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PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE EXAMPLES

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The following is an example from website readers of passive-aggressive encounters they have experienced. Keep in mind that the suggested responses are not personal advice as a full evaluation of the situation is not available. As such, the suggestions may not work in every situation but are to give you an idea of possible ways to respond. Read: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People
Living with Blaming and Guilting Mother (Part 2)
I will examine and discuss the previous question in parts (for the full situation go to "Previous").

Question: My partner's mum is staying with us and she's quite PA and I'd love to know better ways of dealing with some of what she does...

Partner's mum is upset dishwasher wasn't run overnight. She complains to my partner loudly enough that I can hear: "I know she doesn't CARE about keeping the house tidy but how could anyone NOT run the dishwasher? Why on earth WOULDN'T you?"
Partner: "That's a little unfair when you make these general statements. I know she cares and she must have had a reason."
Mum: "Why on earth wouldn't you! It's just common sense!"
(In fact I hadn't run it because she'd often complained about running it when it wasn't totally full and had even unpacked the top row to demonstrate that you could jam one more glass inside. This time the dishwasher had five or six spaces.)
Partner: "I would like you to think about maybe not making general statements. It upsets people."
Mum: "I'm not allowed to think anything! I've just got to shut up and keep my thoughts to myself. You want me gone. You make it totally clear you HATE having me here!"
Partner: "We like you here. I just want you to know people feel hurt if..."
Mum: "I'm not ALLOWED to say anything!!" Slams door, sulks in room. We leave her to it. Returns two hours later to scream at partner that he's a hateful (expletive)! Slams sitting room door. More sulking.


Response: I'm starting with this example because it provides the opportunity to practice basic skills that can then be built upon. The first thing for this couple to keep in mind is that they do not need to provide reasons or excuses to justify their behavior. In fact, they do not want to even engage in this argument. The best technique for managing this is the "broken record." What this means is to have one or two assertive statements that are repeated over and over with only minor variations. It may be followed with some sort of limit such as "I'm not going to discuss this any further."

> The key is developing a statement that places the responsibility back on the PA individual. As discussed in previous posts, PA behavior is about attacking or expressing anger in such a way that the individual can deny responsibility or the purpose of the attack. Therefore, it is important to address very specific behavior and to stay away from interpretations of behavior. For instance, "I feel hurt when you say that" is about a particular statement and the reaction to it whereas "You don't care if you hurt me" is interpreting the purpose of the statement.

This couple needs to develop a statement that they can say repeatedly in a variety of similar circumstances. For instance, "we have our own ways of doing things" or "I'm not going to listen to criticism." Let's try these out:

Mum: "I know she doesn't CARE about keeping the house tidy but how could anyone NOT run the dishwasher? Why on earth WOULDN'T you?"
Partner: "We have our own ways of doing things."
Mum: "Why on earth wouldn't you! It's just common sense!"
Partner: "We have our own ways of doing things."
Mum: "It's just common sense!"
Partner: "We have our own ways of doing things."
Mum: "Well, I guess I'm not allowed to have an opinion around here!"
Partner: "You can have an opinion but I'm not going to listen to criticism."
Mum: "I'm not ALLOWED to say anything!"
Partner: "All I said was that I'm NOT going to listen to criticism."

This won't stop her from slamming doors, sulking, and screaming which she is going to do no matter how this couple responds. However, it does put her on notice that they are not going to engage with her by giving excuses or trying to change their behavior to suit her. When she escalates, they can walk away saying "I'm not going to discuss this any further." Hopefully, over time she will learn that she is not going to get any satisfaction by engaging in this type of behavior and they may see a decrease in it. However, it is similar to a child throwing a temper tantrum. If the parent ignores the tantrum there may be an initial escalation but as the parent continues to ignore the tantrums a reduction in the length or frequency is likely to occur.

Another important aspect of this type of response is that they are focused on what they have control over. In particular, they have control over whether they want to engage with her. This differs from when her son says "I would like you to think about maybe not making general statements" with which he is trying to change her behavior but it only results in handing control over to her. This way he maintains control by saying "I'm not going to listen" or by walking away. The PA person wants to be the one in control and this is not likely to be satisfying for her. Therefore, the more this couple maintains control, the less she is rewarded for the PA behavior (see discussion in Part 1).

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