so hurtful and they won’t even give a damn about how you feel. You do one wrong thing even if its by mistake…and he will just forget all the good things that I did for him for before. As if its amnesia,i reach for bros to start acting brand new. Immediately,i started setting boundaries…its such a bad character. You can never predict what they are going to do. For me, if i see this in a man i am dating,its a DEAL BREAKER.

  3. Koffie

    July 20, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    Mya Williams! You’re like my favourite BN writer, I think you have a beautiful mind and you’re so intelligent. Lol, let me go and read this one but it’s been a while since you were featured here (explains the excitement, lol).

  4. True Story

    July 21, 2015 at 1:05 am

    This list applies to someone I dated.

    He was everything on the list. Always refusing to accept faults, very selfish & refusing to agree or go with anything that he didn’t like.

    He never liked to compromise and that is a big deal for me.

    On the outside my friends thought he was a “calm and cool” guy and that he couldn’t hurt or be mean but wait until behind closed doors; you would see the aggressiveness coming out in different forms. Acting like angel of light outside and devil of darkness inside.

    I could not express my thoughts/communicate with him to save my life. I dumped him with a quickness. Two years later he still emails or skypes with different emails when I block the old one trying to get back with me.

    Whoever go marry that one i give am nyash. Passive aggressive folks sometimes come off as sadists too.
    I can’t deal with such.

  5. brenda lee

    July 21, 2015 at 1:07 am

    Hi Mya, you are on point. Your description fits a relationship I have been into for the past 9 years. My partner is the last minute change in decision person, never comes through with important promises that mean a lot, always finds a way to slime out of agreements, procrastinates when it comes to decisions that could help us and tops it with silent treatment. I am not perfect either but this has made it difficult to plan together or agree as a family. I am on my own for the most part. I realized it 7 years into the relationship and dont know how to cope anymore. Its exhausting trying to work with someone who is consistently removed from all important plans and guess what? We are married!

  6. Yebo

    July 21, 2015 at 7:16 am

    Your article makes serious sense. Reminds me of my 2yr relationship with a friend who, after you’ve asked for forgiveness, will tell you “no wahala”, but will withdraw from you afterwards and refuse to pick ur calls nor answer ur msgs. Passive aggression leads to an unforgiving spirit.

  7. Zeeebby

    July 21, 2015 at 9:13 am

    this sounds like the average Nigerian parent.

  8. Joy

    July 21, 2015 at 9:48 am

    Passive aggression is a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder. This is how they control their victims. Co dependent people often attract these types of people unfortunately if you are married to such a person there is no way out as narcissists don’t change in fact they get worse as they age, if you are dating one its never too late to pick up your self and leave, narcissists don’t change I repeat narcissists don’t change think of it this way how can someone change when they see nothing wrong with what they do in the first place.

  9. joan

    July 21, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Wow…i’ve always known that there was something wrong with me, i just couldn’t put a name to it. Now i know better… Thank you very much mya williams

  10. Prime Babe

    July 21, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    My response to any act of passive aggression is to mirror the person and outdo them at their game. It has worked for me, everytime. At the end of the day, my mirroring them yanks them from the pedestal I have (usually) put them to make them get to me in the first place and I just find that that were not all that fantastic to begin with. Makes walking easier 🙂

  11. Open Sesame

    July 21, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    Wow! This article is so on point.

    If you’ve ever dated or have been in any sort of a relationship with a passive aggressive person, you’d know how painfully draining, confusing and exhausting it can be.

    These people are like a chocolate covered dragon. On the outside they maintain a veneer of civility but get close and they’ll rip you to shreds with their words and actions. Then they switch to being sweet all over again, so you stay…then they rip you…then they’re sweet and the cycle continues. Everyone on the outside won’t understand what you’re going on about when you tell them that this person is a dragon cos all they see is the chocolate covering the dragon. What a life!

    If you grew up with parents like this, chances are you’ll probably marry someone who is the same except by some intervention because that’s your normal.

    My way of dealing with people like this is to let them know I’m only willing to engage when they decide to take responsibility and be clear with me on what’s really going on. Without responsibility and clarity from their part, I will push them to the outer corners of my life where they have no influence or access to my heart & life.


    July 21, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    It would be nice to see an article on why a person may be passive aggressive. I’m being passive aggressive with someone who I’ll eventually stop being friends with. To put it mildly, she is the ‘Adviser of Life”. She can’t go a whole day (literally) without telling someone how she thinks they should behave, whether it’s how the check-out girl at a supermarket should smile when processing your purchases or giving unsolicited skin care or fashion advice – whether or not solicited. She’s the classic know-it-all who must trumpet her knowledge at every damn turn and it’s exhausting. How do you deal with someone who must be right every time?. It’s exhausting so I”m dumbing down on the relationship so it dies a slow natural death rather than end with a bang – fireworks are immature.

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