Excel At Life--Dedicated to the Pursuit of Excellence in Life, Relationships, Sports and Career
CBT Jealousy Depression Relationships Conflict Self-efficacy Happiness Goal-setting Motivation Wellness Sport Psych

Popular Articles

Crazy-Makers: Dealing with Passive-Aggressive People

Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

When You Have Been Betrayed

Struggling to Forgive: An Inability to Grieve

Happy Habits: 50 Suggestions

The Secret of Happiness: Let It Find You (But Make the Effort)

Excellence vs. Perfection

Depression is Not Sadness

20 Steps to Better Self-Esteem

7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People

What to Do When Your Jealousy Threatens to Destroy Your Marriage

Happiness is An Attitude

Guide to How to Set Achieveable Goals

Catastrophe? Or Inconvenience?

Popular Audios

Panic Assistance

Motivational Audios

Mindfulness Training

Rational Thinking

Relaxation for Children

Loving Kindness Meditation

Self-Esteem Exercise

Lies You Were Told

Choosing Happiness

Audio Version of Article: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People

Audio Version of Article: Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

Audio Version of Article: Happiness Is An Attitude

All Audio Articles



Previous        Next

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

Mother's "Helpful" Criticism

Question: Mother upon seeing outfit daughter was wearing to work: You know why Hillary Clinton wears pants? Because she has those cankles, right? She is smart. (pause) You shouldn't wear your skirts that short either. You can't help it if you are built like your grandmother but you should wear your skirts longer to cover more of your legs. I am only trying to HELP you since you look very nice but you would look better if you wore your dresses longer...

Daughter: Are you saying I have cankles MA??

Mother: NO! Where do you get this stuff? I was only pointing out that you have legs like your grandmother and you can't help it if they are sorta bowed..


Mother: No one said you did - where do you get this? You are constantly over-reacting! I was only pointing out that you look better in longer length skirts!

Response: This is a classic passive-aggressive (PA) example because it shows the escalation, blame, and denial. As I indicated in the “Crazy-Makers” article, the purpose of PA behavior is to attack without having to be responsible. In fact, this example uses the all-too-common “I am only trying to help” which is not only denying responsibility but attempting to appear benevolent which sets the daughter up for the final attack of “you are over-reacting.” In other words, the guilt-inducing message is “All I'm doing is trying to help you and you are just unreasonable.”

Now on Kindle! Dr. Frank's articles on handling passive-aggressive people. Tap to purchase on Amazon for $2.99
So we have the sequence of events starting with criticism disguised as help, denial when confronted regarding the criticism, an escalation of emotions by the victim of the attack, and finally, blaming the victim. This type of PA attacker is very skilled so that any confrontation can be deflected back and blamed on the victim.

Therefore, it is important for the daughter to remain calm. As soon as she starts to respond to the criticism and argue back, the mother has achieved her purpose which is to criticize but not have to be responsible for being hurtful. Once the daughter becomes emotional, the mother can place the blame for the conflict on her.

In addition, the daughter needs to keep in mind that she can't change her mother's behavior but that she has control of her own. The only way her mother doesn't win this conflict is if the daughter doesn't get emotionally involved. However, that doesn't mean she can't express her emotions. It just means that it needs to be done in a way that places the responsibility with her mother.

For example:
Daughter: It hurts my feelings when you criticize my outfit.

Mother: I'm just trying to help!

Daughter: I'm letting you know that the way you are trying to help hurts my feelings.

Mother: You are just over-reacting!

Daughter: I may be over-reacting but I'm letting you know that you are hurting me. So if you continue, I will assume that is your intention.

If the mother still doesn't stop, the daughter can set a consequence. For example, she can refuse to continue to talking about it (but do this calmly): “I will not discuss this any further.”

If this is done calmly and repeatedly whenever the mother makes such comments, it is likely to reduce the comments because it confronts the mother in a way that doesn't allow her to retreat as easily behind denial and blame.

Notice that I'm using several techniques in this response. One technique is ignoring the bait and not becoming emotional. The second technique is using a broken record of repetition “You are hurting me.” The third technique is agreeing rather than arguing: “I may be over-reacting.” This last technique is particularly useful when the PA person wants to start an argument and then blame the victim. So the technique is to agree so as not to become distracted from your point: “You are hurting me.”

By the way, direct confrontation of the behavior such as telling the PA person that they are PA will only escalate the conflict which the PA person is almost always sure to win. It is best to take an approach as described above and be consistent.

Previous        Next


Questions and Comments

All comments and questions require approval so you may not see your submission immediately.

Provide Example of Passive-Aggressive Behavior.  Any comments or information you share may be used for future articles.  However, identifying information will not be used:

Message.  Provide an example of a passive-aggressive encounter you have had so suggestions can be provided on this site regarding how to handle such situations.

Enter email address (optional).
Your email address will not be shared or used in any way other than how you specify:

Kindle Books by
Dr. Monica Frank

Recent Articles

Analyzing Your Moods, Symptoms, and Events with Excel At Life's Mood Log

Why You Get Anxious When You Don't Want To

Why People Feel Grief at the Loss of an Abusive Spouse or Parent

“Are You Depressed?”: Understanding Diagnosis and Treatment

15 Coping Statements for Panic and Anxiety

Beyond Tolerating Emotions: Becoming Comfortable with Discomfort

Emotion Training: What is it and How Does it Work?

How You Can Be More Resistant to Workplace Bullying

Are You Passive Aggressive and Want to Change?

When Your Loved One Refuses Help

Newest Audios

Building Blocks Emotion Training

Hot Springs Relaxation

5 Methods to Managing Anger

Panic Assistance While Driving

Autogenic Relaxation Training

Rainbow Sandbox Mindfulness

Mindfulness Training