- How to Avoid Aggressive Communication If You Have SAD
- 6 Ways the Most Emotionally Intelligent People Handle Anger
- How not to talk to someone with depression | SE Smith
- So depression is just being really sad, right?
- Have you tried …?
- Why not just cheer up?
- It’s all in your mind
- I can’t imagine …
- Can’t you just be cured?/I thought you were fine now that you were on meds?
- Do you really need a service animal/meds/that much therapy?
- Angry All the Time for No Reason? This Might Be Why
- Related Articles
- Relationship Killers: 3 Toxic Communication Styles Sabotaging Your Relationships November 18, 2019 In Emotional Fitness, Relationships
- Passive Communication: When being nice backfires
- Passive communication is when you ignore or mask the truth about how you feel or what you want, usually as a way to avoid conflict
- Aggressive Communication: Bullying works… until it doesn’t
- Aggressive communication is when you express your own wants and needs without regard for the rights and preferences of others
- Passive-Aggressive Communication: Stuck between fear and anger
- Passive-aggressive communication is when you’re too angry to keep quiet and too afraid to be honest
- Assertive Communication: Honesty + Respect
- 5 Tips for Communicating Assertively without Being Passive-Aggressive
How to Avoid Aggressive Communication If You Have SAD
Greta Marie / Getty Images
Aggressive communication is a method of expressing needs and desires that does not take in to account the welfare of others. A harmful communication style, aggressive communication can end up worsening social anxiety by making others view you more harshly. In turn, this can lower your self-esteem as you worry you are being judged negatively by those around you.
If you have social anxiety, you may have suppressed your own needs for so long that you end up resorting to aggressive communication. Learning how to be assertive will help you to better manage your emotions so that they don't reach a boiling point.
During aggressive communication, you stand up for yourself in a way that is inappropriate and may violate the rights of others. You may find that people seem exhausted, overwhelmed or drained after talking with you when you are in an aggressive state. Some people also establish their superiority through aggressive communication by putting others down.
Verbal characteristics of aggressive communication include sarcasm, a harsh tone of voice and condescending statements
- “How could you think that was a good idea?” or
- “Don't be stupid.”
Nonverbal cues of aggressive communication include
- Intruding into someone's personal space
- Aggressive gestures pointing or clenched fists
- Sneering and smirking
Whereas assertive communication has a goal of meeting the needs of others and yourself, aggressive communication serves no purpose other than to vent frustrations and hurt others. When you communicate in this way, you are not seeking a solution—rather you are letting your emotions get the best of you.
In the moment, aggressive communication can feel very satisfying, particularly if you have social anxiety and are used to not speaking up. You may get your way by bullying others and it may give you a sense of power and control. If you lack this feeling in your life, you may become addicted to it through aggressive communication.
However, aggressive communication is ly to result in the development of enemies and hurt relationships with loved ones. After you have hurt someone you care about, you may feel shame or guilt.
This can also inhibit your social skills and make future social situations much more difficult for you. In this way, communicating aggressively becomes a vicious cycle from which you cannot escape.
Rather than depending on the anger and bluster of aggressive communication, many people with social anxiety find it beneficial to learn assertive communication skills.
In assertive communication, you convey your needs openly and honestly, without impeding the needs of others. Instead of a harsh tone and aggressive gestures, verbal characteristics of assertive communication include
- A firm but relaxed tone
- The use of “I” statements , “I was hurt when you ignored me.”
Assertive communication respects personal space and does not involve yelling or intimidation. You are seeking to have others understand your needs so that they can be met, as well as learning of the needs of others so that you can help them as well.
During assertive communication, you listen respectfully to truly hear the other person. The more you stand up for yourself without harming others in the process, the more your self-esteem will grow. With social anxiety, it's common to let anger build up. But with assertive communication, you address things calmly in the moment so that resentment does not develop.
Learning to progress from aggressive communication to assertive communication can be a difficult process. Many with social anxiety find that a skilled therapist with experience in anxiety disorders can be a huge help.
Your healthcare provider can help you identify situations in which you rely on aggressiveness and will help you develop strategies to combat the desire to respond aggressively. Together, you will work on developing assertive communication skills and will practice different situations so you are prepared to handle them appropriately.
