Levels of passive aggression

Fine! Whatever! 8 Passive Aggressive Phrases Everyone Should Know


Do you ever feel like you are riding on an emotional roller coaster with your child? Is your little one friendly and sweet one day, then sulky and withdrawn the next? Does your teenager consistently procrastinate, postpone, stall and shut down any emotionally-charged conversation? Do you, as a parent, ever resemble that same portrait? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, chances are good that passive aggressive behavior has found a way into your home and family.


Check out my article in the Huffington Post Parents section to learn about eight of the most common passive aggressive phrases and to figure out if “sugarcoated hostility” exists in your home and family.



Training on How to Manage Passive Aggressive Behavior


This November 18th, the New Hampshire Center for Effective Behavioral Interventions and Supports (NH CEBIS) will host a one-day training on The Angry Smile (see Workshops & Speaking Page for full details).

Do you live or work with someone who:

  • Denies or represses feelings of anger
  •  Withdraws and sulks
  • Sends hidden, coded and confusing messages when frustrated
  • Procrastinates or carries out tasks inefficiently
  • Is quietly manipulative and controlling
  • Makes endless promises to change
  • Creates a feeling in others of being on an emotional roller coater

This workshop takes an in-depth look at the roots of passive aggression, exploring the behavior at five distinct and (more…)

Win a FREE Copy of The Angry Smile!


Hello all–

I’ve got a busy Fall planned, with several training workshops featuring The Angry Smile.  Although I’ve got a good number of stories about sugarcoated hostility, excessive civility, defiant compliance, and plain old passive aggressive behavior to share, I am always looking for fresh, new examples.  If you have a good example of passive aggressive behavior from a friend, family member, co-worker, parent, child, mother-in-law (those are the best!), boss, on Facebook, via e-mail, on a post-it note, or all of the above, I would love to hear it!

Please e-mail me your story to Signe@SigneWhitson.com or better yet, leave it here via the Comments section.  Be sure to leave me your e-mail address; I will be sending a free copy of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, 2nd ed. to the best example I receive.

Spread the word.  It’ll be great for my collection of real-life examples of passive aggressive behavior and probably worth several laughs for you as well, as you hear about the hilarious lengths some people go to avoid expressing their anger directly and assertively.




PLEASE NOTE: By submitting this story to www.signewhitson.com, you grant Signe Whitson a permanent, royalty-free license to use and/or reproduce this story for any purpose.

Backhanded Compliments and Sugarcoated Hostility: How to Recognize the 10 Common Passive Aggressive Phrases


Is there someone in your life who consistently makes you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster? Do you know a person who is friendly one day but sulks and withdraws the next? Does a family member or friend consistently procrastinate, postpone, stall, and shut down any emotionally-laden conversations? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, chances are you may be interacting with a passive aggressive person. (more…)

>3 Steps for Improving Communication with a Passive Aggressive Spouse


>Check out this article about how to effectively confront passive aggressive behavior in your relationship, posted on Mom It Forward

Behavior: Improving Communication With Your Spouse

>Intentional Inefficiency at Chore Time


>So, we have this repetitive conversation at our house that goes something like this:

Children:  Can we get a dog?  We really want a pug.

Parents:  We can get a dog when you girls show us that you are ready to take care of one.  First, you have to show us that you can feed the kitties everyday withour needing 100 reminders.

Children:  But Moooooooooooom!  But Daaaaaaaaaaaad!  We doooooooooooo.

Parents: (Laugh.  Exchange knowing glances.)

Last night, my husband was on his 95th reminder to our older daughter to feed the kittens.  Following her 75th, “I’ll do it in a minute” (she simply pretended not to hear the first 20 requests, as she kept her eyes glued to her lady Gaga video on the computer screen), she all of a sudden got indignant:

Fine.  I’ll do it right away.  I don’t know why you have to be so impatient about it, Dad!”

She runs to the kitty dishes.  We hear the pouring of the food.  A lot of pouring, in fact.  She runs back to the computer with an angry smile on her face and resumes her dry-eyed screen stare.

My husband and I check out the kitty bowls.  Oh, she fed them alright.  The food dish overflowed with food.  The water dish overflowed with instantly-soggy food.  The mat underneath was covered in kibble.  The cats were indeed fed.  This ought to last ’em for a month!

For those counting the levels of passive aggressive behavior and keeping score, that’s 75 incidents of temporary compliance and 1 heaping serving of intentional inefficiency for my passive aggressive cat feeder.

