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Passive-Aggressive Example
Insulted by Thank You Notes as a Gift

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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 graduated from college my aunt gave me a box of thank you cards along with a generous amount of cash. I feel the thank you notes were a passive-aggressive insult implying that I don't have proper manners. How do I respond to this?

Response: This is a good example to show why it is important not to respond to all passive-aggressive behavior. At times, even though you might believe the behavior is PA, it might not be. Also, sometimes the best response is the same response whether it is PA or not.

Let's look at this situation a little more in depth. First, are all gifts of thank you cards insults or passive-aggressive messages? No, it depends upon the circumstances. For example, I was at a 50th Jubilee for a friend who is a member of a convent and I notice that she received many gifts of thank you cards. I don't think the other nuns were being PA! I think they found some attractive note cards they thought she would be able to use for gifts and other acknowledgments of thanks. So, it is possible that if a person does send out thank you cards routinely, other people may think it is a good gift. It's possible her aunt thought they would be useful. For instance, her aunt may have had her future job search in mind.

However, let's say that the aunt is being PA because previously her niece did not acknowledge gifts. This could be an example of the aunt not being able to directly communicate rather than deliberately being insulting. Instead, the aunt, intending to be helpful and teach her niece to show appreciation of gifts from others, may have communicated this indirectly by giving the thank you notes rather than confronting her niece. In that case, she was not trying to insult her niece but trying to teach important manners that she needs in life.

So, what should this person do? The nice thing about this type of situation is that the answer is the same no matter what the aunt had in mind: thank her for the cards! If she truly thought she was being helpful, such a response is the most appropriate. If she was being PA, then it is best to not acknowledge the PA behavior but to listen to the message. In fact, if the niece has truly been remiss in writing thank you notes, she could even address that: "Thank you for the note cards. They will help remind me to acknowledge people such as yourself who have been so generous." If the aunt's gift was PA, then this response also models direct communication.

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