Over time, you will be able to assert yourself firmly but responsibly, without harming others through force or intimidation. This can be a major step forward in your social anxiety treatment plan.
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Keyes KM, McLaughlin KA, Vo T, Galbraith T, Heimberg RG. ANXIOUS AND AGGRESSIVE: THE CO-OCCURRENCE OF IED WITH ANXIETY DISORDERS. Depress Anxiety. 2016;33(2):101–111. doi:10.1002/da.22428
University of Kentucky. The Four Basic Styles of Communication.
Oregon State. Argumentativeness and Verbal Aggressiveness.
Bien JT. Some Bullies Just Want to Be Loved. Pacific Standard. Updated June 14, 2017.
Princeton University. Choosing Your Communication Style. 2020.
University of Iowa. A Comparison of Non-Assertive, Assertive, and Aggressive Communication. 2013.
Kashdan TB, McKnight PE. The darker side of social anxiety: When aggressive impulsivity prevails over shy inhibition. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2010 Feb;19(1):47-50. doi:10.1177%2F0963721409359280
Lock, A. Overcoming Social Anxiety Through Assertive Communication. National Social Anxiety Center. 2016.
6 Ways the Most Emotionally Intelligent People Handle Anger
Most of us don’t confrontation, but it’s a fact of life that we can’t run from forever. We have to assert ourselves, our boundaries, and our needs — and others have to do the same with us.
There are a million terrible ways of expressing your frustration. Here’s how to do so with better emotional intelligence to get the results you actually want.
The Role of Anger
Anger — both direct and indirect (or passive) — is meant to communicate something important. But it can also drive people away. What you really want is to connect and be heard, but when anger is involved, the result is often just the opposite. Aggression in any form is the biggest impediment to emotionally intelligent communication.
People often think passive-aggressive communication is somehow better or “nicer.” It’s not. In fact, it may actually be worse. Unfortunately, it’s what many people resort to, to their own detriment. The French have a wonderful expression for passive-aggression: sous-entendu.
It means “what is understood underneath.” In other words, you’re saying one thing that sounds innocent, but really meaning another that can actually be quite vicious.
If you are looking for a true and meaningful connection and understanding with another person, you need a better strategy.
What does passive-aggression look in practice? It's an indirect jab at someone that says it all. is rampant with it. When model Chrissy Teigen went out on a dinner date with her husband John Legend shortly after having a baby, she was by followers as being a bad mother. Some tweets were directly aggressive, others passive-aggressive, this one:
Research shows that a hostile communication style will drive people away: Whether you’re aggressive or passive-aggressive, people will react negatively to you. They will feel uncomfortable, they won’t understand what is going on, and they’ll want to get away from you.
Here’s how you can communicate anger without destroying your relationships.
Some cultures are perceived as tending to be extremely direct — think New Yorkers, for example. What you see is oftentimes what you get. If you’re from an environment where people don't tend to communicate this way, a direct communication style may seem harsh and rude.
Other cultures are seen as more indirect. Many perceive the French communication style as typically passive-aggressive. In parts of the Southern or Midwestern U.S., propriety is valued over directness. People tend to act more congenially. However, where the culture tends to value being “nice” more, you also have to handle the “ice” more.
Fundamentally, though, neither of these approaches necessarily leads to the constructive results you want.
When you are angry, you need to express it. But both aggressive and passive-aggressive behaviors will drive people further away from you. Here’s what to try instead:
1. Tune in to what's really going on, and become self-aware.
If you’re fuming, wait it out. Though you’ll be in a hurry to dish your frustration out (directly or indirectly) to someone's face, or in a text or email, your communication won’t come out right. When we’re angry, that’s all we can think about — our brain is hijacked.
We know that when the emotion centers of the brain are highly active, we have a harder time thinking logically. Cool your flames, and you'll see more clearly and communicate more effectively.
Breathe, take a walk, distract yourself with a funny movie, meditate, exercise, pray — anything to help you regain composure and perspective.
