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Passive-Aggressive Example
Siblings Won't Help With Elderly Father

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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 fourth in a family of 5 siblings. Our elderly father is now 93 and still living on his own, primarily because I drive 200 miles each weekend to take care of a host of things for him. I've repeatedly tried to get my other siblings involved, but they ignore me. It is no more difficult for them to participate than me, yet they repeatedly just ignore me. Often I send an email asking if they'll visit on a holiday, or mentioning there's a problem with something in the house. And still, no response. I've been doing this for minimally 10 years. Even though I see the others maybe once a year, they never address this glaring issue and if I bring it up, they immediately leave or act as though I have some big emotional problem. A friend who is a psychologist, categorized this behavior as passive-aggressive. Is this true ? I did not find something that rang true in the list of behaviors at the website. I'm trying to understand the behavior, and find tools to deal with it all more effectively.

Response: Certainly, the aspect of this situation where the siblings won't address the problem directly but act as if she has a “big emotional problem” is passive-aggressive behavior (specifically blaming). The purpose of this behavior is to deflect an issue they don't want to face. By making her the “bad guy” they don't have to acknowledge the problem or their behavior. They don't have to say “I don't care about Dad” or “I don't want to help.” Obviously, acknowledging those things would make them look bad, so they protect their self-image by making the writer out to be the “emotional” or “crazy” one.

However, there is another issue here and that is the writer has been doing this for 10 years! It is time for her to recognize that they are not going to help. Part of her stress comes from beating her head against the wall that her siblings have created. By recognizing that she can't expect them to help, she can then move on to other decisions. “Knowing that my siblings aren't going to help, how do I best manage this situation? How can I take care of myself while taking care of Dad? What assistance is available to help with an elderly parent?” She can also decide what kind of relationship she wants to have with her siblings by recognizing their limitations and whether she can accept those limitations are not. But she cannot make them change or care—10 years is proof of that!

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