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Audio Version of Article: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People

Audio Version of Article: Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

Audio Version of Article: Happiness Is An Attitude

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7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist

Read the following article to:
  • Discover the purpose of passive-aggressive behavior and how to counter it.

  • Learn how to identify the different types of passive-aggressive behavior to help determine the best method to use in response.

  • Identify ways to manage your response so as to prevent the passive-aggressive person from achieving their goal.
Also read:

Next: Learn how to deal effectively with passive-aggressive people

Estimated reading time: 1 minute, 30 seconds

What is passive-aggressive behavior?

Passive-aggressive (PA) behavior is an indirect method of expressing criticism or negative emotions such as anger, frustration, disappointment, disapproval. By using an indirect approach the PA person does not take responsibility for the comments or behavior and can easily shift blame. PA behavior often leaves the recipient experiencing frustration and self-doubt.

Why are people with PA behavior so hard to deal with?

Generally, difficult social conflicts frequently involve PA behavior. The reason PA behavior is often more distressing than even aggressive behavior is because you are not only hurt but it causes you to doubt yourself and your experience of reality. In contrast, when someone is aggressive towards you, their intention is clear and it is easier to make a decision such as “I need to steer clear of this person” or “I need to report this behavior.”

PA behavior is not so clear. The purpose of PA behavior is for the aggressor to avoid responsibility for their actions while causing distress for someone else or obtaining something they want.

PA behavior can easily be denied or blame shifted:

  • “I didn't mean it the way you took it.”
  • “You're being too sensitive.”
  • “You're just trying to get me in trouble.”
As a result, PA behavior cannot be addressed in the same way you might handle aggressive behavior.

So, how can PA behavior be handled?

All PA people have a goal. It can be to make themselves feel better or to undermine your efforts in some way or to get what they want. By being aware of the underlying purpose of the behavior you can respond in a way that prevents them from succeeding at their agenda. The less likely they are to achieve their goal, the more likely you will see a reduction in their behavior.