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Passive-Aggressive Example
Son with Depression Blames Parents

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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 not sure if what I am dealing with is passive aggressive behaviour or not, but it sure hurts. My son suffers from depression and anxiety which have escalated as he gets older. My husband and I helped him through a tough separation and custody battle (he was a father at 19) and all seemed well. Then when he settled into a new relationship it all seemed to slowly sour. He would come up on Christmas Day and fall asleep immediately on the couch, would only grudgingly come to family dinners or birthdays. Yet, if we were five minutes late, it would be a massive complaint about my unreliability. If I tried to organise to see the grandkids, they would be busy or visiting my mum.

He has worked for my husband in the family business from 16 against my advice, leaving once when he claimed that I "told him to *** off" when in reality I said, "yes, it's all my fault again". He went into a melt down, and I took him to doctors, therapists etc. After about a year he asked to come back to work in the business. He has decided that his insecurity is because of my bad parenting and tells me this often, citing examples as the once that I forgot to pick him up from school.

This has now degenerated to being rude, belittling and dismissive. I have stopped going into the business now. But today I received a text from him detailing how "functioning alcoholic" parents damage children. While he was at home my husband and I probably shared a bottle of wine a night. This text was about a week after the message stating that he wanted a exit plan from the business and I replied that we would help in any way that we could and that I didn't want to lose a son. He replied that it was a little to late for that. He has stopped acknowledging Father's or Mother's Day.

Response: Since this situation is very difficult to sort through yourself, I would suggest that you attend therapy to help you address the pain you are experiencing as well as any responsibility you have for the situation. This is not to say that you are to blame but whenever I have seen families the situation is usually complex and until each individual solves their own issues it is nearly impossible to solve the relationship issues. And from the little bit you've described it seems that not only has your son been PA but you may have a tendency in that direction as well. For instance, when you said, "yes, it's all my fault again" you were making a PA sarcastic statement rather than really listening to his issues with you. That is experienced as dismissive of his concerns which is why he interpreted your comment in the way he did. It may be helpful for you to read my article Are You Passive-Aggressive and Want to Change?

That being said, I assume the question you have is how to salvage this relationship. At this point it is unclear whether he is going through another depressive episode and you need to ride it out or if it may be too late as he said. However, as long as he continues to have conversations in which he criticizes you, I don't think it is too late because he is still trying to engage. You are hearing him blame you but it is possible he really just wants you to hear him. He may not have the skills to be fully in touch with how he feels but his criticisms show his pain as well as a possible desire to still have a relationship with you. So it may be necessary to change your approach to his criticisms and instead of being defensive you need to be receptive.

For instance, you could respond to him with a statement such as "I really want to hear your concerns and try to solve the problems we have. But I have trouble responding non-defensively so would you consider us seeing a therapist together?" When he continues to criticize you can continue to make a similar statement "As I said, I want to solve this but I don't have the skills to look at myself non-defensively. I'm seeing a therapist to help improve my skills. Please consider seeing one with me." If at some point he does agree, the first thing you need to tell the therapist is that you want to have a better relationship and that you sincerely want to understand your role and make any necessary changes.

As you may see from these statements, you keep the focus on you. Don't focus on how he is angry and continually criticizes you. Instead, keep the focus on you wanting to know what you can do to change. By doing this, it can allow him to more fully access his emotions and the two of you get to the root of the relationship issues which I suspect has to do with not listening to his feelings. I know it can seem trivial to bring up examples such as you forgetting him at school but it seems that he is trying to explain his pain. Only by fully listening to him non-defensively can he resolve these emotions. But this takes a lot of strength and skill which is why I suggest you see a therapist. His problems with depression and anxiety complicate this issue as well so you need some outside assistance to navigate it.

A lot of times when I focus on the person who comes to me with a problem such as this people say that I am blaming the victim. However, as I have explained to countless clients, that is not my intention. I can only work with the person who is seeking help. So, in a complex situation such as this, the focus has to be on what you can do to change because nothing we say here will get your son to change.

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