Ever found yourself relating with a friend, partner, or family member who won’t outright express their feelings?
Yet through hidden actions they expect you to understand them and change your behavior in response?
This is how the passive-aggressive personality type works.
Through sarcasm, hostility, backhanded compliments, procrastination, and avoiding direct communication this person may even play the victim to instigate a change in you. It does not feel good or right to be treated this way. It is also easy to step in and join them in the game, which only eggs them on to take it up a notch. With this kind of relating, problems are not solved and a rift in the relationship can be imminent.
What can you do to expose this pattern of behavior and stop the vicious cycle? A person who consistently acts in passive-aggressive ways avoids direct confrontation and gives indirect resistance. To address the pattern and lead them out oftentimes requires a bit of finesse. But first you must realize when it is happening.
A person is being passive-aggressive when they deliberately communicate with covert behavior. They may use their tone to express a meaning that differs from their words. They may give you the silent treatment. When you make a request of them they may procrastinate or give excuses.
When you notice these actions remember that they are expressions of hidden anger. Remember that reacting to this form of communication will simply stir up their emotions further. What you must do is choose a thoughtful response.
Take a deep breath and stay calm.
2. Shine a little light on it.
With a non-emotional tone of voice say something like, “From your body language it seems as if you are angry with me. I’d like to hear your thoughts.” A passive-aggressive person has perfected their method of avoiding confrontation to create a shield of protection. By being the first to point out the elephant in the room, and by doing so in a non-judgmental way, you form a safe space for them to come out and share what is really going on. Yet even so, it may take more than this. Many times they are not yet ready and will blow you off saying they are “just fine.”
3. Be prepared for this denial.
Don’t be surprised if they don’t want to face their emotions and talk about it with you. The goal is to let them know, however subtly, that you know what is going on. The goal is to bring to light the hidden anger that they have carried for so long. Go ahead and accept the denial in the moment. You don’t want to pry or force it out of them. Acknowledging the anger goes a long way to communicate that you are aware, attentive, and willing to do what it takes to move past this harmful pattern.