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Passive-Aggressive Example
Brother Manipulating Mother to Hurt Sister

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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 have a brother who has always been lagging in studies compared to me. My father (who, by the way, has severe aggressiveness and an inferiority complex) would constantly praise one of us while belittling the other--like mocking my height and mocking my brother for his academic performance. I would never bother about those comments but my brother took them seriously so has been indirectly jealous of me.

My mom has a soft spot for my brother because he would often cry and complain to her whenever he was being mocked. She has always been fond of me and very supportive until recently. But lately my brother is been making annoyingly passive-aggressive (PA) statements towards me in front of my mom.

For instance, we were having ice-cream with different flavors yesterday. I finished mine and my mom walks in and suddenly my brother offers a portion of his ice cream to me (I don't like that flavor). When I gently refuse he makes a sad face before my mom and says, "she is upset with me again." I reply that I am not upset with him but that I simply don't like the flavor. He keeps on repeating it until my mom urges me to accept a part of the ice cream to prove I am not really upset.

And this is one such example. He constantly tells my mother secretly that I am always angry with him and not talking with him enough. My mom tells me this in private and advises me to talk with him. When I try to comfort him he ignores me.

The only thing bothering me is that my mom is talking to me less and believes I am torturing my brother. So, please tell me how to deal with this as I feel personally betrayed with the lack of love from my parents as well as my brother.

Response: It sounds like you have a good read on your family. And "good for you!" that you recognize it is them and not you who has the problem. Sadly, though, their problems affect you.

Because of your father it seems that your brother is more in the "scapegoat" role in your family. As a result, your mother sees him as being needy and she responds with extreme over-protective behavior. Your brother knows this (at least on a subconscious level) and uses it to manipulate her against you. Such manipulation is his way of gaining power to counter his feelings of powerlessness in reaction to your father's aggressiveness. Your brother can't stand up to your father so he takes his anger out on you through this PA manipulation of your mother's love.

Meanwhile, you have been cast in the role of the "responsible" one. As far as family roles go, this isn't a bad one to be. Many of us psychologists grew up in that role. However, it is important for you to be aware of it so you don't get pulled unwittingly into co-dependent relationships. It may be helpful to read my article: Co-dependency: An Issue of Control.

However, knowing all this can only go so far when dealing with such a situation. It seems that you have been reasonable in trying to handle your brother's PA behavior, but reason doesn't always work in these situations. You may need to do some manipulation of your own. Keep in mind, though, that manipulation is a behavioral choice only after you have assessed a situation and determined that it is your only option. Don't allow it to become the way you deal with everyone or it can be a problem. So, I'm assuming you have already tried to talk with your mom about this problem and she can't understand or won't respond to your needs.

So, let's look at your example of the ice cream in which your brother tries to make you look bad while he is being "the good one." If this is a common behavior, you can turn it to your advantage by being prepared with a different type of response. For instance, when he is trying to look good in front of your mother, you can very effusively respond, "Oh, you are such a sweet brother to offer me some of your ice cream. Isn't he just the greatest, Mom? Thank you so much! I would take you up on it but I'm just so full from mine." This makes it hard for him to say you are upset with him and for your mother to insist on you proving that you aren't.

Also, your mom seems to be in a co-dependent relationship with your brother and trying to put you in that same role. She responds to "neediness." So, again, manipulation can help her be more responsive to you. I don't mean that you should pretend to be "needy" but you can use words to that effect. Such as, "Mom, it seems we don't talk much anymore. I really NEED you."

Unfortunately, I'm sorry to say, there is only so much you can do. You don't get the family of origin you would like to have. Instead, sometimes the best you can do is to recognize it for what it is so that you don't repeat it in the family you choose to have in the future.

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