A Secret

Well, hey. We know each other but we don’t really know each other, so let’s get down to it, yes?

Yesterday, it was realized that I am passive aggressive.

It was also realized that this is quite common in women, as we’ve been raised to assume a certain posture, a certain persona, a certain portrait that smiles and blinks and nods, and never quite says precisely what she feels.

Here is why this is hard for me to swallow: I never wanted to be the woman who says precisely what she feels.

There is a woman in my life who says precisely what she feels and she makes me cringe, because she is unruly and unkind, and she once told me I should consider eating more salad, because bread was doing nothing for my hips. But perhaps I am imagining this? Perhaps she was simply truth telling? I don’t know, I’m the one checking out books about passive aggression at the local library on a Wednesday morning after a particularly tricky conversation with my husband, so I feel I am not qualified to comprehend.


I am here, in the oak-ridden library stacks, and I have just read through the first few pages, no more than an introduction really, and I have found, gracious, I am passive aggressive on every account there is.

Poor Ken.

But here’s the great news! I have a project now. I’m going to fix it, as if it’s a clogged toilet, a still-needs-to-be-hung-frame in the foyer, and I promise to let you know how it’s going, but can I first say this?

Passive aggression, I have read, stems from a fear of anger, a fear of conflict, a fear of upsetting the fruit basket.

And girlies, I do not know any one of us who does not – from time to time – fear upsetting the fruit basket.

And so! To the passive aggressors in us all: we can do this, right? We can be both truth and kind, can’t we? We can say what we feel, can’t we?

I will let you know. I’m on chapter two.

  • Oh this. THIS. I, too, have had people tell me awful things under the guise of being honest. We who seek to be kind (even if it’s to a perceived fault) will run up against this from time to time. There’s always a jolt involved. Yet, I often find myself taking stock and remembering that they’re hurtful (truth or no) because they operate from a different place of fear—that place full of insecurities and comparison. I really do believe there’s a way to be both kind and honest and if there’s anyone who can master it, my dear, it’s you. xoxo

    • Ah, thank you for the encouragement! It takes quite a bit more energy, and if I’m honest, it’s sometimes easier to tell a half-truth. But I’m determined! I’m going to work on this! ;)

  • While I do not like the kind of passive aggressiveness that is meddling and manipulative and unkind, I also really dislike insults wrapped in ‘honesty’. There was absolutely no reason for that person to tell you that you should eat more salads…unless – I guess – you honestly asked her if you thought eating less bread would help? Now that I am a mom, I experience many more pieces of judgement wrapped in a very thin layer of ‘advice’ than I experience someone actually listening and understanding me.

    I agree with you that us girls are raised to be agreeable and pleasant and get what we want through manipulative means. I am from the south, and we are particularly good at the meddling, unkind type of passive aggressiveness and I’m not real proud of it. I have to believe that there is a way to be honest, straight-forward, kind, and also – because I am – Southern. I’d love any tidbits you come across :).

    • Gah, yes! I agree with you. And I can’t wait to share these tidbits I”m learning. Also, this!:
      “..girls are raised to be agreeable and pleasant and get what we want through manipulative means.”

      Eek. It’s kind of true, isn’t it?

  • I’ve always had this fear that I too am passive-aggressive, and I have never looked into it because I don’t want to confirm that fear. Perhaps, as I go about my day today, this post will rattle around in my head some more and drive me to take a look, and begin to heal the way you are.

    • You know, one of the main things I’m learning is that there is nothing to be afraid of. It’s certainly a learned skill that affects most women who, for some reason or another, aren’t saying how they feel. I’m working to find how to do this, but for now, I’m resting easy in knowing it doesn’t make me any less mature or sociable than the rest of us. ;)

      • Hi Erin, Recently found your blog and I’m enjoying it! This topic resonates with me more than I’d like to admit. I think it’s great you’re tackling it head on. You’re right, there’s nothing to fear, and the best way we can begin to change is to first accept where we are right now.
        While passive aggression does not make us less sociable (if anything, it makes us seem quite wonderful to always be so agreeable) it can cause us to be resentful, and it’s really no one’s fault but our own when we choose not to speak up. On the up side, that means it’s in our power to change things.
        I’m with you on this journey.

      • Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Bridget, you get it. ;) I often struggle with resentment and am so excited to tackle it all head on. More to come, for sure! :) Thank you for your thoughtful comments!