2. Understand your emotion.
Figure out if you’re really angry. Maybe you’re just sad or hurt. Often we think we’re frustrated with a person or situation, but the real situation is that we’re actually feeling pain, rejection, or sorrow. Once you figure out what your emotion is, that’s what you will want to communicate instead.
3. Figure out if you're misplacing blame.
It’s too easy to blame a situation or person for how we feel.
You’re hungry, tired, overworked, stressed, or unhappy in your marriage, and then you assign all the blame to the first person or situation you encounter; probably someone close to you.
In the process, you drive away the people you love the most — making things even worse. What's more, you're still frustrated, since they weren't the true cause of your anger.
4. Get curious.
Focusing on why you’re angry, sad, or frustrated keeps you focused on yourself. Research shows that negative emotions make us self-centered. There is no room for another person’s perspective, because you’re so locked in your own view of things.
You probably aren’t even considering what may be going on with the other person. This is when you need to bring in a very helpful emotion: Curiosity. Become curious as to why the other person is acting a certain way.
Instead of confronting them, ask them with genuine interest why they are doing what they are doing. Most of us don’t run around with evil intentions — but many of us do make mistakes and hurt or anger others accidentally.
Chances are, the person you are angry with is not purposely trying to hurt you. Try to understand them before you assign blame.
5. Have compassion.
When you make room for another person’s point of view and ask “why,” instead of just assuming the worst, you are inviting true communication to occur and showing respect and consideration for another person’s right to think, feel, and act a certain way.
The result: You develop understanding and a deeper relationship communication and civility, compassion, and empathy. If you approach them with aggression, they will feel defensive and respond with anger in return.
On the other hand, if you approach the other person with respect, they are able to hear your perspective and feel safe sharing theirs.
6. Communicate skillfully.
Share your perspective by using the word “I” and talking about how you feel. But don't stop there, or you'll remain self-centered in your perspective. Ask the other person to share their perspective, and engage with it sincerely. Show interest for the other person's perspective, and explore together how you can come to a compromise. Again, be curious, not accusatory.
Are you dealing with someone passive-aggressive in your life? Here are a few ways to handle the situation:
1. Call them out.
“Did you mean for that to sound passive-aggressive?” can quickly snap someone out of it. Caught red-handed, they may rush to say, “Oh, no.” Then, if you , you can probe further to ask them if something is upsetting them. Invite a civil conversation that takes into perspective how they are feeling.
2. Ignore them.
The other person is trying to get a point across and they are obviously being hostile, but you don’t have to take the bait: If you can let it go, you’ll be happier for it.
3. Be compassionate and forgiving.
The passive-aggressive (or aggressive) person is obviously frustrated and tense. That’s not a comfortable or happy place to be. It’s hard to carry so much anger within yourself. Wish them well, while setting good boundaries with them.
4. Invite them to share their perspective and feelings.
In so doing, you create a space for them to really share what's going on, rather than having to make indirect stabs that only make matters worse.
For more on the science of happiness, emotional intelligence, and compassionate communication, see The Happiness Track (HarperOne).
How not to talk to someone with depression | SE Smith
Being depressed is really not enjoyable. Depression takes many forms for many different people – some people have highs and lows, some have major depression, some have functional days and others never do.
Depression can involve a huge array of treatments including therapy, medication and experimental modalities. It can be permanent and intrusive, transitive. In all cases, depression is a monster, and depressed people often feel isolated and frustrated by what they’re experiencing.
That’s made worse by some of the ways people respond to depression, it’s something easily understood, and sometimes their suggestions are wildly unhelpful.
For those with depression, dealing with these responses in addition to their mental illness is a huge waste of energy – and for those wanting to support depressed people, these attitudes may seem well-meaning, but they’re actually harmful.
So depression is just being really sad, right?
Actually, no. Depression is a mental health condition. Lots of people get sad. Lots of people experience really intense sadness, sometimes, or a prolonged state of sadness. Distinguishing between being sad and being depressed can be complicated, as there’s not a handy definitive test.
People who are worried about their mental health should definitely seek counselling and advice – but being sad and being depressed are two very different things.
Depression includes components of sadness, but it’s tangled with – depending on the person – fatigue, suicidal ideation, the inability to function or complete tasks of daily living, low or increased appetite, and many other symptoms.
