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How to Deal with Passive-Aggressive People and Not Lose Your Mind

If you’re often being given the cold shoulder for no reason, it’s time to learn how to deal with passive-aggressive people. They’re a whole other species!

How to Deal with Passive-Aggressive People

If you’re unlucky enough to have met a passive-aggressive person in your life, we bet you can recall how that person drove you crazy. And, it probably left you wondering how to deal with passive-aggressive people without losing your mind too.

Think of passive aggression as the Aikido of hostile behaviors. Because while you’re there feeling the damage from the veiled hostility thrown at you, the person responsible just calmly walks away. They look seemingly innocent from the effortless manner in which they made your life miserable.

In any case, passive-aggressive behavior should have no place in any kind of relationship, be it professional or personal.

It causes a lot of grief, does nothing to resolve problems, and it wears down both parties through emotional attrition. Eventually, the relationship ultimately falls apart.

[Read: Passive-aggressive men – How to help them quit playing games]

What is passive-aggressive behavior?

Passive-aggressive behavior can be difficult to spot if you’ve never actually acknowledged it before. That’s because it can seem all-too subtle, but the damage is pretty wide-ranging.

If you look for a definition, you’ll find something along the lines of “an indirect expression of a negative feeling, rather than addressing them directly.”

Basically, they don’t want to tell you that they’re annoyed with you, but they’re going to drop very negative and heavy hints your way. But, they’ll leave you in no doubt that something isn’t quite right.

The issue with passive-aggressive behavior is that you’ll usually end up apologizing for whatever the issue is, even if it’s not your fault. You’ll usually do so to stop the behavior that’s coming your way.

From that, you can see why this type of treatment isn’t fair, and why learning how to deal with passive-aggressive people is quite important. [Read: Passive-aggressive personality – 15 signs to recognize the sourpuss]

A few examples of passive-aggressive behavior include:

1. The silent treatment – ignoring a person, deliberately avoiding calls, mundane responses to conversations, etc.

2. Procrastination – deliberately delaying any work assignments or household chores.

3. Sarcasm

4. Running late on purpose

5. Not showing up purposely

6. Failing to do something asked of them

7. Withholding praise or due compliments

8. Withholding intimacy – deliberately avoiding holding your significant other’s hand, pushing them away when they cuddle up, etc.

9. Acts of sabotage

10. Being too critical of the person

[Read: 18 relationship turn-offs that can ruin your romance]

Why do some people resort to passive-aggressive behavior?

The main reason why some people go for passive-aggression is because of conflict-avoidance. They are usually not confident enough to voice their problems for fear that it causes conflict.

By acting in this passive-aggressive way, they resort to covert ways to control the situation, other than a general discussion. [Read: 14 ways people use emotional manipulation to mess with your mind]

It might also be that they’re narcissistic. Some narcissists, usually covert narcissists, use passive-aggressive behavior as a manipulation tactic, to get what they want.

We mentioned earlier that most of the time, people end up apologizing when they’ve done nothing wrong as a result of this type of behavior. In the case of a narcissist, that’s the entire reason why they do it. They want you to run after them and beg for them to talk to you in the “regular” way once more. It makes them feel powerful and puts you on the back foot. [Read: How to deal with a narcissist in the best way you possibly can]

How to deal with passive-aggressive people

Learning how to deal with passive-aggressive people is about more than knowing what they’re doing. Sometimes it’s having the strength to actually call them out on it.

1. Know the signs of passive-aggressive behavior

Passive-aggression is a form of “sugar-coated” hostility which makes it hard to notice at first.

Compared to overt aggression, like someone yelling obscenities at you, passive-aggression is hostility done in innocent and unassuming ways that are not normally considered as aggressive.

Familiarize yourself with the signs of passive-aggressive behavior above and always question whether that is the person’s tactic. [Read: 12 ways to stop negative people from sapping your energy]

2. Avoid being passive-aggressive yourself

When confronted by a passive-aggressive person, fighting fire with fire is not a good idea. As mentioned, the passive-aggressive cycle is frustrating and exhaustive to both parties. It fails to address the real problem and only emotionally wears down both parties until the relationship falls apart.

In a situation where one plays the passive-aggressive, the other should take initiative to take the higher moral road. That way, you’re breaking the cycle and you can start addressing the real issue. [Read: 18 emotions you shouldn’t feel in a healthy relationship]

3. Direct aggression is not a good idea either

Normally you would think that confronting the other person with direct aggression would be the alternative. However, this only causes them distress and encourages them to be more passive-aggressive.

When it comes to knowing how to deal with passive-aggressive people, they resort to such behavior in order to bypass conflict. Therefore, more conflict *either direct or indirect* only reinforces their need to be more passive-aggressive.

4. Being positively assertive is the key

So, you can’t fight them in their own style and you also can’t be aggressive. Where does that leave you then? There is only one way to effectively deal with passive aggression—being positively assertive.

Positive assertion is different from being aggressive.