  • I always hear passive aggressive thoughts in my head, but stop myself, knowing that is a poor way to present the information. My alternative? Not much better. It usually comes out as purely passive. I avoid, walk away, keep my mouth shut. At least, I’m this way with the people I love. With perfect strangers? I’m perfectly okay with assertiveness. I’m not afraid of hurting a strangers’ feelings (though, I don’t ever act in a hurtful, aggressive way), but am afraid sometimes that my assertive comments will come across as harsh to a loved one’s ears. The balance is hard to find, but I believe it is important.

  • Erin, THANK YOU. You are once again speaking a truth I needed to hear, gently, so gently, so I wouldn’t bite. Because I too am a passive aggressor, and I take criticisms as though the critic was doubting the very worth of my soul.
    Your writing is beautiful and soft so I believe you will triumph in this project. And I hope I can draw on your wisdom here in this space to help me do the same.
    Much love and gratitude,

    • Oh sweet Dora, I’m right in this space with you!!!!!!!!! We’re going to learn so much. ;)

    • Dora, You bring up a good point. Maybe because we take “criticism” so personally, we imagine other people will feel the same way if we speak the truth, so we don’t say anything.

  • I, too, was called out for being passive aggressive by my husband this week. And, you hit the nail on the head with the reasons… I hate conflict, and I hate upsetting the fruit basket. On the other hand, when I speak up, I’m often “accused” (that’s harsher than reality, but you know what I mean…) of nagging too much. How do you find the happy medium?

    • AHHHHH I know, I know, I know. I just cannot find the medium between speaking up and swallowing down. Working on a loooooong post about this; more to come! I’m learning much. :)

      • Oooh, if you have insights on this please do share! I hate to seem/feel like a nag and LOATHE not knowing how to best raise issues with my husband. My sister-in-law is completely the opposite and frankly, while I admire her at times, I pity my brother more often than not. There has to be a middle ground but I sure didn’t have the chance to learn it from my mother – who has a veritable blackbelt in passive aggression.

      • Ohhhh gracious I hear you. There must be a middle ground! I’m exploring it and can’t wait to share my thoughts. :)

    • Strangely, when I speak up about what I want, I’m less likely to be naggy on that topic. (Do women nag because they don’t want to come right out and say what they want?) Of course that doesn’t mean the person will always comply, but at least it isn’t because he doesn’t know! Maybe if we nag, we never have to face “rejection”– an outright, “no.” Maybe that’s what we’re afraid of.

  • I actually think my husband is more passive aggressive than I am, but that may be my p-a talking. I think the only answer, in the end, is BOTH parties working to be open and honest and caring (speaking specifically on the spouse thing). Neither side can do it all on their own. So looking forward to your insights, Erin.

    • Ha, yes yes yes. One thing I read is that passive aggression is a cycle, and each plays a role – the aggressor and the enabler. I can’t decide which one I am, except that I will forever wave a kumbaya stick just to get the heck out of the way of conflict. ;)

  • Almost as if it’s a new language you need to learn … that’s the analogy that popped into my head. Though I don’t think I am passive aggressive by nature, there have been times it has snuck out — it’s a feeling that I know the name of from time to time. One way it likes to rear its’ head is through mumbled or whispered comments that give you the last word … beware of the whispered last word!! :)

  • Journaling my angry thoughts seems to help vent creatively without an actual blow up.

    just sayin’

  • You know, I think that the bread/hips comment is still pretty passive aggressive – perhaps heavier on the aggressive side. You can be honest and upfront without being a complete turd. I’ve taken big steps in curbing my passive aggressive tendencies by learning to accept and share how I feel and why I feel that way. As women, we’re taught not to express those fruit basket emotions and absurdly, we’re even pressured to not have those emotions at all. We don’t learn how to constructively express those feelings, and how to cope with the consequences. I admire that you’re taking steps to change your habits, good luck!

    • You’re so right. I am continually trying to justify away the emotions I have, when really, I need to work harder to adequately, truthfully and kindly express them. It’s going to be a long process! :)

  • ou. im at the opposite fence here. i bet my everything it s a consecuence of mommy lessons that instruct/strike on behaviour, but, since im NOT getting any younger&my gold in life is to be wise, or at least, lucid, i still think its our responsability to shake shabby and SO not chic (shitt* is what i want to say!)lessons&rules out of our heads.minds&hearts. i really do. in my return of saturn i have seen how it is, i do things i hate! in other people, like, being pushy at times, but, its b/c im so forward. P-A-people drive me mad! b/c im so straight-forward and i fail to get what is there, i mean, i know its like a thing u learn as a kid, but why oh why!? i would day, please dear, be CLEAR to me. but, hey!, already being in the path to owning it and fixing it is commendable.(its been a while since i step here&write!) so, good4u! and ur dear hubbie ;)

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