If you’re interacting with depressed people, take your cues from them
Have you tried …?
Yes, probably. People who have been diagnosed with depression have ly gone over numerous options for treatment with their doctors and counsellors. Those might include counselling, which is the recommended first line of treatment, along with medication for people who need to bring their baseline mood level up so they can function.
If medication doesn’t work, they’ve probably tried different psychiatric drugs to see if those are more effective. Patients might also have pursued massage, acupuncture, yoga, crystals, whatever the fuck else. Trust me, people have tried. No, don’t tell me your aunt’s boyfriend’s sister went mud bathing and it cured her. Just don’t.
It’s been tried.
Why not just cheer up?
Seriously? This is my blank-faced expression. I’m sure it has occurred to no depressed person in the history of ever to “just cheer up” because being depressed is so fun and awesome.
This seems to come with an implication that depressed people are to blame for their own mental illness, that if they just tried harder, they wouldn’t be depressed any more. It’s shaming, and also frustrating for people who are struggling with a really low mental state.
Imagine if someone cut off your foot and then suggested that you just try growing it back. Have fun with that.
It’s all in your mind
Well, er, sort of. Yes, depression is related to imbalances of brain chemistry, and in that sense it is literally in your mind. But depression is actually more complicated than that.
Sure, it can involve neurotransmitters, hormones and other chemicals produced within the body, including those that are a bit difficult to quantify and measure – sometimes it also involves fundamental brain changes, such as depression that sets in after an injury.
Sometimes it’s even a response to other medications; anaesthesia, for example, can cause depression for days, weeks and even months after surgery. But it’s also physical for many patients.
Depression can cause gastrointestinal problems, disordered eating and other things that manifest in the physical world, too.
Aside from the fact that it’s insulting and nasty to act being attacked by your own mind isn’t real, it’s also factually incorrect to say that “it’s all in your mind” to someone who is experiencing, say, recurrent headaches associated with depression.
I can’t imagine …
No, you probably can’t. This is kind of an obvious and unhelpful statement. The only thing worse is pretending that you can imagine (“I was sad once too”) because, no, you can’t.
Depression is extremely complicated and even depressed people can’t really imagine what other depressed people are going through, because this is an individual journey.
Often people who say this seem to mean it in a kind of dismissive way – it’s not just that they can’t imagine, but that they’re implying your mental illness is imaginary.
Can’t you just be cured?/I thought you were fine now that you were on meds?
Depression is a mental health condition that can endure for life. Sometimes that means going to therapy and remaining on meds for the rest of your life, and it requires constantly adjusting your treatment as needed.
You may have breakthrough depression where even with treatment you still have setbacks. You may have treatment-resistant depression where nothing really works for you and you’re struggling to manage your mental illness.
There’s no cure for depression, meds aren’t always reliable and mental health conditions are variable over time.
Do you really need a service animal/meds/that much therapy?
Yes. Stop asking. Responding to depression when you have no framework for comprehending it is difficult. It’s also sometimes hard for people with depression to be able to focus on the needs of others around them because they are busy trying to stay alive.
It’s not their job to make people around them feel better – and it’s not their job to explain depression or painstakingly answer the same series of intrusive questions over and over again.
If you’re interacting with depressed people, take your cues from them, but remember this: depression can sometimes feel really isolating.
Sometimes, support takes the form of friends just being around and not backing down. Maybe that means consistently inviting people to events even if they often refuse.
Or offering to bring food and help around the house or to pick up meds/drive people to therapy appointments.
The needs of individual people are hugely variable, so this isn’t a prescription for “how to support your depressed friends and family”. It’s a start.
If you really want to know how to respond to depression, try asking the person who’s experiencing it – and don’t be offended if you’re rebuffed or the response is “I honestly don’t know.”
• This article was originally published on This Ain’t Livin’, part of the Guardian Comment Network
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Angry All the Time for No Reason? This Might Be Why
Maybe you feel angry regularly. You’re irritable, short-tempered and grouchy. Maybe you snap (or want to snap) at everyone around you — because your anger feels a tsunami. It’s bound to crash into something. Yet you don’t know why you feel this way. You have no clue why you’re so on edge.
