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Passive-Aggressive Example
Grandmother's Criticism of Child

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The following is an example from website readers of passive-aggressive encounters they have experienced. The suggested responses are not personal advice as a full evaluation of the situation is not available. Also, the suggestions may not work in every situation but are to give you an idea of possible ways to respond. For more, read: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People and 7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People

Question:My mother criticizes my 10-year-old son about his hair, clothes, the activities he likes, you name it. He's a good kid, does well in school, and I think that he should be able to make his own choices about these things. I can see that my son is hurt by this criticism. When I try to tell my mother to stop, she and my sister say, "He's a boy and he needs to toughen up. He needs to be able to handle teasing. You're just over-protecting him." Is she right? How do I get her to stop?

Response: This is a case where a passive-aggressive (PA) justification is used for the criticism that the grandmother dishes out. The type of PA behavior used here is a combination of denial and blame. This mother has probably been subjected to this PA behavior all her life as evidenced by her self-doubting question: "Is she right?" This type of PA behavior often makes the recipient question her own perspective because the PA person is often very strong in her insistence that her view is correct.

This situation is potentially damaging to the child. It is important that the child understand that his mother will protect him and that he does not need to passively tolerate unacceptable behavior from others. Therefore, the mother needs to take stronger steps than trying to tell her mother to stop. She needs to ignore the mother's denial and blame and set consequences. She may not have control over her mother's behavior but she does have control over herself and her decisions regarding her son.

What she can do is make a demand rather than a request "Stop being critical of my son." It is okay to do this in her son's presense so that he knows his grandmother's behavior is not appropriate and that he is not bad or wrong. When the grandmother responds with her usual PA statements, the mother needs to tell her "This criticism is not acceptable. If you do not stop, we will be leaving." She should not get in a discussion about it. The only two acceptable outcomes is that the grandmother stops or she and her son leave.

This may or may not impact the grandmother's behavior but it does protect the son. However, I have seen numerous cases where the grandmother's behavior did eventually change as long as the daughter continued to set the limits.

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