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>10 Common Passive Aggressive Phrases to Avoid


>This article was recently published on http://www.momitforward.com/:
Is there someone in your life who consistently makes you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster? Do you know a person who is friendly one day but sulks and withdraws the next? Does a family member or friend consistently procrastinate, postpone, stall, and shut down any emotionally-laden conversations? Are you sometimes that person? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, chances are you may be interacting with a passive aggressive person or showing signs of passive-aggressive behavior yourself.

Passive aggression is a deliberate and masked way of expressing covert feelings of anger (Long, Long & Whitson, 2008). It involves a range of behaviors designed to get back at another person without him recognizing the underlying anger. These ten common passive aggressive phrases can serve as an early-warning system for you, helping you recognize hidden hostility when it is being directed your way:

1. “I’m Not Mad.”

Denying feelings of anger is classic passive aggressive behavior. Rather than being upfront and honest when questioned about his feelings, the passive aggressive person insists, “I’m not mad” even when he is seething on the inside.

2. “Fine.” “Whatever.”

Sulking and withdrawing from arguments are primary strategies of the passive aggressive person. Since passive aggression is motivated by a person’s belief that expressing anger directly will only make his life worse (Long, Long & Whitson, 2008), the passive aggressive person uses phrases like “Fine” and “Whatever” to express anger indirectly and to shut down direct, emotionally honest communication.

3. “I’m Coming!”

 Passive aggressive persons are known for verbally complying with a request, but behaviorally delaying its completion. If whenever you ask your child to clean his room, he cheerfully says, “Okay, I’m coming,” but then fails to show up to complete the chore, chances are he is practicing the fine passive aggressive art of temporary compliance.

4. “I Didn’t Know You Meant Now.”

On a related note, passive aggressive persons are master procrastinators. While all of us like to put off unpleasant tasks from time to time, people with passive aggressive personalities rely on procrastination as a way of frustrating others and/or getting out of certain chores without having to directly refuse them.

5. “You Just Want Everything to be Perfect.”

When procrastination is not an option, a more sophisticated passive aggressive strategy is to carry out tasks in a timely, but unacceptable manner. For example:

  • A student hands in sloppy homework
  • A husband prepares a well-done steak for his wife, though he knows she prefers to eat steak rare
  • An employee dramatically overspends his budget on an important project

In all of these instances, the passive aggressive person complies with a particular request, but carries it out in an intentionally inefficient way. When confronted, he defends his work, counter-accusing others of having rigid or perfectionist standards.

6. “I Thought You Knew.”

Sometimes, the perfect passive aggressive crime has to do with omission. Passive aggressive persons may express their anger covertly by choosing not to share information when it could prevent a problem. By claiming ignorance, the person defends his inaction, while taking pleasure in his foe’s trouble and anguish.

 7. “Sure, I’d be Happy To.”

 Have you ever been in a customer service situation where a seemingly concerned clerk or super-polite phone operator assures you that your problem will be solved. On the surface, the representative is cooperative, but beware of his angry smile; behind the scenes, he is filing your request in the trash and stamping your paperwork with “DENY.”

 8. “You’ve Done so Well for Someone with Your Education Level.”

The backhanded compliment is the ultimate socially acceptable means by which the passive aggressive person insults you to your core. If anyone has ever told you, “Don’t worry—you can still get braces even at your age” or “There are a lot of men out there who like plump women,” chances are you know how much “joy” a passive aggressive compliment can bring.

 9. “I Was Only Joking”

Like backhanded compliments, sarcasm is a common tool of a passive aggressive person who expresses his hostility aloud, but in socially acceptable, indirect ways. If you show that you are offended by biting, passive aggressive sarcasm, the hostile joke teller plays up his role as victim, asking, “Can’t you take a joke?”

 10. “Why Are You Getting So Upset?”

The passive aggressive person is a master at maintaining his calm and feigning shock when others, worn down by his indirect hostility, blow up in anger. In fact, he takes pleasure out of setting others up to lose their cool and then questioning their “overreactions.”

Signe Whitson is a licensed social worker and co-author of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, 2nd ed. Her blog, Passive Aggressive Diaries, was designed to take a light-hearted look at the hilariously conniving ways in which people encounter and exude passive aggressive behavior in their everyday lives.  She also serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the Life Space Crisis Intervention Institute.   Her work is brought to you by a baby clothes boutique in an effort give back to the parenting community.  Pay it forward – check out their adorable selection of baby accessories and shower gifts.

>Bedtime Wars


>I have not yet been blessed with one of those “sleeper-type” babies. Sleep training, shmeep training; when my daughters were infants, I tried everything the books said, the neighbors said, my mom said, my friends said. My head was spinning with advice, but my brain was not getting any rest, as both of my girls instinctively knew how to sleep in my arms and wake the moment they were put down. “Let them cry it out,” you say? “Relentless!” I answer you.

