Telltale Body Language of Passive-Aggressives

Enemy Walrus, CC BY 2.0

Psychology Today – Overtly aggressive people may be hard to stay clear of, but they are not hard to miss.

Passive-aggressive people, by contrast, use much more subtle tactics to aggress against you.

But passive aggression can be just as insidious and hurtful as its overt sibling.

Passive aggression can be extremely upsetting because we are very good at picking up on even the most subtle forms of hostile behavior, even though we are not always consciously aware of what it is we are picking up on.

Your unconscious brain can detect barely noticeable changes in facial expression, body language, body posture and direction, and changes in behavioral patterns.

Once your unconscious brain detects hostility in another person, it activates the amygdala—an area of the brain that processes fear—or other brain regions associated with a fight-or-flight response.

This physiological change can make you feel anxious, fearful, worried, stressed out, or just ill at ease.

The special problem that passive aggression poses is that you often cannot put your finger on what is wrong. Your unconscious brain is telling you that the other person has negative feelings toward you.

Yet because of the subtly of how the aggression is manifested, it’s easy to write it off as normal behavior, especially if the other person insists that nothing is wrong.

For example, you feel that your partner is acting more distant toward you than they normally would. When you ask them, they say nothing is wrong. But the feeling that something is off doesn’t go away.

If you are continually exposed to passive-aggressive behavior from the same person, and they keep denying that anything is wrong, you may start to question your own judgment and ultimately your own sanity.

However, the truth is that if you repeatedly feel that something is wrong, probably something is wrong.

Although we are unusually adept at detecting passive aggression unconsciously, it takes more careful attention to consciously spot it.

The following are a few examples of fairly common but exceptionally subtle forms of passive aggression.

  • Diminished eye contact
  • Persistent ‘forgetting’
  • Ignoring you during a group conversation Read more. 


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