While aggression is any behavior that may or not be destructive and hostile, positive assertion aims to resolve a problem. Positive assertion opens the table for a peaceful discussion. It aims to come up with a solution agreeable to both. [Read: How to be assertive – 17 ways to speak your mind loud and clear]

5. Call out passive-aggressive behavior

The efficacy of passive-aggressive behavior lies in its covert nature. The passive-aggressive person seems innocent while showing veiled hostility towards their target.

So right from the beginning, it is better to address it by letting the person know that you recognize their act.

In this manner, the passive-aggressive behavior loses its advantage. You pave a way for a mature discussion about the underlying problem.

6. Point out the specific troubling behaviors

The initial reaction to being called out is denial.

However, if you point out the specific scenarios where the person displayed passive-aggressive behavior, it will be difficult to deny. However, doing this alone puts the person on the spot and is perceived as hostility. [Read: How to compromise in relationships without feeling like you lost something]

That’s why there should be a follow-up:

Point out the behavior/s: “You’ve been missing my calls and not replying to my texts, is something wrong?”

Denial: “Nothing’s wrong. I’m just busy.”

The follow-up: “You can’t have been busy and ignore people for one whole month. If something is wrong and it involves me, please let’s talk about it.”

7. Set consequences for passive-aggressive behavior

This method allows you to avoid the frustrating effects of the person’s behavior by adding a punishment to whatever style of passive aggression they use.

This way, the person realizes that being passive-aggressive will not harm anyone except themselves. Not only does this deter the person from being passive-aggressive, it also convinces the person to cooperate and resolve their problems in a more constructive way. [Read: How to resolve conflict – The 15 best ways to cut out the drama]

8. Positive resistance

Positive resistance is not letting yourself fall into the schemes of passive-aggressive people. By showing the person that continuing such behavior is useless and has no effect, it backfires and they reconsider continuing such behavior.

This is easy once you identified the specific acts directed towards you. However, positive resistance requires a lot of calm, which is often hard to find. [Read: How to fight fair in a relationship and grow closer]

9. Extend genuine concern and help

If you truly want to know how to deal with passive-aggressive people and help them change at the same time, you can never forget the fact that they act as they do as a cry for help.

They have problems and it is the only method they know to help them avoid their problem. Often, they don’t know that what they are doing is not helping them fix the problem.

Having them acknowledge they have a problem or feel upset helps them look into a constructive solution to the issue instead of destroying everything in their wake. [Read: Stone-walling in a relationship – 15 signs and the best ways to fix it ASAP]

10. Work out why they’re doing it

It’s important to know that this is their problem and not yours. So, why are they doing it?

Try and explore this with them if you can and if not, perhaps work out whether they’re simply showing narcissistic traits. If that’s the case, you really need to start questioning whether this is an ongoing situation you want to endure. [Read: 20 signs of a narcissistic relationship that’ll destroy you slowly]

11. Don’t apologize for things that aren’t your fault

It’s easy to simply want the passive-aggression to end and that means you’re likely to just apologize and get it over with. But, you’re setting a precedent. Don’t apologize for things that aren’t your fault.

If you’re in the wrong, fine, apologize, but make sure that’s actually the case. Remember, one of the main reasons why people use this type of tactic is to make someone grovel for something they perceive to have slighted them.

12. Consider whether this is a control method

We’ve already mentioned that passive-aggressive behavior can sometimes be used as a control method and that it’s something which narcissists use to manipulate others. Question whether that’s the case here.

Really think about it and go through past incidences to see if you can find any patterns. Are they usually genuinely hurt when they behave this way? Or are they trying to control you when you don’t do something their way?

It’s not worth staying in a toxic relationship where your partner manipulates you to do whatever they want in this way. While some people use this type of behavior because they’re struggling, others do it for an altogether more negative reason. [Read: Controlling vs Caring – A thin line controlling people love to cross]

13. Set boundaries and stick to them

Make it clear that you’re not going to tolerate passive-aggressive behavior and point out exactly what type of tactics you’re referring to.

Then, set a boundary. Say that the next time they do this, you will just walk away and pay no attention. When it happens, you must do exactly what you say.

Pushing someone out of their negative behavior patterns will only work if you stick to your boundaries. [Read: How to set boundaries – 10 crucial steps to feel more in control]

14. If all else fails, walk away

This isn’t about you being selfish. It’s about not putting up with a type of behavior that is designed to manipulate and frustrate you.

If you’ve tried all of the above and nothing has worked, you’ve given it plenty of time and they show no signs of remorse or even attempting to change, you have to question what the point of this relationship is. Whether it’s a friendship or a romantic union, how can you handle this over the long term?

The truth is that you shouldn’t have to, and learning how to deal with passive-aggressive people really comes down to knowing when it’s time to cut your losses.

[Read: How to stop being passive aggressive to others and get out of this toxic state of mind]

Passive-aggressive behavior is said to be a talent for annoying without effort. It is mutually destructive and strains all kinds of relationships in the end. The only way to deal with passive-aggressive people is by adopting a positive attitude towards problem resolution. If all else fails, walk away.

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The editorial team of LovePanky comprises relationship experts and real-life experts that share their experiences and life lessons. If you want the best love ad...