4 commonly used passive aggressive phrases (that we should all avoid).

“There is a land called Passive Aggresiva and I am their queen.” – Addison Shepard, Grey’s Anatomy


Generally passive aggressive isn’t my thing. I’m more just, well, aggressive.

Okay, so I’m not actually aggressive but I do like to be direct. I like to talk problems through. I like to get to the point. And I like to make my own. Often. Many of my own – but that’s a whole other story.

In my personal life though – as any boyfriend I have ever had can attest – I am the consummate passive aggressor. I have a finely honed sense of passive aggression and I practice it with precision.

Like Da Vinci with a lead pencil, like Anna Pavlova and a pair of pointe shoes, like that dude from Shine playing the piano – I am basically a passive aggressive professional.

My unrivaled accomplishment in the field of romantic passive aggression was confirmed when I came across this excellent article in Psychology Today, which lists the most commonly used phrases and advises the reader to avoid them.


Here are a few of my personal favourites:

1. “I’m Not Mad.”

Denying feelings of anger is classic passive aggressive behavior. Rather than being upfront and honest when questioned about his feelings, the passive aggressive person insists, “I’m not mad” even when he is seething on the inside.

Any decent practitioner of passive aggression knows that you are NEVER mad. At least, you’re not mad until you’ve been asked if you ARE mad four or five times. The key is waiting for exasperation point. You need to push your questioner right up to the moment they’re about to stop asking and storm out of the room –  that’s when you give in and explain what they did wrong. It’s a finesse game.

2. “Fine.” “Whatever.”

Sulking and withdrawing from arguments are primary strategies of the passive aggressive person. Since passive aggression is motivated by a person’s belief that expressing anger directly will only make his life worse (Long, Long & Whitson, 2008), the passive aggressive person uses phrases like “Fine” and “Whatever” to express anger indirectly and to shut down direct, emotionally honest communication.

I’m not a big fan of ‘whatever’ but ‘sure’ makes a regular appearance in my passive aggressive vocabulary. It’s helpful on occasions where you’re clearly being expected or assumed to condone a behaviour, which is completely and utterly ridiculous.

For (technically hypothetical but certainly possible) example, this from my boyfriend “I’ll be maybe half an hour late to lunch with your friends but I’ll be there as soon as the Carlton game is finished, okay?” Sure.


Or this (but in real life she didn’t even ask…) from my little sister “You don’t mind if I move into your old bedroom at mum and dad’s place, right?” Fine.

This is a key passive aggressive tool that appears deceptively simple to execute but it really isn’t. Critical to it’s success (success being, to create significant feelings of guilt in the other party, or – ideally – have them change their behaviour to suit your preference) is the tone of voice you employ. If you don’t get it exactly right, crazy things happen and you end up sleeping in the guest bedroom of your own parent’s house. Whatever.

3. “I’m Coming!”

Passive aggressive persons are known for verbally complying with a request, but behaviorally delaying its completion. If whenever you ask your child to clean his room, he cheerfully says, “Okay, I’m coming,” but then fails to show up to complete the chore, chances are he is practicing the fine passive aggressive art of temporary compliance.

I’m going to let you in on a secret that I would never tell my friends or family: I’m never coming. I’m perennially late.

When I say ‘I’m coming’ (stop your dirty thoughts now, teenage boys who are reading this) I actually mean the following: “I’m coming…once I’ve tried on a few more outfits and done my hair” or “I’m coming… as soon as the political report is finished on the news” or “I’m coming… after I reply to a few urgent emails”.

Popular alternatives from the same passive aggressive family include: “I’m not working” or “I’ll be finished in a minute” or the one which has led to the fast demise of many of my relationships: “Keep going, I’m listening…”

4. “I Was Only Joking”

Like backhanded compliments, sarcasm is a common tool of a passive aggressive person who expresses his hostility aloud, but in socially acceptable, indirect ways. If you show that you are offended by biting, passive aggressive sarcasm, the hostile joke teller plays up his role as victim, asking, “Can’t you take a joke?”

Yeah okay. I wasn’t joking. I just (a) didn’t realise how rude or cruel or bitchy that sounded until it came out of my mouth or (b) I think you’re overreacting. This passive aggressive tool is a favourite of politicians (think Tony Abbott and his “offhand and jocular” remarks) and teenage girls you might see in an episode of Mean Girls (“I was, like, totally KIDDING”).

Have you got any passive aggressive phrases to add to the list? Are you passive aggressive?

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