Our ancestors dealt with conflict using the “fight or flight” response – if a dangerous animal or enemy confronted you, your instincts took over and you’d either stay and deal with the threat or make a run for it. If you succeeded, you’d be alive and the risk would be thwarted or abandoned.
Passive-aggression is a learned response rather than an instinct; it’s a uniquely modern behaviour we developed as a way to avoid conflict when fighting or fleeing aren’t options. For example, when our boss decides to give us a new project despite an already overloaded workload, we can’t challenge him to a fight or hide in the bathroom. Instead, a passive-aggressive person will grin, nod, and say “no problem” while silently resolving never to do the work.
Passive-aggression is an indirect way for people who feel powerless in relationships to get what they want. When someone wants to avoid conflict, they use passive-aggressive behaviour to display their hostility indirectly.
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