12 Sneaky Ways Passive-Aggression Cultivates Codependence

By Rhoberta Shaler, PhD

Are passive-aggression and codependency odd bedfellows? Not at all.

Codependent people are often fearful of directness. Passive-aggressive people avoid directness at all costs.

So, it’s a fit! Neither are usually happy. They may drive each other crazy. But, they are both experts at avoiding conflict and confrontation!

Codependent people often seem to (unhappily) plan their lives around pleasing their partners, while simultaneously relying excessively on their partners for emotional support. You can see that double-edged sword.

Passive-aggressive people make an art of indirect resistance to the demands of others by avoiding direct confrontation. Procrastinating. Pouting, Sulking. Falling silent for hours or days.

When the codependent person finds they cannot rely on the passive-aggressive partner, they tend to express more neediness which the passive-aggressive one wants to avoid while simultaneously sounding like they are appeasing. What a dynamic! A downward spiral ensues.

Both codependency and passive-aggressive affect the ability to create healthy, mutually-satisfying relationships. The relationship addiction created by codependency means relationships are often one-sided, emotionally destructive, and even abusive. The passive-aggression undermines honesty, accountability and trust, leading to frustration and anxiety.

Suffering from low self-esteem and unable to express their own anger honestly, passive-aggressive people are often codependent, too. Fearing being controlled by anyone else, and/or fearing having their weaknesses
exposed, they feel they must undermine—if not, sabotage—the wants, needs or plans of their partners.

Seeing the behaviors common to passive-aggression can help you also see the underlying, unhealthy patterns that can contribute to the codependence.

Understanding the passive-aggressive nature and behavior is key to unlock this. Passive-aggression is nasty. It is a sneaky form of unvoiced anger!

If people you are close to think you’re difficult to be around, or if they do not trust you or respect you the way you wish they would, the truth may be that you may be exhibiting passive-aggressive behaviors that totally confuse people — and turn them off. They may walk away from you—or, at least, want to.

So how do passive-aggressive tendencies show up? How can they lead to your own codependence? How can they make you attractive to codependent people?

First, recognize that, in healthy relationships, each partner has consciously chosen to be mutual interdependent. Partners are then safe to rely on each other in healthy ways: emotionally, economically, socially, and morally.

In order to make these unseemly behavioral traits abundantly clear to you, here is a very straightforward list of passive-aggressive examples. You may find this harsh, and hopefully, helpful.

You are engaging in passive-aggressive behavior when you:

Don’t speak your truth openly, kindly and honestly when asked for your opinion or when asked to do something for someone. You say “Yes” (assertive) when you really mean “No way” (unassertive). Then, you let your behavior say “No way” for you. People become confused and mistrusting of you.

Appear sweet, compliant and agreeable, but are really resentful, angry, petty and envious underneath. You’re living with pairs of opposites within, and that’s making those around you crazy. It also leads people to not trust you.  

Are afraid of being alone and equally afraid of being dependent. This is the case of “I hate you. Don’t leave me.” You fear direct communication because you fear rejection. You then push away people you care about because you don’t want to seem needy. All the while, you are afraid of being alone and want to control those around you so they won’t leave you. Very confusing!

Complain frequently that you’re treated unfairly. Rather than taking responsibility for stepping up and speaking your truth, you set yourself up as the (innocent) victim. You say others are hard on you, unfair, unreasonable and excessively demanding, yet you have no boundaries with non-negotiable consequences.

Procrastinate frequently, especially on things you promise to do for others. You’ve learned that you can control others by making them wait. You have lots of excuses why you haven’t been able to get things done. You even blame others for why that is so. You may even tell others how justified you are in being angry because, once again, others treated you unfairly. The consequences are, though, that it sometimes erodes relationships.

Are unwilling to give a straight answer. Another way of controlling others is to send mixed messages, ones that leave the other person unclear about your thoughts, plans or intentions. You may also expect others to read your mind, and make them wrong for not doing it!

Sulk, withdraw and pout. You complain that others are unreasonable and lacking in empathy when they expect you to live up to your promises, obligations, or duties. Passive-aggressive people favor the silent treatment as an expression of their contempt.

Cover up your feeling of inadequacy with superiority, disdain or hostile passivity. Whether you set yourself up to be a self-sabotaging failure — “Why do you have such unrealistic expectations of me?”–or a tyrant or goddess incapable of anything less than perfection–“To whom do you think you are speaking, peon?”–you’re shaking in your boots from fear of competition and being found out as less than perfect.

Are often late and/or forgetful. One way of driving people away is to be thoughtless, inconsiderate and infuriating. And, then, to put the cherry on top, you suggest that it’s unrealistic to expect you to arrive on time, or, in your words, “think of everything.” Being chronically late is disrespectful of others. Supposedly forgetting to do what you’ve agreed to do is simply demonstrating your lack of trustworthiness. Who wants to be around that for long?

Drag your feet to frustrate others. This is a control move somewhat like procrastinating, but the difference is that you begin and appear as though you are going to do what you said you would do. But, you always have an excuse why you cannot continue or complete the task.

Make up stories, excuses and lies. You’re the master of avoidance of the straight answer. You’d rather be in control by creating a story that seems plausible, gets them off your back, and makes reality look better from your viewpoint.

Constantly protect yourself so no one will know how afraid you are of being inadequate, imperfect, left, dependent, or simply human.

People are not passive-aggressive by nature. It is learned behavior. And these behavior patterns can change with some insights, skills and relationship advice.

Did you recognize any of these twelve behaviors in yourself? Great! Once you’re aware, you can change the behaviors. You can recognize what’s not working for you and change it. You’ll see how those changes can create healthier relationships with yourself and others.

Passive-aggression is a major contributor to unhealthy patterns in relationships, including codependence. Sometimes, they are inextricably enmeshed!

By Rhoberta Shaler, PhD

Host of the Save Your Sanity podcast, Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, helps clients worldwide to recognize, release, and recover from toxic relationships and emotional abuse. She is the author of Stop! That’s Crazy-Making: How to Quit Playing the Passive-Aggressive game. Learn more about her work and join in her community: www.EmergingEmpowered.com

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