Where does this unexplained anger come from? What does it mean?
There may be many different causes. One explanation is that you have weak boundaries. You say yes when you really want to say no. You do things for others that you don’t feel comfortable doing. You’re constantly drained and depleted.
But you might not make the connection, said Julie de Azevedo Hanks, Ph.D, LCSW, owner of Wasatch Family Therapy and author of The Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your Relationships. “[You] may just think that people take advantage of [you] and not realize that [you] have a part in that dynamic.”
Or maybe you aren’t getting enough sleep or you’re drowning in to-do lists. Which makes it “more difficult to access [your] emotional coping skills,” Hanks said.
Maybe it’s depression. “There seems to be a misunderstanding that depression is crying all of the time and not getting bed.” However, increased irritability is a common symptom, Hanks said.
Maybe it’s anxiety. “Individuals with high anxiety often feel on the verge of overwhelm because they have to work so hard to manage their own internal emotional state.” So when a challenging situation arises, you might be maxed out, which manifests as anger or a short fuse, she said.
Psychotherapist Rebecca Wong, LCSW, sees many individuals and couples who are angry because of relational issues. That is, they’re angry with their spouse, kids, parents, friends or coworkers. For instance, maybe they’re angry because they feel invisible or they don’t matter, said Wong, founder of connectfulness counseling.
Maybe you expected your best friend to support you, but they didn’t. Maybe you expected your spouse to help out more around the house. “That’s where, if those buttons are pushed enough, often enough, you could flip into a state of anger without even knowing why.”
Anger also “stems from wanting to control what is outside of us,” said Michelle Farris, LMFT, a psychotherapist in San Jose, Calif., who loves helping people learn how to manage anger and build healthy relationships. Years ago, Farris worked with a young woman who realized that focusing on what others did triggered her frustration.
Sometimes, you might not feel angry at all. Rather, your actions might be passive-aggressive, and you might feel resentful. Many of Hanks’s clients who have “anger issues” actually don’t let themselves express their anger.
For instance, Hanks worked with Cindy (not her real name), a woman in her 30s who seemed cheerful and positive—and exhausted. Cindy was an excellent caretaker and had great empathy for everyone (but herself). She has two kids with disabilities. Her husband rarely helped. He either disconnected from the kids or exploded at them. Cindy worked very hard to keep everyone happy.
Once she connected to her thoughts and feelings, she realized that she felt angry about doing most of the parenting and letting her husband off the hook for not interacting with their kids. She also realized that beneath her anger was loneliness. She didn’t feel supported.
Maybe Cindy, you’re also not in tune with your feelings. “Most of us didn’t learn how to navigate our emotions,” said Farris, also author of the e-book The 4 Essential Steps To Building Your Confidence (which you can download here for free).
“Instead, society encourages us to avoid conflict, be nice and say yes when we mean no.” We struggle with anger the most because it’s still seen as a taboo emotion, she said.
We fear that by expressing our anger, we’ll hurt someone’s feelings, possibly lose control or risk ruining the relationship, Farris said. However, she believes that when we navigate anger effectively, it’s actually a gift. “It teaches us when something is wrong, or when to take appropriate action—or do nothing at all.”
For instance, Cindy applied her anger to making specific requests to her husband, so she’d have more support and feel less alone. Farris’s client redirected her energy to herself, and learned to manage her own thoughts. “She learned to express her feelings without blame and take a break before exploding.”
Farris shared these suggestions for effectively managing your anger:
- Become aware of your early warning signs of anger. (Which may be different for everyone.)
- Express your emotions without blaming the other person.
- Plan ahead to handle difficult situations.
- Take deep breaths to stay in the moment.
- Notice negative thoughts that trigger your irritation.
- Ask for help if you’re struggling.
- Take a break when a situation starts to escalate. Let the person know that you’d to continue the conversation once you (or both of you) have cooled off.
“Anger is often a secondary emotion,” Hanks said. Beneath the frustration and irritability is usually a vulnerable emotion, such as loneliness (as in Cindy’s case), sadness or fear. And it’s usually harder to access and express, she said.
