Bullying and Passive Agressiveness

I came across an interesting article about the idea of eliminating passive aggressive behavior published in August 2011 on the Livestrong.com site and authored by Jake Lawson. The article sparked for me many issues that I believe people who deal with the long-term effects of bullying have to face. One of the biggest issues that long-term bullying people can develop is a fear of showing honest feelings or outward appearance to others. This distrust of others that comes from years of torment can turn to become a passive aggressive personality trait in many victims of long-term bullying.

So, as I sat and read this article, I thought that I would share it with you, because I found myself in much of what this article had to say and correlated this to the long-term effects of bullying and how it plays into personality traits that I harbor to guess many of those that deal with this past share. The article defines passive aggressive behavior as a self-test in the following way:

What is passive aggressiveness?
I act in a passive aggressive way when I:

  • hide my hostility by seeming to be nice to someone I dislike, and am unable to be honest with the person.
  • say I agree with something but don’t follow through because I really don’t agree with it.
  • act opposite to what others are expecting.
  • quietly manipulate to get my own way after voicing a completely different opinion, just to keep the peace.
  • seek revenge by agreeing and looking “good,” but never following through on my promises.
  • tell people what they want to hear, even if I don’t believe in what I am saying.
  • try to please people by agreeing to their plan of action, yet actually doing the opposite.
  • act one way, which is true to my inner feelings, yet say another.
  • am out of touch with my inner feelings; the only way to know how I feel about something is to observe my behavior, don’t trust my words.
  • hate something or someone but am afraid of letting my true feelings show.
  • feel pressured to act or believe in a certain way when I really don’t want to.
  • avoid conflict at all cost by giving in to others, then procrastinate and never do what I agreed to do.
  • am angry but afraid to show my anger, so I quietly take my revenge by doing the opposite.

I think there are some interesting items here, such as the “avoid conflict” issue and “afraid to show anger” issue as well as the “seeking revenge” items.

What are the typical reactions to my passive aggressiveness?
When people recognize my passive aggressiveness they:

  • are surprised.
  • get disappointed.
  • get angry.
  • are confused by my behavior.
  • confront me on my actions.
  • realize that I lied to them.
  • get frustrated by the inconsistency in my behavior.
  • begin to do battle with me, resulting in a conflict greater than the one I originally tried to avoid.
  • get upset and fly into a rage and this damages the relationship.
  • no longer trust me.
  • resent me for being dishonest.
  • act in a similar way with me and our communication winds up at a standstill where neither of us “wins.”
  • feel challenged by me and in their competitive reaction become more adamant in seeking to achieve what I had originally verbally agreed to with them.

Here I feel there are many telltale signs to why a person who has had to deal with bullying might develop passive aggressive personality traits. The idea of conflict avoidance and then unrealistic anger reaction are key elements to my belief that these traits come from years of trying to change behavior to deal with the conflict that comes from bullying. The next section, I believe, is even more telling.

What irrational thinking keeps me being passive aggressive when I disagree with others?

  • I must avoid an argument, fight or conflict at all costs.
  • I never “win” in confrontation.
  • There is no use in opposing them, they are much more powerful than I am.
  • I must please people by telling them what they want to hear.
  • I never get anywhere by showing my anger openly.
  • It’s bad to get angry.
  • No one wants to know how I feel.
  • No one will understand how I feel.
  • My problems are unique; I need to hide them since no one would understand.
  • I am a loser and failure anyway; why try to defend my position?
  • I will never “win” in this situation; why try?
  • I enjoy seeing people get blown away by my agreeing with them and then my doing the opposite of what I agreed to do.
  • I’d rather back down right away to minimize the damages a fight could bring rather than tell people how I really feel about things.
  • It’s so hard to be honest with people about how I feel when what I feel is counter to what they want me to feel.
  • It’s important for people to like and accept me and I say anything just so long as they like me.
  • It’s not what I do or how I act that is important to people, it is what I say that influences them.
  • People will never know I’m angry and disagree with them.
  • I hide my feelings well from others.
  • Feelings don’t count. It is better to deny my feelings than upset another person I am in disagreement with.
  • I’d rather lie than get into an argument with someone.
  • If I lie about how I feel, others will never know the truth.

The first of these items definitely struck me as a trait that is built from past bullying. The idea of avoiding confrontation certainly begins to grow as you recall being confronted during bullying. The idea of never winning is also a common trait. In fact, the majority of this list, I believe, ties to thinking that many who have dealt with serial bullying feel or develop similar feelings around. While this article lists them as irrational thoughts, the idea behind it is very much a common trait of victims of bullying.

If you go to the article, it continues to talk about how then you can recognize and confront others that are passive aggressive with you. But, I want to share the part that talks about correcting the self from passive aggressive behavior. The article discusses why you should correct it and how to do it. This is an important part of what I believe would be working to confront and improve the damage done to a self from years of bullying. The article gives this advice:

If I find myself being passive aggressive, how can I correct this?
To avoid being passive aggressive with others, I can:

  • try to be assertive, open and honest with my negative feelings or anger.
  • warn people to “read” my behavior rather than my words if they want to know my feelings.
  • confront myself with my inconsistent behavior and challenge myself to explain it.
  • take the risk to confront my anger assertively and “on the spot” so that I can bring my behavior in line with my feelings.
  • work at making my behavior consistent with my feelings.
  • change the way I interact with people and make my relationships more honest.
  • admit that I have been a liar.
  • work at being more honest with people even if it results in a conflict.
  •  identify the irrational thinking that prevents me from confronting people when I am angry.
  • learn how to become assertive with my negative feelings.
  • accept that it is OK to have conflict and disagreement.
  • learn to compromise and come to a “win-win” solution.

