Have you ever known someone who seems all nice and pleasant on the outside, but who you often go away from with a funny, uncertain, insecure or kind of ick feeling?
You leave their presence asking yourself “what just happened? I feel all kinds of no good, but I can’t directly put my finger on what was said or done… all seemed pleasant on the surface, but something was just not right.” And then you start to question yourself and wonder if it’s you who’s being weird and not them.
But I’m here to tell you, sometimes it’s them. Not always, you may have your own stuff that’s getting in the way and making you feel weird, but when it’s not your stuff and you go away feeling weird and emotionally disturbed in some way you can’t quite put your finger on, it’s them.
And it’s because they are being passive aggressive.
It’s not that they are bad people, though. Passive aggressive behaviour comes from a fear of speaking ones true feelings of anger, irritation, hurt, or frustration for a number of good reasons we won’t go into right now.
It’s like this: instead of telling you how I’m really feeling, and risk you rejecting, ignoring or criticizing me for it, I’m not going to overtly tell you, but you will feel it. Yes, you will feel it.
Because, I am actually being aggressive. But I’m doing it in a passive way so that we don’t have to face or deal with what’s really going on, or, heaven forbid, have an honest, and potentially uncomfortable or difficult conversation.
So what are some ways people show their passive aggressive behaviour?
Saying yes, when they really want to say no, and then never really getting around to that thing they said they’d do.
Intentionally doing a half-assed job:
Again, saying yes, when they want to say no, and doing the absolute bare minimum in order to both stick it to you, and to protect themselves from a direct reprimand. “But I did what you asked… see??”
Pretending not to see, hear, or understand:
You know, when that person says, “Ohhhh sorry, I didn’t understand what you were talking about so I couldn’t do it for you. Shoot.”
The silent treatment or sulking:
This is so you feel sorry for them, they become the victim so they don’t have to take any ownership or responsibility for what they did or didn’t do.
AKA Throwing you under the bus when they are hurt or pissed off instead of actually addressing their issue with you.
Insulting you and then laughing:
Giving an underhanded dig and then laughing or chucking, so if you call them on it, they’re like “What?? It was just a joke! Don’t be so sensitive!” I know someone who does this one SO well. Drives me bonkers.
Guilt trips: Need I say more?
So what do we do about it when it’s happening? Okay. Here are three things:
1. Don’t get pulled in:
Before getting all worked up and kerfuffled with the person for not being able to be open and honest with you, identify what is happening and realize they actually may not feel free enough to be honest. Likely because there is something deeper going inside which is keeping them from feeling safe enough to be open and clear.
2. Call it out! But in a respectful way:
If you get all in a flap and start accusing or criticising the person they are definitely NOT going to feel safe enough to be real with you. Try something like “I get the feeling this has put you off, or made you angry, or annoyed, upset, frustrated, hurt you… etc. let’s talk about it.”
3. Expect and accept denial:
Even when you are a super respectful, mature, and enlightened communicator, if the person has the passive aggressive thing bad it can cause them to feel too freaked out to acknowledging in any way shape or form how they are really and honestly feeling. And thus, they may avoid it like the plague.
They may say something like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about?? Why are YOU getting so worked up?” and you’re like, oh my gosh, seriously? Me??
So just leave it. Pushing the issue will likely not help. Try saying “okay, but let me know later if there’s something you want to talk about.”
Passive aggressive behaviour is SO hard to take and it really doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end. But we can get better at dealing with it and not letting ourselves get completely pulled in by the covert drama of it all.
If you enjoyed this, please do share it. And if you do, let me know so I can thank you!
I’m Julia Kristina MA, RCC, an I’m a CBT, Mindfulness, and Positive Psychology registered (aka licensed) therapist and life coach out of Vancouver BC.
If you’d like to work with me 1:1 I do in-person sessions from my office in downtown Vancouver, or virtually to any where in the world via SKYPE.
I specializes in working with and treating successful professionals who find themselves feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, or even depressed and don’t want to be feeling that way. I help people find balance and happiness in their lives, and meaningful connection in their relationships. I’m also available for speaking engagements and workshop facilitation. To add to it all, I blog, I scope and I watch “Friends” re-reruns while I’m making supper. You can read and see more from me on my Good For Me Blog