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Passive-Aggressive Example
Parents' Criticism of Bride

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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: At my wedding my husband told a story about how he knew he liked me. He said I am a smart girl but I came to him to ask a work-related question. He also said I put my boot on the desk and asked if he liked them. I did ask but what he didn't tell everyone was that I was sitting at my own desk and they were modest ankle boots that I wore with bootleg slacks. I don't recall asking in a flirtatious manner but really as a concern because I wasn't sure I liked the boots as they were pointy and reminded me of an elf's boots. I didn't bother to say anything because I thought it was an entertaining story whether true or not. The next day my father suggested I was inappropriately promiscuous and demanded to know exactly how my relationship with my husband transpired! When I asked my husband to deal with him, my father said to my husband “between you and me I don't want it to go any further but she had problems coping with work.” He also suggested he understood that my husband was helping me with work because I had problems indicating something inappropriate was happening. When I complained to my mother that dad was making up things my mother told me I argue with my father because I am just like him. Also, on the day of my wedding my father was teasing my mother with my wedding vows. I had given them the celebrant's program so they would know when to stand and give me away. On the day, they sat like stunned mullets and had to be prompted more than once to answer. I got angry at my mother for allowing my dad to use my program to tease her. She complained to my aunty that I gave her grief. It was one drama after another to do with really petty things. Almost all of it rumors, innuendo and lies from my father and my mother blaming me.

Response: I will assume that this wasn't a one-time experience with her parents. Instead, it is likely a pattern of behavior. However, she probably had the hope that her parents would behave differently at her wedding. The pattern appears to be a father who is critical, aggressive, and demanding and a mother who passive-aggressively backs him up. As a result, she is dealing with much more than passive-aggressive (PA) behavior.

The problem here is that her responses to her parent's behavior allows them to not only continue to behave this way but to blame her (in the typical PA fashion) whenever she complains. However, there are several things she can do to manage this situation better:

1) Extricate herself from this pattern.
Changing her way of responding to her parents is crucial because otherwise she is likely to play out a similar pattern with her husband (and children) in the future. There are a couple of clues that indicate this possibility: she is indirectly dealing with the conflict with her father through her mother and her husband. Indirectly confronting conflict is just another form of PA behavior. Therefore, by managing her father's behavior in a different way, she is also taking steps towards changing her own patterns learned while growing up in this family.

2) Stop complaining to her mother.
It doesn't appear that complaining does any good. In fact, it seems to have the opposite effect of heaping more blame on her. As I just indicated, it is also an indirect approach to dealing with conflict. If the problem is her father, she needs to leave her mother out of it.

3) Don't involve her husband in her problems with her family.
By having her husband confront her father she is just pulling her husband into the dysfunctional pattern. It provides her father with more opportunity to criticize and blame her. The problem with her family is her problem that she needs to manage herself.

4) Confront her father directly and assertively.
Being assertive means remaining calm. She must not confront him with anger because that will only backfire giving him ammunition to blame her for being unreasonable. Instead, assertive confrontation is calm with careful word choice. Her words need to be focused on what she has the ability to control and taking personal responsibility by using an “I” statement. For instance, when her father confronted her about being promiscuous and demanding to know more about her relationship, she could have responded (calmly), “I'm not going to discuss this with you.” Most likely, he would have continued demanding: “I am your father! You WILL tell me!” However, she is an adult and can walk away from him using the technique of repeating the assertive statement, “I'm not going to discuss this with you.”

5) Stop getting angry.
She needs to quit playing the blame game with her parents. For instance, she may be tempted to show her parents this response to validate her perception of their behavior, but they are likely to turn that against her as well. They are controlling her through her anger and then blaming her for the anger. She needs to recognize that she is not going to change them but she can change how she responds to them. She may not have control over them but she does have control over herself. When she quits expecting them to behave reasonably and learns to shrug off their behavior she will have greater control in her life.

Obviously, these parents are likely to continue to blame her even when she uses an assertive response. However, the difference here is that she maintains control over herself and doesn't engage in their dysfunctional pattern. The most important result is that her future is a direction of her (and her husband's) own making rather than continuing this family pattern of PA blaming.

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