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Passive-Aggressive Example
Confronting a Passive-Aggressive Insult

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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:"You know that you shouldn't eat before bedtime, right?" said by brother-in-law (BIL) to overweight mother of nursing baby while she is eating a snack. Said with a giggle. They don't even know each other well and he is staying in their house for the first time.

Response: Maybe this is just a clueless man, i.e. the last man in the world who doesn't know that a man should never comment on a woman's weight directly or indirectly! However, let's say that he is aware which means that this is a passive-aggressive (PA) insult. He would probably disagree and say "But I was only trying to provide helpful information." Yet, any overweight woman knows that this is a comment on her weight. If his sister-in-law (SIL) was average weight he wouldn't have made such a statement. So the only reason to make this statement is to indicate that his SIL needs to watch her eating habits and lose weight.

This is a common PA tactic when a person doesn't have the guts to say what they are thinking because they KNOW it would be rude and the other person is likely to become angry. Instead, they guise it as advice so that if they are confronted, they can deny their true intentions. This BIL even added a giggle to it to give himself another out: "I was only kidding."

The question is how to respond to this behavior. In this case, I think a more direct approach would be appropriate:

SIL: "Are you INTENDING to insult me?"

BIL: "No...I was just trying to be helpful."

SIL: "Do you seriously believe that women find it helpful when you comment on their eating habits?"

This is likely to cause him to mumble something and back off. He is also not likely to make a similar mistake again. However, there are other ways to confront him if the SIL is not comfortable with such a direct approach:

SIL: "Why are you telling me this?" This statement puts him on the spot because then he has to refer to the weight as his true intention which he doesn't want to do. As I have addressed elsewhere PA people don't want to be direct as then they have to be responsible for what they say.

BIL: "..uh...eating before bedtime causes weight gain."

This allows the SIL to confront his true intention:

SIL: "So you are commenting on my weight and eating habits?" or "So you are telling me that I'm fat?"

Obviously, there are many approaches to this issue depending upon the personality of the individual and the kind of relationship. The primary goal, however, is to let the PA person know that they will be confronted when they use PA insults. As they are typically trying to avoid direct conflict this approach is likely to reduce the behavior. In this situation since they don't know each other very well, it informs him early in their relationship that she won't tolerate PA behavior.

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