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Passive-Aggressive Example
Living with Blaming and Guilting Mother (Part 3)

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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

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 recites lists of what she does for us to her other children. She makes it sound as if we want her running after us and she's totally put upon. We'd rather tidy after ourselves but can't stop her doing this stuff:
Partner (working from home in personal office): "I don't like you coming in here every hour or so to see if I've got any cups. I'll take this cup once I've finished what I'm working on."
Mum: "I'll just take it."
Partner: "I don't want you to. It's distracting and I feel bad like you're slaving after me."
Mum: "I suppose you WANT the house to turn into a sty. You don't mind the house being DISGUSTING."

Response: There are two issues to address in this situation: what she is saying to other family members and what the mother is doing. In regards to her talking to others this couple needs to recognize that they can't stop her from talking but they may be able to do some damage control. First, most likely, other family members know the way she is. Keeping that in mind this couple can develop some sort of statement they can say to others that will refute her version of the situation without being a direct confrontation. Remember, as I have said before, PA people usually will win direct confrontations because they are good at setting up the situation to be able to deny responsibility or an opposing perspective. In this situation the couple could use a bit of humor with a very subtle nonverbal indicating that they do not really think it is funny. Such as "You know Mum--you can't stop her from being a mother no matter how hard you try!" with a slight shake of the head and a very slight eye roll (the nonverbals not being in her line of sight). I know this is using passive-aggressive communication in response but sometimes you DO need to fight fire with fire. All types of communication are acceptable as long as they help you to achieve your goal and the consequences have been considered. In this case, it tends to diminish the strength of her statements.

To stop the mother from cleaning up after them, they may need to be more direct. This mother does not respond to an expression of feelings in the way most people would expect. In other words, telling her that it makes him feel bad doesn't have any impact on her behavior. Also, for this mother a statement such as "I don't like you coming in here..." is actually indirect. He needs to tell her more directly "I'm working. Don't come in" and use that as a broken record as we discussed in Part 2:

Mum: "Let me get your cup."
Partner: "I'm working. Don't come in."
Mum: "I'll just take it."
Partner: "No. I'm working. Don't come in."
Mum: "I suppose you WANT the house to turn into a sty. You don't mind the house being DISGUSTING."
Partner: Closes the door.

In the next part I will talk more about shaping her behavior which I briefly mentioned in Part 1.

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