Family, Self

3 Signs You Were Raised In A Passive-Aggressive Family

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signs you were raised in a passive-aggressive family

Find me a family that has no anger in it, and I’ll dig out their anger and show it to them. That’s my job. I’m a therapist.

Every family has anger. It’s unavoidable in life and in a family, simply because it is literally wired into our brains. It’s a part of our physiology, just like our eyelashes, elbows, and toes.

There are many ways that families can handle anger, depending on their comfort with it. They can wield anger as a weapon, figuratively hitting each other over the head with it, they can push it underground, or they can ignore it and pretend it does not exist.

Or they can use it the way nature intended: as a means to drive truth, and connect family members in a genuine, real and meaningful way.

There are three types of anger-uncomfortable families:

1. The "anger as a weapon" family

In this family, anger is used by one or more members as a source of power. Anger may be expressed in a variety of aggressive ways, such as yelling, insults or barbed comments; by throwing things, breaking things, or other physical intimidation or threats.

The lesson the children learn: The angriest person wins.

2. The "underground anger" family

This family views anger as unacceptable or even bad. Angry feelings are viewed as unloving, uncaring or rebellious, and are met with negativity or punishment.

The lesson the children learn: Anger is bad. If you feel angry, you are bad. Do not talk about it.

3. The "ignoring anger" family

This family treats anger as if it doesn’t exist. When a member of the family shows anger, it receives little reaction. Anger is invisible.

The lesson the children learn: Anger is useless. Don’t bother with it. Do not talk about it.

RELATED: These 4 Zodiac Signs Are PAINFULLY Passive-Aggressive

None of the children growing up in these three types of families has an opportunity to learn much about anger: how to listen to its message, manage it, express it, or use it in a healthy way. By definition, all of these children are growing up in an emotionally neglectful family.

But let's focus in particular on the "underground" and the "ignoring" families. These two family types are similar in that all of the children growing up in them are receiving this message: When something upsets you...

Don’t talk.

Don’t talk.

Don’t talk.

That’s what makes both types of families breeding grounds for passive-aggression.

Since anger is wired into the human brain, it exists in every human being, whether we want it or not. When you are in an environment that is chronically intolerant of this particular emotion you naturally, automatically suppress your angry feelings whenever they arise. This causes some major problems for you, and in your family.

Pushing anger down is like pushing water down. It has to go somewhere. So it may seep underground and sit there, or it may go slightly under the surface, and ripple and roil, waiting for a chance to spew.

In these two types of anger-intolerant families, the anger goes underground, but it does not disappear. It stays there. And it has to come out somehow, sometime, in some way, and probably directed at someone.

Enter passive-aggression.

Passive-aggression: The indirect expression of anger and resentment, fueled by feelings that are not talked about directly.

Many research studies have clearly established a link between passive-aggression between parents, and problems in the children. One 2016 study showed that children growing up in such an environment of indirectly expressed, unresolved hostility are more insecure, and take less responsibility for their own problems. They are also more prone to depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal.

RELATED: The #1 Indicator You Were Emotionally Neglected As A Kid

Another difficult aspect of passive-aggression is that most people are completely unaware of their own passive-aggressive behavior. They are often, also, unaware of their own underground anger and the resentment that’s fueling it.

If you notice the signs you were raised in a passive-aggressive family, follow the steps below to become less passive-aggressive:

1. Accept that you have anger.

Accept that it’s normal and healthy. Accept that it’s valuable and that you can use it to make your relationships better.

2. Increase your anger awareness.

Watch for anger in other people. Watch for it in yourself. When you start trying to feel your anger, you’ll start breaking down the wall that blocks it.

3. Read everything you can about assertiveness.

It’s a skill that allows you to express your anger in a way that the other person can take in your message without becoming defensive. Buy a book on it if you can. Then read it!

4. When something happens that makes you feel angry, take note of the feeling.

Practice sitting with it and tolerating it. Apply what you’ve learned about assertiveness.

And when something upsets you...




To learn more about emotionally neglectful families, see and the book, Running on Empty. To learn more about assertiveness, read this previous post: Childhood Emotional Neglect: The Enemy of Assertiveness.


Jonice Webb has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is the author of the book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, you can visit her website. 

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This article was originally published at Psych Central. Reprinted with permission from the author.