Using Mindfulness to Combat Your Passive-Aggressive Behavior

contemplating text message on phoneEditor’s Note: Andrea Brandt, PhD, MFT is a psychotherapist and speaker and the author of Mindful Anger: A Pathway to Emotional Freedom. Her continuing education presentation for GoodTherapy.org, titled “8 Keys to Eliminating Passive-Aggressiveness” is scheduled for 9 a.m. PDT on May 1, 2015. This event is available at no additional cost to GoodTherapy.org members and is good for two CE credits. For details, or to register, please click here.

Every emotion you feel is a message. Emotions tell you how your environment is affecting you, when your boundaries have been violated, and when your needs aren’t being met.

Since anger is unarguably the most shunned emotion in our culture, you may feel an overwhelming urge to suppress it when you feel it stirring inside you. Stuffing your anger would work if your psyche were like a tunnel and feelings could slip harmlessly out the other end. Instead, your psyche is more like an expanding bag, growing bigger and heavier the more you let your emotions go unheard. When you ignore your anger, it can come out in the form of passive-aggressive behavior. The key to combating passive-aggressiveness is mindfulness. Mindfulness will help you embrace the truth of your experiences—including anger.

Mindfulness and Anger Management

Andrea Brandt

Andrea Brandt, PhD, MFT

The first step to managing your anger is to sit with it long enough to hear what it wants to tell you. To do this, you must turn to your body. Your body contains an abundance of information, and it never lies. By listening carefully to your body, you can build new habits for approaching your feelings. A new response strategy will replace the passive-aggressive pattern that may have dominated your life. And mindfulness is the key.

The goal is to learn how to connect your physical sensations with your feelings so that you may listen to your body.

Mindfulness is a practice in which you intentionally focus on the present: what you see, hear, think, and feel in each moment. By using mindfulness, you can explore your internal self in order to change the passive-aggressive loop that characterizes your life. Because sensations can help put you in touch with your emotions, mindfulness exercises let you experience and address the emotions you feel in your body as they are happening. The goal is to learn how to connect your physical sensations with your feelings so that you may listen to your body.

Listening to your body can help you:

  • Understand when your boundaries are being crossed so that you can take appropriate action.
  • Become more conscious of your needs. Once you know what you want, you can ask for it.
  • Identify painful emotions—understanding them will lighten that bag of suppressed emotion that has been sapping your energy.
  • Reveal your thoughts and beliefs—recognizing what they are will help you let go of those that aren’t contributing to your well-being.

With time and with mindfulness practice, you’ll get more and more in touch with the internal information that is available to you, including:

Present-Moment Awareness: Being True to Yourself

Mindfulness exercises—like observing your body sensations and naming your feelings—will allow you to unlock a rich inner life of impulses, feelings, sensations, thoughts, and beliefs. If you’re caught up in passive-aggression, you may feel a strong urge to retreat when you are afraid or upset and the world around you seems unsafe. But even if a situation feels uncomfortable or threatening, the only way to be true to yourself and to inhabit your life is to be fully in the present moment.

There are consequences to suppressing your anger and failing to listen to its message. When you can’t manage your anger, you lose your voice—and with it your self-esteem and self-respect. When you use passive-aggression, you’re not being honest and without honesty, intimacy can’t be achieved. Mindfulness is the road to a more honest and satisfying life; it is the key that can open the jail of passive-aggressiveness.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea Brandt, PhD, MFT, therapist in Santa Monica, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Tommie

    Tommie

    April 22nd, 2015 at 1:25 PM

    Wow I know so many people who could stand to read this and i include myself in that batch. I used to think that being passive aggressive was just a way to get my point across without hurting feelings but as I have gotten older I see that this is just one more way of being snarky and mean really. It is so much better just to say what you mean and get it out there and be done with it. Who wants to carry all of that around for so long anyway? And it never gets anything solved.

  • Andrea Brandt

    Andrea Brandt

    April 22nd, 2015 at 2:50 PM

    Thank you – it makes me feel good to know that I am helping people!

  • Katey

    Katey

    April 22nd, 2015 at 3:22 PM

    I hate running into passive aggressive people because those are the people who do things, and at first you think that they are helping you out, and then you actually look at it and see just how conniving it can be. Being mindful of our actions and truthful about our feelings is one of the best things that we can not only do for ourselves but also for the other people around us as well.

  • Marnie

    Marnie

    April 23rd, 2015 at 8:40 AM

    Why engage in behavior that will not really ever get anything accomplished? That is a whole lot of energy that you will be exerting without ever really getting anything done except alienating other people. I know that is some ways this might make you feel like you are taking action but really when you think about it you will see that this is the wrong way to go about doing things. This is something that teens and young people will engage in but as an adult we should be mature enough to take a step up and deal with the issue at hand.

  • Justine

    Justine

    April 24th, 2015 at 9:37 AM

    Mindfulness training can be beneficial to us in numerous ways. This is just one way in which you can reach a little healing, and be a little more of a better person. But I think that most of all it helps you find a real connection with who you are and what you believe and once you allow yourself to go to that place and become more aware of this then that is what will also radiate outwards to other people too.

  • Mike

    Mike

    April 24th, 2015 at 5:04 PM

    This is extremely valuable, but I’m having a hard time with some of the language. The title uses the word “combat” but my understanding of mindfulness is that its very essence is dropping the inner combat, dropping the inner division of self into “good self” and “bad self” which have to fight with each other. I think you would agree with that, but you might want to rethink using the word “combat” in the title. Also, the title of your book, “eliminating” passive-aggressive behavior. Again, mindfulness is about changing our relationship to parts of ourselves, not eliminating them. The teachers I have listened to have all said that their judgments, anger, etc. all remain, but what has changed is their relationship to them. Again, I think you must surely agree with this, but why use the word “eliminate” in the title? It seems to give the wrong idea. Third, you use the word “replace” in the article (replacing patterns). Again that feels like it plays into the desire that many of us have to eliminate the undesirable parts and replace them with something desirable. I’m sorry, I probably sound very nitpicky, but two of my examples are in the titles which are what give first impressions, so it matters to me.

  • Mia

    Mia

    April 25th, 2015 at 5:40 AM

    Now this? This should be required reading.

  • Andrea Brandt

    Andrea Brandt

    April 27th, 2015 at 3:07 PM

    Thank you so much everybody for your thoughtful responses. I really appreciate it!

  • Katherine Fabrizio

    Katherine Fabrizio

    April 30th, 2015 at 9:16 AM

    This is so helpful Andrea. While being on the receiving end of passive-aggressive behavior is so infuriating, your insight helps me have empathy for what they are struggling with. Thank you.

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