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Passive-Aggressive Example
"I will take care of it, just as I ALWAYS do!"

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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: When I don't respond to my wife's request as quickly as she believes I should, she heaves a sigh and says "I will take care of it, just as I ALWAYS do!" I find this very irritating as I intended to do what she wanted but instead I am criticized for not responding on her time schedule. How do I handle this without getting in a big argument?

Response: This deceptively simple statement is difficult to respond to because it is a passive-aggressive trap. Typically, the purpose is for the perpetrator to be able to expound on her martyrdom. If you disagree in any way, it gives her the opportunity to express how no one appreciates her and everything she does. If you ignore it, it allows her to continue to feel like a martyr and to complain about how she takes care of everything. If you try to confront her about her behavior, she bursts into tears about how she's being criticized just for being helpful. The "always" in her statement is particularly a trap because it opens the door for you to argue that she is being unduly harsh in her criticism. Which, more than likely, allows her to ignore you and bring it back to her martyrdom: "It just seems that I'm having to do everything!" It is a perfect trap...almost.

As I've indicated elsewhere, the primary thing you want to do with PA behavior is to not reward the other person by responding in a way to achieve their goals. The less reward for a person's behavior, the less likely they will continue. In this instance, any response as described above that allows her to feel like a martyr will be rewarding to her. So, you need to assess her likely reaction to your response and find one that is not rewarding.

One possibility, for example, is to focus on your feelings. This makes it more difficult for her to focus on her feelings of martyrdom.

You (very calmly): I feel hurt that you think I wasn't going to do this.

Her (some sort of denial): That's not what I meant.

You: I want to help you and it hurts when you think I won't.

Her: Well, I asked you an hour ago and its not done.

You (using the broken record technique of repeating how you feel): I intended to help and I feel hurt that you think I wasn't going to.

Her: But I needed it done right away!

You: I didn't know that and I feel hurt when you believe that I won't help you.

If you notice with this scenario, she is getting defensive which means she is not able to maintain her martyr role. As a result, this type of confrontation can be more effective in reducing this statement in the future.

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