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Passive Aggression is Harmful to Your Health

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I have experienced passive aggression from co-workers many times. I have been bothered by other people's unprofessional behavior to the point where I needed help. I educated myself on healthy ways to manage passive aggression, in order to avoid worsening problems. I would like to share what I have learned in this article.

Passive Aggression is Harmful to Your  Health

Nursing is a taxing profession that requires plenty of empathy and patience. There are times when disputes arrive or personalities conflict, that can lead to passive-aggressive behaviors. This is harmful to one's mental health, physical health, and overall well-being. If extreme enough, it can lead to substance abuse or violent behaviors that may result in job loss, legal repercussions affecting licensure, and worst of all, patient harm.  As a fellow health care professional, I know how stressful our occupation can be, but please take time to de-stress and monitor your temper to prevent the toxic consequences that may follow from passive aggression.

What is Passive-Aggression?

The definition of passive aggression is “ …the unassertive expression of negative sentiments, feelings of anger, and resentfulness."1 It is like hiding upsetting feelings towards another individual with a smile, despite having inner feelings of displeasure.  According to an article from Science Daily, "...losers were more aggressive than winners...Furthermore, the researchers also detected a correlation between aggression and levels of the stress hormone cortisol; the more aggressively a person behaved..."2 Basically, the article is explaining that the hormone cortisol is secreted when exhibiting truculent behaviors. Cortisol is a hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar, the immune system, appetite and it even affects the fight or flight response since adrenaline is commonly released with this hormone when under stress.3

Harmful Effects

The health effects caused by unresolved passive-aggressive behaviors are numerous. Constantly secreting the cortisol hormone when you are angry or irritated may have deleterious health effects like contributing to the development of Diabetes, abdominal obesity and Metabolic Syndrome.4,5 Even if one were to remain free from the physical health effects passive aggression, the bad feelings being harbored are enough to realize that it is not healthy. Mental health problems like mood swings and hostility that stem from passive aggressive behaviors can worsen if unresolved.

Positive Ways to Manage Passive-Aggression

Some mature and healthy ways to manage passive aggression (and stress in general) are to practice assertiveness, deep breathing, going for a walks when agitated and living a healthy life outside of work.6,7 This includes eating nutritious food, avoiding drugs, alcohol and tobacco products, avoiding unhealthy relationships, maintaining spirituality, exercising regularly and getting adequate sleep. If all else fails, seek professional help. Contacting the supervisor about your concerns may be a solution and getting assistance from another professional source- like a psychiatrist for personal issues- is beneficial too.

If you encounter a patient or someone else who you notice signs of passive aggression in, kindly suggest that the individual seek professional help if he or she asks for assistance. If the person (s) is not a prodigious reader, you can offer practical reading material from resources like “kids health.org” or "stress management for dummies". As avid student nurses and professional nurses, I'm sure we all are aware that offering advice is a form of non-therapeutic communication. Only offer advice to those desiring so. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, I want to reiterate the importance of monitoring for signs of passive aggression. Be sure to get a good handle on healthy ways to manage stress and hostility.  After all, passive aggression associated with that younger, attractive, highly educated colleague nurse whom you interact with on a regular basis can harm you. That nurse may be oblivious to your concerns, therefore taking appropriate action is essential.

References:

1.  Diana Rodriguez and  Lindsey Marcellin.  Passive-Aggressive: What Does It Really Mean? Everyday Health Web site. Updated February 17, 2011. Accessed January 27, 2019.

2. Competitiveness, Aggression and Hormone Levels: How They Are Connected. Science Daily web site. Published  August 15, 2017. Accessed January 27, 2019.  

3. What Is Cortisol? Hormone Web site.  Accessed January 27, 2019. 

4. Paredes S, Ribeiro L. Cortisol: the villain in metabolic syndrome? Rev Assoc Med Bras (1992). 2014 Jan-Feb;60(1):84-92.

5.  Dina Aronson. Cortisol — Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy. Today's Dietician Magazine Web  Published November 2009.  Accessed January 27, 2019. 

6.  Mayoclinic Staff. Being Assertive: Reduce Stress, Communicate Better. Mayoclinic Web site.  Published May 9, 2017.  Accessed January 27, 2019.

7. Chronic Stress Puts Your Health At Risk. Mayoclinic Web site.  Published April 21, 2016.  Accessed January 27, 2019.

8. Mikail Duran. Image of Boy In Blue Shirt Sitting on A Dock.  Unsplash Web site. Published April 6, 2018. Accessed January 27, 2019.

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I am a Licensed Practical Nurse with my Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. I plan to continue advancing my nursing career by learning as much as possible. I love the healthcare profession.

14 Likes, 2 Followers, 2 Articles, 806 Visitors, and 18 Posts.

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I think it would have been helpful to clearly identify what constitutes passive aggressive behaviour.  There is a lot of misinformation on the subject, evidenced by the frequent use of the term on this forum.

I've read posts where passive aggression was demonstrated by eye-rolling or making caustic remarks.  These are acts of overt hostility, not examples of passive aggression.

Passive aggression is where the aggression is shown by passivity.  Good examples are: not calling out a warning when someone is about to trip, not responding to calls for help, withholding useful information, frequent lateness, agreeing to do something and "forgetting" to do it.  It's what you don't do, that you should be doing.

For this reason, it's very hard to know for sure when you've been targeted by passive aggression.  Maybe the other person didn't notice you were about to trip, maybe she really didn't hear you call for help, maybe she didn't have the information you needed, maybe she was late for a reason or really did forget to do what she'd promised.