With her clients Hanks uses the metaphor that emotions are an ocean. She asks them to draw the surface of the ocean, and write or draw what they’re feeling. Then she asks them to brainstorm the emotions that might be swimming below the surface.
Remember that angry feelings are not the same as violent behavior, Hanks said. We tend to use the terms interchangeably, which has created the misconception that anger is “bad.”
Again, anger is a valuable and vital emotion. “Acknowledging feelings of anger and using this awareness to understand the underlying vulnerable emotions is key to emotional health.”
Angry All the Time for No Reason? This Might Be Why
Relationship Killers: 3 Toxic Communication Styles Sabotaging Your Relationships November 18, 2019 In Emotional Fitness, Relationships
Good communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship. From spouses and romantic partners to supervisors and co-workers, the ability to communicate well is essential for a happy and effective relationship.
But poor communication can absolutely destroy a relationship. In particular, there are 3 types of toxic communication styles we can easily fall into—and if we’re not careful, they can poison even the healthiest of relationships.
In this article I’ll walk you through the three types of unhealthy communication—passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive communication—so you can learn to identify them in your own relationships and eliminate them before they do too much damage.
Then we’ll end on a high note by discussing assertiveness—the one communication style that is always healthy and productive no matter what the situation or relationship.
Passive Communication: When being nice backfires
As the middle child in a large and chaotic family, Jessica learned from an early age that playing nice and letting people have what they wanted kept her the limelight, and as a result, made her life less stressful and overwhelming. Unfortunately, while this strategy worked as a child, it was wreaking havoc on her relationships as an adult, especially with her new husband.
Jessica came to see me in therapy because she was feeling surges of anger and resentment toward her partner and didn’t know what to do. He was a nice guy and good to her, so she was alarmed and confused that she seemed to harbor increasingly strong feelings of anger toward him and then guilt toward herself.
When I asked Jessica to describe her relationship with her husband, it quickly became clear that she was a classic passive communicator—always deferring what she wanted and preferred in order to “be nice” and keep things running smoothly.
From what to watch on Netflix to where they went on vacation, Jessica almost always said she didn’t have a preference and went along with whatever her husband suggested.
Chronically ignoring your own wants and needs isn’t nice, it’s dishonest. And a fundamentally dishonest relationship will never work in the long-run.
Passive communication is when you ignore or mask the truth about how you feel or what you want, usually as a way to avoid conflict
While passive communication often feels good in the moment because it makes you look self-sacrificing and generous (at least to yourself), it always fails in the long run because it’s fundamentally dishonest.
A relationship built on lies—even nice ones—will eventually fall apart. The passive communicator will inevitably become resentful because their needs aren’t being met. They’ll also feel guilty because, on some level, they know they should be honest.
The key to overcoming a passive communication style is to learn that your fear of conflict is overstated. You need to learn on a deep level that you can be honest about what you want and need and things will be okay.
Start small. Try expressing a preference in little things where you would normally just defer to someone else:
- Ask the waiter to move you to another table.
- Let your partner know that you want Chinese take out again, even though you had it last night.
Being honest with yourself and your own wants and needs doesn’t have to mean conflict or disrespect to others. Train yourself to communicate confidently and your relationships will flourish.
Aggressive Communication: Bullying works… until it doesn’t
Jon was a successful corporate attorney who came to see me in therapy because his wife was at her wit’s end and threatening to divorce him unless he got help.
He knew he had some problems in his life, most of which were interpersonal: in addition to his marriage being perpetually rocky, he frequently was in disputes with the partners at his firm and constantly in stressful disagreements with his sister about the state of his parent’s estate.
But to Jon, all these problems were external, the result of stressful circumstances, incompetence in other people, or sheer bad luck. It rarely, if ever, occurred to Jon that some of his problems could be the result of his own choices and actions.
Jon didn’t see it this way, but he was bully, and had been all his life. He was savvy enough to never be so abusive that he lost a job or got arrested. But the fact was, he was mean and aggressive with people in order to get what he wanted.
He once told his law partner that “If you just half the work ethic I do we’d be making twice the profit that we are now.”
Being aggressive toward other people can get you what you want in the short-term, but you end up losing the most important things in the long run.
