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Passive-Aggressive Example
What Do I Do When I am Ignored Most of the Time?

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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: My boyfriend moved into my home with me 3 years ago. His two boys, now 17 and 20, spend one overnight a week and a couple of hours mid-week with us. They told their dad before he moved in that they would rather he keep his own apartment so they could visit with just him. We went ahead with co-habitation and things quickly soured.

99% of the time the boys speak to me only when spoken to, usually in one word or one sentence replies. Sometimes they say hello to me and sometimes not. Most of the time, I try to engage them but I'm aware that I generalize at times, and as a result, don't engage beyond hello and goodbye because "It will have the same negative outcome." However, I recognize the irrationality of this and usually attempt to start afresh.

They rarely eat any foods I prepare, opting for frozen/canned. We rarely go anywhere together as a group, usually because I'm not invited. The older boy rarely speaks to anyone. The younger one is much more talkative with others. Their dad has spoken to them regarding politeness, greetings, ad nauseam. I've spoken to the younger boy twice about how it makes me feel sad when he doesn't talk to me or say hello and goodbye. The younger one was taken to a therapy session or two and refused to go back.

I argue with their dad about it, sometimes giving him ultimatums and putting him in a no-win situation.

I hope you can assist as I admire you and the enlightening, comprehensive website you've created. It is helping me tremendously as I read, listen, write and practice.

I read a suggestion in one of the PA articles that it may be helpful to regularly and often tell the persons how their behavior makes you feel in a calm, collected way. For example, maybe I could say, "S--- and R----, it hurts my feelings when I'm not included in conversations." And say it every visit they don't talk to me.

What can I do differently?

Response: My first suggestion would be to work on not taking this personally. I know that can be difficult when it feels so personal. But keep in mind that you are talking about boys between the ages of 14 (when you first met) to 20. I used to say when we had two 16-year-old boys in our home at the same time, "They should round up all the 16-year-old boys and put them on another planet!" In other words, this is a difficult time for many parents so it is really not about you. The good thing, though, this behavior changes as they grow up. I've seen young men who acted this way at 20 who seem like they were replaced by a body snatcher at age 28--completely different!

Also, it is particularly difficult to get boys this age to behave the way you want. So their dad probably doesn't have much control over their behavior especially since he hasn't had full custody of them. One thing he might be able to try that I found effective and many of my clients have as well is a natural consequence approach (read my PsychNote: Natural Consequences for Children). However, beyond that, he really can't control the behavior.

In general, letting an unintentional PA person know when they hurt you is a good idea because it confronts them with their behavior. However, for this to be effective they have to care at some level. I doubt that boys this age really care whether they are hurting your feelings. So in this situation I think confronting the behavior will only make them more sullen and withdrawn from you.

Instead, if you can refrain from taking it personally and from looking for a positive outcome, it may be better to just pretend the behavior doesn't exist. In other words, be pleasant, talk to them, ask your boyfriend to include you in activities, but otherwise ignore this behavior. And one day you might be like many parents who are suddenly shocked when they realize their young adult child is talking to them.

A final note--be cautious about your own withdrawal. Otherwise, you may also be seen as engaging in PA withdrawal to express your frustration. I realize it is unintentional but it may not be viewed that way by the recipients.

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