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Passive-Aggressive Example
Another Passive-Aggressive Mother and Planning a Wedding

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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: I am having a very hard time planning my wedding because my mom and I want very different things. I believe in simplicity. Having a small intimate wedding (and a healthy marriage) is important to me, not a huge, traditional wedding. She wants to make decisions for me and demonstrates extreme passive-aggressiveness when I tell her my beliefs and what I want. She nicely says I can do whatever I want but then doesn't get excited about the things I decide on. It's hard because I want her to be excited but I also want to have the wedding I want. Yesterday we went dress shopping and before I could even say "yes" or "no" to the dress, she did. I ended up buying a dress that she liked. She told me the one I liked wasn't as slimming and the dress she liked made me look beautiful. She also ran into another bride in the store who was having a traditional wedding at a well known expensive venue in the area where she had wanted my wedding but I said "no" to because of the cost, stuffy atmosphere etc. When the girl asked where I was having it, my mom looked embarrassed to tell her my venue was at a bowling alley. It hurts. When I confront my mom she says I'm too sensitive and that I should just do everything on my own if I don't want her help. I want to note my mother is a beyond amazing person--would do anything for me. It's just that she is a very passive-aggressive person and plays dumb when confronted. Her image and appearance is very important to her and always has been. I feel like she thinks my decisions reflect on her image.

Response: It's interesting how often conflicts between mothers and daughters come about because of weddings. I think this is for a couple of reasons. One is the daughter is now an adult and making decisions for herself so the parent doesn't have as much control. Which causes the problem regarding the second issue. That is, conflict usually occurs when people have two different needs. In this case, the mother and daughter have different images and desires for the wedding.

Handling this situation is probably more about the bride dealing with her thinking about the situation and recognizing how that allows her passive-aggressive (PA) mother to control her. Important information in this scenario is that she indicates her mother is "amazing" but concerned about what other people think. This tells us that her mother is probably a social perfectionist in that she seeks approval from others by trying to do things "perfectly" or "right." She also expects her family to conform to her version of impression management. However, she also has the need to be the "perfect" mother so she tells her daughter she can do what she wants although she really would like her daughter to conform to what she believes is socially acceptable. When her daughter doesn't, she feels disappointed but is unable to voice this because that would not be her concept of the "perfect" mother. Therein lies the source of the PA behavior.

I have described before the purpose of PA behavior is to express anger without having to take responsibility for the anger. In this case, the mother feels her frustration/disappointment (anger) is unacceptable according to her standards for mothering so her feelings come out in a PA manner. She seems to be in denial of this behavior because such behavior would also be against her standards of mothering. However, the PA behavior allows her to try to control her daughter without having to recognize that she is a controlling parent (which wouldn't fit with her self-concept of "mother").

So, what can the daughter do? She's already tried confronting the behavior which hasn't worked. And probably won't work because her mother would have to change her entire self-concept. As a result, her mother deflects the daughter's confrontation with "You're too sensitive."

This is a situation that because the daughter is happy with her mother in other ways, she needs to change her own thinking rather than expecting her mother to change her behavior. First, she needs to ignore all PA messages. If her mother does not communicate directly, the daughter needs to let those messages just go over her head as if they didn't exist. Don't dwell on them--they are not a true message. Instead, listen to the directly commmunicated messages such as her mother stating she can do whatever she wants.

Second, the daughter needs to modify her expectations and recognize that she can't have it all. She can't have the wedding she wants without disappointing her mother and still have her mother excited about her choices. The mother had an image of the perfect wedding and she is grieving the loss of that image. Right or wrong, she can't easily let go of that image, and therefore, cannot be as excited about what the daughter wants. The daughter needs to let go of her expectation. Else, she is doing the same thing her mother is: having an expectation and being hurt when that expectation isn't met. I wonder if her anger is being communicated in a passive-aggressive way as well?

Parents can't always be what we want them to be. Children can't always be what we want them to be. The more she can accept her mother the way she is, the more she can enjoy the good parts of the relationship, and ignore the bad. Because, really, it doesn't sound like it is a "horrible" relationship.

Once the daughter has come to an acceptance of her mother's short-comings, she can then communicate directly about the wedding: "Mom, I know you are disappointed not to have the wedding you dreamed for me, but I want you to know that I think you are the greatest for being able to deal with your disappointment and let me have the wedding I dream of." Instead of conflict, the mother gets recognition for being a good mother (and might even be able to let go of the loss and provide the daughter with more acceptance, too).

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