Passive aggression is characterized by its insidiousness and very hard to prove.

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Really, what exactly is "passive aggressive" behavior in nursing? That forever busy Nurse Sally who roamed halls with old Flo but always refuses to help (she already planned her retirement and her back is giving up at any moment)? That know-that-all Nurse KatieMI who, really, just really, DOES know and can do things nobody else even imagined (and behaves accordingly)? That forever smiling Nurse Jane who is always oh-so-friendly and all smiles and then spends every sec gossiping malignancies behind one's back? That still new Nurse Jackie who always "forgets" to communicate important things, loses stuff, never gets tasks done and just dumps them to whoever picks them up (she is dead scared and overwhelmed and cries before every shift)? How do we define it, especially if the cited "hiding discontent behind smiles" is seen as a part of professional behavior at workplace?

Furthermore, abstact advices about nutritious food and daily exercises are generally not followed by 90%+ of any of their target populations for a very simple reason: people just cannot do that even if they want. Giving such "advice" for someone who shifts days and nights for those $5/hour  night differential which makes for him or her the difference between, say, bad or good public school for kids comes, in my feelings, almost like an offence. 

I do not even go into pathophysiology. I can tell the OP only one thing: it all is WAY more complicated and less straightforward. A whole way so. Cites like

https://www.everydayhealth.com

 create a false sense of knowledge, which is more dangerous than just pure absense of it. 

And, last but not least, it is very difficult to prove work place abuse which crosses the line with voluntary inflicting of physical harm or direct discrimination. Re. "passive aggressive behavior" as it is usually seen, it should come pretty close to "impossible". 

 

Edited by KatieMI

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Although some things are vague, this was a pretty good article.  Thanks for sharing.   I've experienced these emotions quite a few times and it is toxic.  It's definitely important to deal with bitterness and resentment toward coworkers, no matter if the relationship can't be salvaged, before it impacts your work and your own mental health.  

@TriciaJ, RN passive-aggressive behavior involves any indirect acts of aggression...that can include eye-rolling, making caustic remarks, and so forth.  It's a person's way of conveying their emotions through their actions and body language without truly saying what they feel outright.   The other person may or may not even notice the passive aggressive person's actions making it definitely to be a "passive aggressive" act.

 

 

Edited by Nurse-Bell

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No, it's not indirect.  It's PASSIVE.  Eye-rolling requires action.  Making a caustic remark is an action.  Passive-aggressive is when you DON'T do something that you really should, and the reason for not doing it is malicious.

I think any basic psychology book can clear up these misconceptions.

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@TriciaJ, RN And what psychology book would that be?  I disagree.  You clearly need to do more research yourself.  Did you coin the term by chance?  Clearly that's your view of the term and not a "misconception."  A person can be passive aggressive in more ways than one.  It might be helpful to look up the definition and read up on it before you respond.

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I could be labeled as behaving in a passive-aggressive manner if I "Like" the posts that critique this article on passive-aggressive behavior without giving rationale for my actions.

By not giving other the other posts Likes, I am passively-aggressively saying that I disagree with their premises and do not support them.

So be it. In being passive-aggressive, I have acted within the boundaries of appropriate behavior. No harm done.

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5 hours ago, Davey Do said:

I could be labeled as behaving in a passive-aggressive manner if I "Like" the posts that critique this article on passive-aggressive behavior without giving rationale for my actions.

By not giving other the other posts Likes, I am passively-aggressively saying that I disagree with their premises and do not support them.

So be it. In being passive-aggressive, I have acted within the boundaries of appropriate behavior. No harm done.

I'm liking your post to quietly let you know that I'm using the software provided here of 'following' a user to actually stalk you Davey do. 😎

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Oh, boy!  A passive-aggressive thread about passive aggression!

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10 hours ago, Emergent said:

I'm liking your post to quietly let you know that I'm using the software provided here of 'following' a user to actually stalk you Davey do. 😎

Are you being passive aggressive with me, Emergent?

What are you really saying?

Wait a minute.

I think I'm being passive aggressive with you because I'm attempting to manipulate you into saying that you like my online persona and that's why you want to stalk me around the allnurses website.

Whew! I feel better now that I've been  honest and straightforward with you, assuring our relationship is a healthy one due to non-elevated cortisol levels!

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Coworkers giving you the silent treatment - would that be considered passive-aggressive? Let's say another nurse gives you report before going on break and asks you to a complete a task (which is not high priority, but has to be done at some point during the day). You're not able to do this task because you get caught up handling a situation with one of your other patients. You make this nurse aware of what happened, and she doesn't look pleased, and gives you the silent treatment for a while after that. 

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26 minutes ago, nursiee said:

Coworkers giving you the silent treatment - would that be considered passive-aggressive? Let's say another nurse gives you report before going on break and asks you to a complete a task (which is not high priority, but has to be done at some point during the day). You're not able to do this task because you get caught up handling a situation with one of your other patients. You make this nurse aware of what happened, and she doesn't look pleased, and gives you the silent treatment for a while after that. 

 

If she feels disappointed or upset about the fact that someone who was responsible for 2 assignments' worth of patients didn't do a non-priority task - - those are her personal emotions that she must deal with.

But if you spent more than 5 seconds worrying about it or even noticing it, now you're the one with the problem!

Don't be the one with the problem!

Here's a funny way to look at it: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

If a non-pleased RN gives someone the silent treatment but they don't care whether that RN talks to them for awhile or not, was it still a silent treatment? 🤔😂

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