How to stop being passive aggressive
One thing I’ve especially been learning lately is how to express my feelings, my needs, and my wants.
Somewhere along the way, I perfected the art of passive-aggressiveness. If I was upset with someone, instead of telling them that I was upset and explaining why, I would communicate it in other ways: I might stop talking to them for a day, or delay my response to a text, or be disinterested in tone when speaking with them.
I would wait for my emotions to blow over in a day or two and then resume my normal relationship with them as if nothing ever happened. I thought this was a healthy way of interacting with people because it meant that I wasn’t ‘making mountains out of mole hills’ so to speak, or making a big deal out of small things.
But I’ve come to realize that I’ve only really been hurting myself all this time, because I’ve been holding on to toxic emotions instead of setting them free.
Many of us do this every day: suppress our true feelings and swallow them back. We do this for any number of reasons:
1) We don’t want to rock the boat. We think that keeping our lips sealed is a sacrifice we must make in the name of peace. We fear confrontation and don’t see how things can be civilly resolved without drama, maybe because we’ve only ever seen drama in our lives.
2) We don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. We take responsibility for other peoples’ emotions and decide that they aren’t strong enough or emotionally stable enough to hear us out without getting offended, perhaps because we’ve only known dysfunctional relationships.
3) We’re afraid of what they’ll think of us. We don’t want to be seen as immature or childish or silly for feeling the way that we do. So we rather suffer in silence for the sake of our pride.
4) We’re afraid of vulnerability. It’s ridiculously uncomfortable to be honest about your feelings. And many of us may never have felt like we were in a safe enough space to express ourselves.
Sometimes, our reasons for behaving in the above ways stem from something in our past.
For example, when I was in middle school, I tried out for the basketball team. The next day, the cuts were posted on the gym bulletin board and I saw I hadn’t made it. Like any 11-year-old, I was heartbroken. I started to cry. The family member who was with me said, “I don’t know why you bothered to try out if this is how you were going to respond.” In other words, instead of validating my pain, I was taught in that moment that my emotional response was wrong. I was taught that being sad about the situation was uncalled for, and that expressing that sadness was immature.
When I was 19, I shared something about my childhood with a family member, and I was told to never tell another person. That moment taught me that my secrets were my own to carry, and that in order to protect other people, I had to carry those secrets in silence.
In college, I had a best friend whom I adored. As is the case with many friendships among females, I was jealous to see her interact so closely with another mutual friend. When I explained my jealousy to her, she got angry at me because she felt my feelings were ridiculous. That moment taught me to never confide in a friend when I felt hurt, as it would only ruin the relationship.
There are other examples I can touch upon but those are the ones that stick out the most. Those moments taught me to guard my emotions and to never express my true feelings. So to compensate, I had to learn how to express myself somehow, and thus I learned how to do so passive-aggressively.
But acting passive-aggressively never really solves the problem. If anything, it robs you of the opportunity to achieve emotional intimacy with a person because instead of addressing whatever it is that’s upsetting you, you’re sweeping it under the rug. Over time, all the dirt that accumulates makes you grow angrier and angrier, until your resentment is like a poison in your veins. Eventually, you’ll explode. Trust me. I know. I’ve exploded on plenty of unsuspecting friends and family members myself.
I think the key lies in understanding your reasons for suppressing your feelings. Maybe they’re one of the reasons above. Maybe there are other reasons. It can be simple as asking yourself “why am I so afraid to tell this person how I feel?”
Once you’ve narrowed that down, think to moments in your past from which your fears may have stemmed. It’s always fascinating to trace your behaviors back to a specific point in time, because it helps us better understand our programming.
Finally, change your default settings. Now, this is easier said than done, of course. I’m committing to acting less passive-aggressively in my current relationships but I still fall into old habits now and then. One thing that I’m doing right now is simply repeating a mantra to myself. That mantra is:
“It is safe for me to communicate my feelings.”
My biggest fear when it comes to being open about how I feel, after all, is that I’ll hurt the other person’s feelings and cause a fallout between the two of us.
But now I’m coming to realize that I can’t take responsibility for someone else’s emotional response. I have to trust that the other person is mature enough in their emotions and confident enough in their self-esteem to understand that I’m not attacking them but rather having a loving heart-to-heart for the benefit of our friendship’s evolution. I also have to let go of my fears of abandonment and trust that this person wants the friendship to work just as much as I do.
By addressing my fears head on and reframing my thoughts (“It is safe for me to communicate my feelings”), I’m training myself little by little to take a leap of faith and choose self-expression over passive-aggressiveness.
I’ll tell you one thing: it certainly makes for a more fulfilling life :0) So what’s one mantra you’ll come up with this week to stop suppressing your feelings?