Passive Aggression: Understanding Passive vs. Active Voice

Understanding Passive Aggression

Passive aggression is a term that's thrown around quite frequently in social and professional circles. While it may seem like a simple concept, it's often misunderstood and misused. This behavior is generally defined as a non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behavior. It is where you are angry with someone but do not or cannot tell them. Instead of communicating openly, people who are passive aggressive may resort to actions such as sulking, procrastinating, withdrawing, and stonewalling to express their discontent.

Passive Voice vs Active Voice

Before diving deeper into the concept of passive aggression, it's important to understand the difference between passive voice and active voice in language. This will help us understand the subtlety and indirect nature of passive aggression.

In English grammar, an active voice sentence is one where the subject performs the action stated by the verb. For example, "John cleaned the room" is an active voice sentence. The subject (John) performs the action (cleaning the room).

In contrast, passive voice is where the subject is acted upon by the verb. Using the previous example, a passive voice sentence would be "The room was cleaned by John". Here, the room (subject) is acted upon (cleaned) by John.

The Connection Between Passive Voice and Passive Aggression

The connection between passive voice and passive aggression lies in the indirect nature of both. Just as passive voice sentences often obscure the doer of the action, passive aggression also operates in the realm of indirect expression of anger or discontent.

A person who is being passive aggressive may not directly state their feelings or needs, much like how a passive voice sentence does not directly state the actor of the action. Instead, they may use indirect methods to express their feelings, such as giving someone the silent treatment, making sarcastic remarks, or subtly sabotaging someone's efforts.

Recognizing Passive Aggression

Identifying passive aggressive behavior can be challenging, as it’s often subtle and indirect. However, some common signs include: non-communication when there’s clearly something problematic to discuss, avoidance of direct confrontation, evasive responses to direct questions, and sulking or withdrawing from conversations without explaining why.

Dealing with Passive Aggression

Once you've identified passive aggressive behavior, it's important to approach the situation with care. Here are a few strategies:

  • Open Communication: Encourage the person to express their feelings and needs directly.

  • Assertiveness: Be assertive, but not aggressive. State your needs clearly, so there’s no room for misunderstanding.

  • Practice Empathy: Try to understand the person's perspective. They may feel unable or unsafe to express their feelings directly.

  • Seek Professional Help: If the behavior is causing significant distress and isn't improving despite your efforts, it may be helpful to seek advice from a mental health professional.

Understanding the dynamics of passive aggression and the difference between passive and active voice can help us communicate more effectively in our relationships. By recognizing passive aggression and using strategies to address it, we can foster healthier, more honest, and more direct communication. While it may be challenging at times, it's a worthy endeavor for the sake of personal growth and improved relationships.