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Managing Passive-Aggressive Attacks by Those You Love

Do you feel like a friend or family member has unexpressed anger? Or maybe they tend to make a lot of sarcastic jokes or say nasty comments under their breath. They may say yes to a lot of people and then grow resentful when they have to fulfill their obligations to them. Worst of all, these individuals are prone to spontaneous outbursts after holding in their anger and making frequent passive-aggressive comments. They typically take out their rage on loved ones and those who know them best.

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At the same time, these individuals have a lot of good qualities. They are fun to be around, thoughtful, and intelligent. You want to maintain a relationship with them but feel helpless when it comes to their passive-aggressiveness. How do you handle this type of situation?

How to Identify Passive-Aggressive Behavior

It can be hard to identify whether someone is being passive-aggressive or just mean. Passive-aggressive individuals have a difficult time expressing their emotions. They may have grown up in an environment where they were not allowed to express their feelings, or where passive-aggressive behavior was modeled to them. Rather than deal directly with a problem, they act in a way that veils their true intentions or rage.

This is simply a coping mechanism. They are insecure and afraid of losing control. They cannot ask for things assertively, or tell those around them how they feel. Their passive-aggressiveness is simply the best way they know how to communicate. They may even be aware of their tendency to use passive-aggressiveness but are unsure of how to stop.

An example of passive-aggressive behavior may be someone who makes sarcastic jokes or regularly complains about his work. But when it comes time to talk to their boss about something important, they act very nice complimentary. They may spread rumors or cause unnecessary disruption. For example, a mother asks her husband to take out the trash. He is angry with her for other reasons. Rather than express his anger about those issues, he simply stops taking out the trash.

The problem with passive-aggressiveness is that the underlying problem never gets resolved. It can cause discord between married couples, in relationships, at work, and among friends. It is a very negative and childish way of dealing with a problem, but it is not typically done on purpose. The individual simply knows no other way to handle a problem or deal with his/her emotions.

Tips to Handle Passive-Aggressiveness

Here are some best practices you can put in place today to handle someone’s passive-aggressive attitude:

· Identify Behavior: Recognize the passive-aggressive behavior for what it is. Don’t take it personally, as you probably aren’t the first one the individual has acted this way towards. Make a point to deal with it immediately rather than put it off, or it will only get worse.

· Be a Safe Person to Talk To: Talk to the loved one honestly and openly. Ask what is bothering them and call them out for passive-aggressive behavior. Say that you are there to listen and understand what is going on, but you will not be a doormat for rude behavior. This will help the person feel more comfortable opening up and expressing their feelings.

· Use Precise Language: Rather than talk about passive-aggressiveness and how it is affecting you, point out direct examples of when their language hurt your feelings or impacted you in some way. Use “I” messages rather than “You” as the latter can make people defensive.

· Set Boundaries: if someone continues to use this type of behavior, you must establish certain boundaries. The type of boundaries you set will depend on the nature of the relationship.

· Ask for Help: Living or dealing with someone who is passive-aggressive can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. Ask for help from a qualified therapist who can teach you better coping mechanisms.

Do you struggle with passive-aggressive tendencies, or do you know someone who is passive-aggressive? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.

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