Indirect communication - a direct way to ruin relationships

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Indirect communication - a direct way to ruin relationships

Indirect communication can be a valuable resource in some contexts. However, those who use it in everyday language generate tension and suffering.

Written and verified by the psychologist GetPersonalGrowth.

Last update: 15 November 2022

When the use of the indirect communication it is continuous, the message sent is of a perverse kind. A real psychological abuse.

Indirect communication can be a valuable resource in some contexts. However, those who use it in everyday language with a partner, family or friends generate tension and suffering. Whoever says one thing, but lets understand another between the lines, hinders the communication process and puts into practice a very perverse mistreatment. Especially when it comes to reproaches.



Very often we ignore the power of language, and we adopt rather dangerous habits. We can even get to admire those who have the ability to use sarcasm or those who manage to get information indirectly through an undeniable and curious ingenuity.

Of course it all depends on the context, the situation and the moment. There are, however, people who continually make use of this hidden, potentially harmful and non-affective communication. We must therefore ask ourselves, why do we use it if it is so negative? There are two main reasons: the first is originality, the second is that it is a form of communication in which the speaker protects himself. Just use the formula "I didn't mean that".

"The tendency to aggression is an innate disposition in man."

-Sigmund Freud-

Indirect communication, as we well know, is rarely pleasant. Because through linguistic play and manipulation we are told one thing that can mean another. Perhaps in certain contexts, such as that of seduction, the game can be enjoyable, but in most cases it is not.



The continued use of indirect communication and perverse communication

The use of indirect communication is characteristic of passive-aggressive people. These are profiles used to make use of insults, to attribute blame, to project silence when things do not go as they expect. Although it can happen to everyone to use indirect phrases in contexts of joke or relaxation, it is good to know how to recognize when the moment is not appropriate.

University of Florida psychology professor James K. McNulty labels this dynamic with the name of indirect hostility. It is a deliberate lack of communication that lacks consistency between what you say and what you want to communicate. Furthermore, it is common for the use of indirect constructions to be accompanied by non-verbal language that leaves no doubt and misunderstandings. A set of looks, gestures or attitudes that reveal emotions such as anger, conflict or contempt.

In most cases, our non-verbal communication is more sincere than verbal. For this reason, the person victim of indirect communication first processes the message launched by the gaze or tone of voice of his interlocutor, rather than the message itself. And the effect is immediate. When these dynamics are constant within the couple or between parents and children, when indirect phrases carry the weight of contempt or mockery, psychological mistreatment takes place.

It is a perverse communication with serious consequences for the victim.

How to react to indirect sentences?

The aforementioned Professor McNulty is a notable expert in the field of emotional relationships. A study completed in 2016 clarified which communication strategies are the most appropriate within the couple, and can help resolve differences and conflicts.



One strategy is to avoid double bind phrases at all costs. The term, coined by the anthropologist Gregory Bateson, defines the use of indirect or ambiguous messages that boycott or cancel affection and, above all, respect. Now it is clear to us that we must not make use of this type of communication, but what if we are the ones who receive it daily? How to react in front of those who are used to talking to us in this way?


Let's see some strategies.

Strategies for curbing digs

Effective communication must be expected. Whenever we are given digs, we must demand clear information. If our interlocutor replies that he is not “skilled” enough to do so, we ask to speak to someone else.

  • Identify the passive-aggressive individual. Behind a person accustomed to using digs, there is often a passive-aggressive profile. In these cases it is essential to set limits and establish what we are willing to accept and what we want to receive.
  • Try to be the best example expected of others. If we seek sincere communication, we communicate that way.
  • Don't be dominated. Behind the practice of indirect communication, often there is a clear desire for domination. Indirect phrases, sarcasm and jokes are ways to undermine the self-esteem of others, by implementing a form of domination.
  • In addition to harmful language, other dangerous dynamics could be enacted that need to be identified and stopped. Let's raise barriers as soon as possible.

Although indirect communication can be tolerated (and even appreciated) at certain times, remember that there are situations where it is not good at all. Emotions, especially negative ones, require sincere language. Think about it.


"A word that hits the mark, here's something that can kill or humiliate without getting your hands dirty."

-Pierre Desproges-

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