Recently, it has become more and more pervasive in the internet culture to become very heated and even downright aggressive when responding to one’s posts. This is especially true in any of the comment sections on YouTube, Facebook or even Instagram, and for the most part, it seem to bring out the worst of humanity. Hate comments, sexual remarks, and even death threats are just the vessels for ignorance and fiery egotism, but what many people seem to overlook is in addition to these things, is the silent attack of passive aggression.

Passive aggression is something that many of us take for granted. We tend to keep mental notes of those certain people in our lives that seem to have the lips for mouthing off some snide remark when they feel upset at someone or something. It’s usually taken as a personality trait of someone who has a lower tolerance for the inconsistencies or stupid moments of life, thus making remarks about these things. A bit annoying perhaps, but is usually taken as a harmless personal aspect in the long run. No big deal right? Well, I dare say, “the art” of passive aggressiveness has reached its renaissance in the Internet Age. Backhanded comments and snide remarks are more present than ever both in person and cyberspace, with many of them even filtering into places where you least expect them. The problem with passive aggression is that while the author of a comment may take this as a less-harmful approach to self-entertaining cynicism, the fact is people are more sensitive to these remarks than they expect, and could actually be just as bad or even worse than an outright criticism.

The Atlantic penned an article about how acting passive agressive in front of children can harm them emotionally. It argues that children are more intuitive than we think when it comes to detecting emotions, and can pick up on moments when parents are clearly holding a grudge against each. This is not to say that it is good to openly fight in front of a child either, but if a couple starts to make snarky comments and act distant towards each other, they may want to save this in another room. In fact, the studies included showed that not only that a child could pick up on this discord, but they were more likely to get into frequent fights with their peers and suffer emotional problems later in life.

The question is, why do these things matter so much? Why are these retorts so hurtful if they’re meant to be half joking?  Or if they are serious remark, can’t people take a little criticism?  Isn’t it healthy? Well the true problem in passive aggression doesn’t lie in what you say, but in what you don’t say.

In a regularly rude remark, you are frank. You are up front about your anger and make it known to the “enemy” at the time. After an encounter like this, the person being criticized will probably be upset for the rest of the day, and at the most, a few after. It is taken as an outburst; something that we all have done in the past and is understandable when people get anxious or overworked. However the sly danger of a passive aggressive comment is the mystery behind it. One would cause the accused to think what does this person really think of me? Is he just putting up with me because he has to pretend to act nice? Such examples of a remark like this would be sarcastic comments would be: “Well looks like you’ve got it all figured out ain’t you?” or “Yes, I totally like being your partner!” Not only are phrases like these exceptionally irritating, but they also have this dark cerebrality hovering around them that is mysterious and sometimes downright uncomfortable. Saying these things makes one seem more suspicious, insincere, dubious and apathetic, and can ruin their reputation as someone to be accountable for their actions.

When being passive aggressive, no one can actually know what’s going on in you mind, so people just have to make guesses as to what type of character you are, and it won’t ever be that good if they add passive aggression into the equation. The doubtfulness of these words makes victims more self-conscious, but in the worst possible way. They are more susceptible to doubt themselves about doing enough good in a job or as a friend, as they suspect that their peers may turn against them. At the end of the day these remarks do more harm than good, and can have unexpected consequences. Just like the children in the study, this passive aggression can lead us to be insincere and highly self-deprecating up to the point that it hinders us getting through the day properly.

So the next time you might think about making one of these remarks, just think about what might be some inherent consequences of your actions. One that might feel clever at the time, but is ultimately damaging to others in the long run.


Picture Credit: Marcus Fox