Aggressive communication is when you express your own wants and needs without regard for the rights and preferences of others
Importantly, aggression is usually not the result of pure malice or a psychopathic lack of empathy; instead, it’s a reaction to fear and insecurity.
Despite how it appears on the surface, anger is actually a positive emotion in the sense that it feels good to be angry. When we’re angry, the underlying assessment is that someone or something is wrong, and by extension, we’re right. This boosts our ego.
People with a chronically aggressive communication style have learned to use anger and aggression as a way to deal with their insecurities and fears. Unfortunately, because it’s so harmful to others, they end up even more insecure and fearful that when they started because all of their relationships are strained.
The key to working through an aggressive communication style is self-awareness. Specifically, you must begin to notice the initial fear and helplessness that precedes anger and cultivate healthier ways to address it.
Aggressive communication doesn’t mean someone is evil or callous. all bullies, it means they’re afraid and don’t know how to help themselves. And the best way to help yourself or someone else with an aggressive communication style is to do things that you can be proud of in a healthy way. Help someone out with a small task, volunteer your time, share your fears in small ways.
When you build the confidence to acknowledge your fears, you won’t need aggression to cover them up.
Passive-Aggressive Communication: Stuck between fear and anger
Simon came to see me in therapy because his girlfriend of 5 years had left him recently and he was feeling depressed. And while his grief and depression were obvious, what I noticed almost immediately—and what he couldn’t seem to acknowledge—was how angry he was.
He explained that he felt sad and depressed, but he spent most of our sessions describing all manner of frustrations and spats with his former girlfriend.
When I asked him about how he addressed these frustrations with his girlfriend, it was clear that he simply didn’t address them, not directly anyway.
Instead, he frequently resorted to sarcastic “jokes” and off-handed remarks to express his dissatisfaction.
His conflict resolution strategy—if you could call it that—was extremely indirect. Once, after his girlfriend hurt his feelings, he explained how he decided to give her “the silent treatment” for three straight days to show her how much she hurt him.
The passive-aggressive person is too afraid to be honest and too angry to be quiet, so they resort to veiled threats and sarcastic humor to express themselves.
Passive-aggressive communication is when you’re too angry to keep quiet and too afraid to be honest
Recall that passive communication involves being overly deferential to other people and dishonest with yourself, whereas aggressive communication is the opposite, being honest about your own wishes but in a way that’s disrespectful to others. The third toxic form of communication, passive-aggressive, is the worst of both worlds: dishonest to yourself and disrespectful to others.
The key to working undoing a passive-aggressive communication style is to address both your anger and fears in more productive ways.
The most practical thing you can do to eliminate passive-aggressive communication is to simply stop using sarcasm. Sarcasm is a crutch that prevents us from speaking our minds honestly and directly, and at the same time, an instrument for trying to make others do what we want.
It’s not necessarily easy, but cut the sarcasm your life and your relationships will improve dramatically.
Assertive Communication: Honesty + Respect
The three toxic communication styles—passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive—never work in the long-run. While each gives a fleeting benefit initially, they end up leading to broken relationships, poor self-esteem, and ultimately, loneliness.
If you can’t connect with other people in an honest and respectful way, you’ve never going to have satisfying relationships.
Assertive communication means having the courage to speak your mind and express your wants, and to do it in a way that’s respectful of others:
- Actually, I’d rather not go to the party this evening and prefer to just stay in.
- What you said in the meeting this morning really hurt. Please don’t call me out that in public again.
- It really bothers me when you discuss details of our relationship with your mother. Can we talk about a better way?
Happy relationships are build on trust. And trust is built on honesty and respect—both of which come from the ability to communicate assertively.
5 Tips for Communicating Assertively without Being Passive-Aggressive
All of us are passive-aggressive. That is, we use a mild form of passive-aggressiveness: “saying yes when we mean no,” according to psychotherapist Andrea Brandt, Ph.D, M.F.T.
However, some of us use passive aggression on a regular basis.
Brandt defined passive aggression as “a coping mechanism people use when they perceive themselves to be powerless or when they fear using their power will lead to bad outcomes.”
