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Passive-Aggressive Example

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The following is an example from website readers of passive-aggressive encounters they have experienced. Keep in mind that the suggested responses are not personal advice as a full evaluation of the situation is not available. As such, the suggestions may not work in every situation but are to give you an idea of possible ways to respond. Read: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People and 7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People

Question: Sister-in-law makes comment to brother's wife that she should be more receptive to his dreams after working hard all his life and as money is not a problem. Wife responds by telling husband that his sister is telling everyone she is controlling and "your sister hates me." She also tells him that his sister makes sure he's not around when she goes off on her with hurtful non-specific insults. The brother believes all the lies told to him and blocks his sister from his life. The sister truly loves her brother and was trying to help with his dreams. She wishes to resolve the matter with her brother and his wife together but doesn't know how to do that with the PA wife without calling her a liar. This occurred during a period when the sister had lost a child and the brother continued to call her a liar during her depression and block her from contact. The sister is worried to call the PA wife out because it may end the relationship forever. She is hurting and needs help to expose the PA lies without totally ruining the relationship or even knowing if it's worth saving

Now on Kindle! Dr. Frank's articles on handling passive-aggressive people. Tap to purchase on Amazon for $2.99 Response: The sister indicates she wants to salvage this relationship with her brother and sister-in-law. Assuming that is sincere, it is necessary for her to examine her own behavior as well. If she is willing to do so, it is possible for the relationship to be saved (of course, it also depends on the brother and his wife's willingness). A good starting point can be reading the article Are You Passive-Aggressive and Want to Change? In that article I state "Those who are passive-aggressive (PA) and want to change are usually unintentionally PA. In other words, they are not trying to maliciously cause problems for others..." which is the basis for the rest of my response to this situation.

This scenario appears to be two passive-aggressive (PA) women who have put the brother/husband in the middle of a feud. The reason I say that is because the sister first used a "should" on the wife and then responded with innocence when the wife became angry. In addition, she wants to "call the PA wife out" and "expose the PA lies." This is a PA desire, not a desire to save the relationship. In other words, she wants to vindicate her behavior and make the sister-in-law out to be a liar. Remember, the root of PA behavior is anger that is expressed in a passive way. If the sister approaches this situation with the desire to expose the wife's lies while indicating she wants to "resolve the matter" she is disguising her anger as an attempt to resolve the problem and is likely to proclaim innocence when the attempt implodes.

Certainly, the brother and his wife are engaging in PA behavior as well -- withdrawal and backstabbing. However, they are not asking how to solve the situation so their behavior can't be dealt with in this response. But for the sister's sake, let's look at their behavior by giving them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are also engaging in unintentional PA behavior because they don't have the skills to know how to respond in a better way. For instance, the wife is angry at the sister but instead of expressing her anger directly, she complains to her husband and expects him to resolve it. The husband feels put in the middle of the situation and just wants out so he withdraws from the relationship with his sister.

So, if the sister truly wants to save this relationship, she needs to accept their limitations as well as her own and recognize that all of them have poor conflict resolution skills but are not maliciously trying to hurt one another. By having empathy for them and for herself she can then approach this situation in a different way.

And how would that be? Apologize. Pure and simple. Do not blame them. Do not focus on the wife's or the brother's behavior. Recognize that the initial "should" is blaming and controlling PA and then apologize for it: "I realize that I was wrong in trying to tell you how to live your lives. I really want us to be close again. Please forgive me." Period.

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