The good news is, I made it! They are now ages 7 and 4, and except for the typical, “I’m not tired” protests at bedtime, they find their own way to slumber these days and are even sampling the fine art of sleeping in. No, this Passive Aggressive Diary post won’t actually be about sleep, but rather the epic (and different) ways my husband and I went about approaching our older daughter’s bedtime routine, back in her baby days.

When Hannah was 19 months old, I had grown weary of spending an hour (plus!) each night rocking her to sleep, so my New Year’s resolution that year was to get a more reasonable bedtime routine going. I put her to bed every night for six weeks and got our family into a new groove: three books, a loving song, and in-the-crib—all in under 20 minutes. My husband was totally down with the whole thing until the night in late February when I asked him if he could follow the simple routine and put Hannah to bed.

He looked me in the eye, asked in detail about the number of books and timing of the routine, and then agreed to my request.

About a half hour went by (not that I was watching the clock or anything), when I heard uproarious laughter from upstairs. I felt a stab of impatience, but then chided myself for being so strict on the time, thinking sweetly, “How nice that they are enjoying their time together.”

Five minutes later, loud music began: Dan Zanes on full volume! I could hear Hannah’s bed springs squeaking. It was a Dance Party! Any “isn’t that sweet” thoughts drained from my head (probably through the steam seeping out of my ears.)

At the 50-minute mark, I heard dresser drawers slamming. I couldn’t stop myself anymore. I went upstairs and opened Hannah’s bedroom door. She was out of her fleece jammies and decked out in her stripy bathing suit, Dora sunglasses, and a pair of brand new hot pink water shoes. It was a BEACH dance party…in February…at 9:48pm…

My heart melted a little when Hannah ran up to me with her huge wide-awake smile and shouted, “Bedtime so fun!”

But it froze up again when Richard came downstairs 35 minutes later (that’s an hour and a half later, for those of you (like me) who are counting) and met my stony glare with feigned shock, “What? We were just having some fun!”

Five years of decent night sleeps later, the situation that February evening is now all clear; Richard didn’t want to be bothered with bedtime routines. Rather than tell me this fact and risk an argument over sharing childcare responsibilities, he chose a passive aggressive response to the situation.  He verbally agreed to the task, but carried it out in such a way that he knew would excuse him from having to repeat it for quite some time.  Classic intentional inefficiency.

The cunning of his personal choice was unmistakable: when I argued with his stated intention of having fun with his daughter, I got to star in the coveted roles of “uptight, no-fun mother” and the always delightful-to-be-around “controlling wife.” My husband’s strategy in the situation was a winning one for both he and our daughter; Hannah thought her Daddy was the coolest in the world and Richard was not called upon to help with this evening responsibility for months.

At least I got a good story for my book!
The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive-aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces

>Five Levels of Passive Aggressive Behavior


>In The Angry Smile, we define five distinct and increasingly pathological levels of passive aggression:

Level 1: Temporary Compliance, in which the passive aggressive person verbally complies with a request, but behaviorally delays acting on it. Temporary compliance is the most common form of passive aggressive behavior and sounds something like, “I’m cooooooming!”

Level 2: Intentional Inefficiency, in which the passive aggressive person complies with a request, but carries it out in an unacceptable manner. Intentional Inefficiency looks something like my husband unloading the dishwaser by putting everything out on the counter and claiming, “I wasn’t sure where these went!”

Level 3: Letting a Problem Escalate, in which the passive aggressive person uses inaction to allow a forseeable problem to escalate and takes pleasure in the resulting anguish. Passive aggressive kids are at this level when they return a car with an empty gas tank, even when they know their parent will be late for work if they have to stop for gas.

Level 4: Hidden but Conscious Revenge, in which the passive aggressive person makes a deliberate decision–and takes hidden action–to get back at someone. This more serious level could involve stealing field trip money from the purse of a teacher who they feel has mistreated them, sabotaging the presentation of a colleague who they feel was unfairly promoted over them, or slashing the tires of a resented step-father’s car.

Level 5: Self-depreciation, in which a passive aggressive person goes to self-destructive lengths to seek vengeance. From the teenager who dyes his hair blue before a college interview to the girl who starves herself to get back at her demanding father, this level is the most pathological…and usually not great fodder for “funny” stories.

In The Angry Smile, we document passive aggressive behaviors at each level, across home, school, relationship & workplace settings.

What examples do you have of passive aggression at these levels?

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