Passive Communication and Social Anxiety

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Passive communication is a style in which you avoid directly saying what you think or want and that often involves uncomfortable body language. Many people with social anxiety end up using passive communication. 

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder and can be a hindrance to your daily life. If you have social anxiety, your communication skills may be weak because you are anxious about social gatherings, meeting new people and confrontation. One of the key areas that may be impacted is communication. Below is a description of how passive communication and social anxiety disorder may be related.

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Defining Passive Communication

Passive communication is a pattern of not sharing your opinions and failing to protect your rights and get your needs met. Passive communicators fail to be assertive and allow others to take advantage of them. 

Passive Communication Examples

Passive communication can be shown in many different ways.

  • Some passive communicators beat around the bush, such as by saying "I wish someone would remember to take out the trash" rather than just asking a family member to take out the trash. Hints like this often go unnoticed, making the passive communicator irritated and the family member who missed the hint bewildered.
  • Others will just let people override their thoughts and feelings. For instance, if you are a vegetarian and your coworkers decide to meet at a restaurant with limited vegetarian options, you may opt to avoid saying anything or suggesting another option out of fear of being viewed as difficult or picky.
  • Some passive communicators speak very softly or apologetically. They may apologize ahead of time for their opinions or qualify their statements. For example, if called upon in a meeting, a passive communicator may say, "This could be a stupid question, but have you considered the problem from this angle?" This derives from a lack of confidence and anxiety about being seen as opinionated or harsh.
  • Some have body language which lacks confidence such as a slumped posture.

Impacts of Passive Communication

Individuals with a passive communication style may:

  • Feel anxious or like life is out of control
  • Feel depressed or hopeless
  • Feel resentful or confused because needs are not being met

Problems With Passive Communication and Social Anxiety

If you have social anxiety and avoid conflict, passive communication can cause more discomfort and hurt. Because you do not address conflicts when they happen and allow grievances to go unnoticed, your irritation can grow.

Eventually, you will need to express these feelings, but because they have mounted for so long, it may come out explosively and damage your relationships. Afterward, you may feel tremendously guilty, causing you to be more passive in the future.

This can lead to even more social anxiety when interacting with others or trying to assert yourself. This vicious cycle can perpetuate itself for a long period if there is no intervention.

Passive Communication Versus Assertive Communication

For many with social anxiety, low self-esteem, and poor confidence leads to a passive communication style. This can cause a cycle in which passive communication leads to your needs going unmet, which makes you feel more anxious and then makes you even more passive. This cycle can be extremely hard to break and often needs professional intervention. 

By contrast, assertive communication:

  • Means speaking clearly about your opinions, needs, and feelings without violating others' needs 
  • Is achieved through strong self-esteem and confidence
  • Involves advocating for yourself and your own interests, without apologizing

A therapist specializing in social anxiety can help you work through your anxiety issues as well as help you communicate more assertively and confidently.

It is not something that can happen overnight; however, a good healthcare provider with a background in cognitive behavioral therapy can help improve your comfort in social settings and empower you to advocate for yourself. 

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Understand the facts: social anxiety disorder.

  2. UK Violence Intervention and Prevention Center. The Four Basic Styles of Communication.

Additional Reading

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.