Passive-aggressive behavior takes on many forms but can generally be described as a non-verbal aggression that manifests itself in negative behavior. It occurs when you express your negative emotions indirectly, instead of addressing them assertively. It is manifested when you are angry with someone but you do not or cannot tell them so. Instead of communicating honestly when you feel upset, annoyed, irritated, or disappointed, you may instead bottle up the feelings, shut up verbally, give angry looks, make obvious changes in your behavior, be obstructive, sulky, or put up a stone wall…
Passive-aggressive people …are fearful of being controlled and forced to share and communicate in a way that is uncomfortable. They have learned to frustrate and obstruct others’ ways in order to get their point across without a proper expression of thought and feeling.
God is not honored by our actions when we behave deceptively. Not only that, but it messes up our relationships, ruins our testimony, and stunts our Christian growth. The following are ten problems with passive aggressive behavior:
1. It is not honest
When you speak passive-aggressively, you actually mean the opposite of what you say or something other than what you are actually communicating. That’s not honest. It is lying either directly or by omission.
Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord but those who act faithfully are his delight. Proverbs 12:22
For whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;… 1 Peter 3:10
2. It is unkind
When you behave passive aggressively, you are trying to undermine the other person. Instead of being upfront about what you want or what you disagree with, you sabotage their goals or say you will support them and then don’t. It is not thinking about the other person first. Some people have learned to be passive aggressive because of the family they were raised in or in order to protect themselves from abuse, but this is not how God would have us communicate. We are to communicate in kindness. Passive aggressiveness is not kind. At all. It is not thinking of the other person first.
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. Luke 6:31
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
3. It ignores sin
When someone is passive aggressive, they often use that method of communication to avoid having to deal directly with sin that they see in someone else. Scripture teaches that we are supposed to tell other Christians when we see them living in sin. We don’t get a pass on obeying those verses just because we have damage in our past. Instead of directly saying that what someone is doing is wrong, passive aggressive people make indirect and sometimes even deceptive comments to avoid having to confront that sin. Sometimes, they will even go along with sin when they know it is wrong just to keep the peace and not have to confront sin. Along with that, passive aggressive people will make subtle and underhanded comments about it but not directly confront the issue. A lot of passive aggressive behavior in marriages could be resolved if we better understood and followed scripture.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Matthew 18:15-17
4. It casts unrighteous judgments
Another way that passive aggressive people use their words to undermine others is by making comments and being critical and judgemental about something they don’t like when they can’t back up their position biblically. If you don’t have a solid leg to stand on biblically, you can’t use verses to back up your position. So just make jabs and sarcastic comments about the person, such as criticizing what they wear or what they say in a subtle way. Since you aren’t coming right out and confronting them, it is highly unlikely that they will call you on your unfair and unrighteous (not to mention unbiblical) judgement, but you can still get your opinion out there. This ruins relationships and undermines trust, but at least the passive aggressive person feel better about themselves because they got to say what they think even if they are wrong.
Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. John 7:24
5. It breeds anger and bitterness
If we are allowing sin in our midst, not addressing it, and then trying to subtly hint to the person in sin that they are in sin, they are probably not going to get it. And, that isn’t how we are told in scripture to do it. So, it is going to make us angry. Angry that the person isn’t changing. Angry that the sin isn’t being addressed. Angry that we aren’t heard. And that will lead to bitterness. These behaviors can absolutely decimate relationships. Nearly all passive aggressive people I know are very angry and bitter. They are downright miserable. There is a right way to address sin our lives and in our marriages, and that is not it.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Ephesians 4:31
6. It is cowardly
Passive aggressive behavior is avoidance behavior. Instead of being upfront and honest about what is really going on, you quietly make side comments and sabotage what the other person is doing hoping they will stop and notice without them getting upset at you. It is a false hope, and it doesn’t work. Do we honestly think that God would have us permit sin in our midst just so that we don’t have the discomfort of having to address sin? Just so that we don’t have to stand up for what is right? Yes, standing up for what is right is hard, absolutely. But if I can’t even stand up to my husband and say, “No, that is wrong,” how on earth do I expect that I can stand for Jesus when persecution and hard times come? This is especially an issue in Christian couples who don’t understand a proper view of submission.
So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:6
7. It is selfish
When someone behaves passive-aggressively, they are thinking only about what is in their own best interest. They are not thinking of other people. Often times they are trying to protect themselves from confrontation or hurt, but it is not okay to do that at the expense of other people. Passive aggressive behavior doesn’t help anyone; it only feels good to the person who is going it.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,c being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Ephesians 2:4-8
8. It keeps you immature
As maturing believers, if we want to follow scripture, we have to develop new and mature ways to communicate. This takes prayer and practice. It takes a lot of self-control to communicate to other people with grace and kindness. Self-control comes from the Holy Spirit in our lives. By not choosing to use self-control to communicate with grace, kindness, etc, we are allowing ourselves to stay immature in Christ. These situations are supposed to mature us! Passive aggressiveness gives us the illusion of control while actually keeping us immature spiritually, unhealthy emotionally, and it messes up our relationships. It is not honoring to the Lord!
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. James 1:26
9. It is not peaceful
Have you ever lived with or spent time with someone who is passive aggressive? I have. It is not pleasant. You are constantly on guard. You are walking on eggshells. They are miserable all the time and consequently you are miserable all the time. They occasionally explode because of all the bitterness they are holding inside. But because they don’t want to actually deal with the issues causing the problem –because they are using avoidance behaviour– the issues don’t actually get resolved and problems don’t get fixed. They just fester. And fester. And explode again at a later time. It is an ever-ticking time bomb. It is a contagious kind of miserable. That is not how we are called to live our lives.
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. Philippians 4:4
…if possible, as far as depends on you, living in peace with all men. Romans 12:18
10. It is not Christ-like
Jesus obeyed and left the rest in God’s hands. Even in the garden before He was crucified, He prayed that God’s will would be done. In my opinion, a huge cause of passive aggressive behavior in a Christians is them not choosing to believe that God is in control. They are unwilling to surrender control of the situation to God. If you can do something about it, do; if not, trust God with the results. Your underhanded behaviour will not bring honor to the Lord. Even if it changed the situation, it would be the wrong way to go about it. It is in fact lack of faith on your part to keep trying to push the person toward the thing you want them to do. If leaving His life in God’s hands was good enough for Jesus, then it surely ought to be good enough for us. If we truly believe that God is going to take care of us, it will not result in us trying to manipulate the situation. Nor will it result in bitterness, because we are trusting the results to God.
“…not my will, but yours, be done.” Luke 22:24
Jesus is the example we should be following:
Because he is the truth (John 14:6), Jesus always spoke honestly, never deceiving through passive-aggressive speech or other means. Jesus never tried to meet his own needs through his words. Instead, he consistently served others through what he said.
If you are guilty of passive-aggressive behaviour, I recommend that you spend some time in prayer seeking the Lord’s forgiveness and praying for the courage to confront your problems head-on without manipulation, trusting the results to God.
Maturity in Christ should make us bold, honest, kind, gracious, and giving. Don’t let passive aggressive behaviour rob you of your growth or your testimony in Christ.