Why is it useful to eliminate my acting passive aggressive?
By eliminating passive aggressiveness when I am angry, I could:

  • have deeper, more honest and longer-lasting relationships.
  • feel less stress, anxiety and depression in my dealings with others.
  • learn to be clear and consistent about my feelings.
  • reassure others that they will no longer have to guess how I “really feel.”
  • stop resorting to lies about my feelings.
  • develop self-respect, self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth.
  •  have more energy because I would no longer be defending myself from powerful, intimidating people.
  • have clarity of focus and purpose, working on the things I want rather than what others want for me.
  • have fewer people venting their rage on me.
  • experience a sense of harmony in my life.

Tips to Overcoming being Passive Aggressive
Tip 1: Tell the person immediately how I am feeling, even if I am angry or in disagreement.
Tip 2: Allow the other to express feelings openly as well.
Tip 3: Ask the other to allow for a compromise “win-win” solution.
Tip 4: Ventilate feelings, then jointly brainstorm solutions.
Tip 5: Arrive at a solution in which we both “win.”
Tip 6: Act on solutions in which we both “win.”
Tip 7: Make sure my actions are consistent with the agreement.
Tip 8: Make sure my behavior is consistent with my feelings and what I said in the agreement.
Tip 9: Give the other person permission to point out when my behavior deviates from our agreement.
Tip 10: Monitor my emotions and renegotiate our solution if they aren’t consistent with our compromise.
Tip 11: Let the other know if I get upset over the compromise with no masking of my feelings.
Tip 12: Confront intimidation openly and honestly.
Tip 13: Ensure that our relationship is based on honesty.
Tip 14: Accept the uniqueness and individuality of others, allowing each of us to be ourselves.

Personally, I found a lot of good knowledge and advice in much of this article and believe that many of us exhibit passive aggressive traits, whether bullying is part of your history or not. But for those that were victims of bullying, I think it is easy to fall into passive aggressive behavior due to the past. What do you think? I’m interested to hear from those that were victims and if they feel the same. Let me know your reaction to this article and idea that a long-term effect of bullying can be a development of passive aggressive behavior as a coping mechanism.

Please follow and like us:

About Alan Eisenberg

Alan Eisenberg is a Certified Life Coach, Bullying Recovery activist and author of "A Ladder In The Dark: My journey from bullying to self-acceptance" and "Crossing the Line". He has been writing and speaking to various audiences about the issue of C-PTSD and Bullying Recovery. Mr. Eisenberg has been featured on several print, radio shows and podcasts on this issue, including NPR and in the Boston Globe. He is currently working toward his Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling.
Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Great post–thanks for sharing. Your article caught my eye because I am the author of two books–one on passive aggressive behavior (The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces) and one one bullying (Friendship & Other Weapons.) If either resources may be of interest to you–particularly The Angry Smile–please check it out at http://www.signewhitson.com.

    Your self-awareness and desire to become more assertive and emotionally honest with others is a huge first step. I wish you all the best in your relationships.


  2. Wow, I love this, on my blog i posted my bullying story.
    but thats not what i want to ask you, i would like to ask you, if youd take 2 minutes and sixteen seconds to watch this video… about my life & bullying…. im thirteen years old. itd mean a lot to me.

  3. Wow, this is really intuitive. Thanks so much for sharing. It really does help give insight as to why people cyber bully in the first place. I never thought of it as passive agressive behavior.

  4. This is a great article!!! I really saw alot of myself in the signs…but also noticed alot of the items listed to “overcome” this behavior is stuff I had learned in counseling over the years…I just hadn’t connected it to my experiences with being bullied until I read this article! Thank you for sharing this! Though it has been a long, painful road to recovery from the lasting psychological and emotional effects of being bullied, I am not a quitter and I have never given up on the fight. There is always something just around the corner in life that you will be glad you were around to experience…whether it be falling in love, reaching a personal/career goal, having kids or just being successful in realizing a dream no matter how big or small. I still have bad days when the flashbacks of my torment and humiliation during my adolescent years threaten to overwhelm me…but I remind myself that it’s over and something good is surely to be around the next corner. It keeps me going….thanks again for sharing. 🙂

  5. May I suggest further resources to learn more about empathy and compassion which are the antidote to bullying.

    The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.

    Of interest maybe
    Teaching Empathy Magazine
    Articles about Teaching and Learning how to be more Empathic and Compassionate.

  6. There is a new approach that has been tested in a Massachuesetts school district with promising results. It focuses on giving 3rd/4th graders and their teachers and parents an effective age-appropriate vocabulary to discuss the “why’s” of aberrant behavior and give them the skills to dela with those behaviors wthout excalating into violent outcomes. The new instructional series called Kids Style is based on 40 years of adult behavioral training. More at http://www.KidsStyle.org ; a parents’ version is at iTunes, http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/kids-style-getting-to-know-you/id494948139?mt=11
    We need to give our children the tools they need to deal with behavioral issues like bullying.

  7. HE BULLIED ME!!!!!!!!!!!!

Leave a Reply