According to Signe Whitson, LSW, author of How to Be Angry: An Assertive Anger Expression Group Guide for Kids and Teens, passive aggression “encompasses a range of behaviors designed to ‘get back’ at someone without that person recognizing the underlying anger.”
People who are passive-aggressive seem to gain pleasure from frustrating others, she said.
We learn to be passive-aggressive as kids. This often happens in households with one dominant parent and one subservient parent, said Brandt, author of 8 Keys to Eliminating Passive-Aggressiveness. “The child learns that powerful and volatile people can’t be approached directly, but it’s OK to lie to them or keep secrets to get what you want.”
Brandt gave this example: “’We won’t tell your father,’ the passive-aggressive partner says, showing that spending money for childhood treats behind dad’s back is OK.”
A better approach is to be assertive. Assertiveness helps you communicate honestly, cultivate authentic relationships, better understand your own feelings and get your needs met.
Whitson’s favorite way to define assertiveness is “making friends with your anger.” In her book The Angry Smile with co-author Nicholas Long, Ph.D, they use this meaning: “a learned behavior that is used to express anger in a verbal, non-blaming, respectful way.”
Assertiveness entails having a strong sense of self-worth and establishing healthy boundaries, Brandt said.
Assertive communication is clear, direct, has no hidden agenda and acknowledges the other person, she said.
“[It] is an effective way of expressing how you feel at the same time that you learn how the other person is feeling about the same situation.”
Unfortunately, in many settings, assertiveness is either subtly or blatantly discouraged. “The hierarchy of many workplace cultures makes the direct expression of emotions risky for employers and employees a,” Whitson said.
In many schools, teachers prefer compliant students who don’t ask questions or assert their opinions, she said.
However, “direct, emotionally honest, assertive communication” is key. It is “the best ‘antidote’ to passive aggressive interactions.”
Here are five ways to communicate assertively.
1. Allow yourself to feel anger.
The biggest obstacle to assertive communication is the belief that anger is bad and expressing it in an assertive way is “unseemly,” said Whitson, also a school counselor and national speaker on bullying prevention, anger management and crisis intervention.
However, anger is a normal and natural emotion, she said.
It isn’t a bad emotion, and people aren’t bad for feeling angry, Brandt said. “People need to learn that they deserve to have their feelings whatever they are.”
Brandt suggested using mindfulness to process and express anger. She’s recently written a book called Mindful Anger: A Pathway to Emotional Freedom, which explores how to use mindfulness. (Here’s our review, and a helpful exercise from the book.)
2. Make clear, assertive requests.
An assertive request is straightforward and doesn’t deprecate the other person, Whitson said. This is in contrast to passive-aggressive requests, which are asked in a “roundabout way, adding in backhanded jabs that are plain enough to hurt, while covert enough to be denied.”
For instance, according to Whitson, a passive-aggressive request is: “After you get your pedicure or do whatever it is you do all day while I’m at work, would you mind picking up my dry cleaning for me? That is, if you are not too busy.”
If the other person gets angry, the passive-aggressive person responds with: “What? I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. I was just saying that you might be busy doing other things. I didn’t know you’d be so sensitive about it. Geeze.”
This response lets them be a victim, “passive-aggressively musing about why the other person can’t take a joke.”
However, an assertive request is simply: “Will you please pick up my dry cleaning for me on your way home tonight?”
3. Validate the other person’s feelings.
This means understanding “their feelings and where they’re coming from,” Brandt said. Validating feelings, however, doesn’t mean that you agree with them, she said.
Brandt gave this example: “Lisa, I understand that you’re upset because you have to switch work days in order to get this project done; however, it is very important to me and I appreciate your doing it.”
4. Be a good listener.
Being a good listener includes maintaining a “very respectful and open nonverbal attitude and posture while listening to [the person] and [restating their] words,” Brandt said.
You also maintain eye contact, and manage your own emotions and thoughts, so you can “set aside any personal agenda, reactions, defenses, explanations or rescue attempts.”
5. Be collaborative.
Being assertive also means working together. It means being “constructive and collaborative [and] look[ing] for ways to achieve a situation where both people are happy.”
5 Tips for Communicating Assertively without Being Passive-Aggressive