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How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

Rujuta Borkar Nov 24, 2018
Let's understand the intricate and complicated subject of dealing with passive aggressive people and what it involves.
How to deal with passive aggressive people. It is not everyday that we hear this statement. Many of you might not even be aware of what passive aggressive behavior means, let alone know how to deal with it.
I'd like to state an excerpt from the novel 'The God of Small Things' by Arundhati Roy (which won the Booker Prize in 1997) at this point of time, that which will make what passive aggressive behavior is pretty clear and thereby open up the path to understanding it and dealing with it effectively.
In her growing years, Ammu had watched her father weave his hideous web. He was charming and urbane with visitors, and stopped just short of fawning on them if they happened to be white. He donated money to orphanages and leprosy clinics. He worked hard on his public profile as a sophisticated, generous, moral man.
But alone with his wife and children he turned into a monstrous, suspicious bully, with a streak of vicious cunning. They were beaten, humiliated and then made to suffer the envy of friends and relations for having such a wonderful husband and father.

The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
Chapter 8, Page No. 86.

What it Involves

That is exactly what passive aggressive people are like. A different person to the world and a different person to you. The very term passive aggressive goes to show that they aren't outwardly aggressive, but have a passive manner of showing their aggressive traits.
Aggressive behavior becomes easy to decipher and deal with because it's out there for everyone to see, but when it is the question of passive aggressive traits in behavior, many times, the mere detection of it becomes impossible.
Why? Because it combines completely opposing concepts to make a personality trait. Passive meaning someone who is calm and composed and genial with all, and aggressive meaning someone who is not afraid of showing anger or other unpleasant emotions to get their way around things. Now combine the two.
A very twisted personality trait. A passive aggressive personality is someone who will portray that he/she wants to comply with all you say but will resist it in varied degrees by using underhanded means.
They cannot say 'no' and therefore they use manipulations and other subtle ways to resist what you ask of them. But they do it in such a way that you can never pinpoint and accuse them, because to your face they are always good, showing no signs of resistance or aggression.
But in reality, they have in them suppressed negative behavior and aggression which they then show in indirect ways. This personality trait comes about due to the fact that they cannot exhibit resentment in a direct, healthy way that is acceptable to everyone. Therefore, it only festers and goes on to create this personality trait.

The Varied Traits

Let's understand this better by giving some examples and key traits of passive aggressive behavior and people who exhibit it:
  • They hate responsibilities and try to avoid them by using selective forgetting as a means to shirking away responsibilities.
  • They overlook deadlines and procrastinate their work, without a consideration for those who depend on them. This is done because they like working on their own schedule.
  • They will always delay others and never be on time. This is done because they want others to wait for them.
  • They blame others for what goes wrong in their lives. They hold others responsible and want them to be punished for it as well.
  • They often compare themselves to those who are more fortunate than them and begrudge them their happiness.
  • They complain of being unappreciated and misunderstood by others.
  • They unreasonably criticize authority figures and people.
  • They often complain in highly exaggerated tones of how unfortunate they are.
  • They hate dependency on and intimacy with others and therefore they rake up fights to keep a distance and create a void. They often lose trust in the people they love.
  • They convince themselves that they are victims of oppression and that everyone is out to get them. If this behavior irks people, they get even more offensive.

This personality type is also known as a negativistic personality disorder.

Dealing with this Behavior

It is only when one knows what passive aggressive behavior is that it will be possible to learn how to deal with people who exhibit it.

Understand that it's a 'Behavior'

The first thing that you need to understand is that it is their personality. That which is not a mere response to something but something that they've acquired and has become inbuilt in the very way in which they behave.
It might never really be possible for them to ever change and that is something that you have to be prepared for. Therefore, it becomes imperative that you choose your battles well.

Calling It

The best approach to deal with passive aggressive people is to call them on their behavior. Be direct, straightforward, and blunt with them. Do not let them get to you with their subtle traits of playing the nice guy. 
This involves calling them when they are playing the victim or the guy who withholds affection to punish you. But it comes because of poor self-image, so try to build that by praising them for their good points and assuring them that you won't deserve them. But again, do not let them trample you with that. Have a clear idea of what you want and get it.

Communicating Feelings

The worst thing that you can do in this situation is to spare his/her feelings. What you need to do instead is that every time they do something to disappoint you like 'forgetting' or getting delayed, tell them that their behavior has hurt you and that you won't stand for it.
Do not take to a passive aggressive approach yourself where you realize that nothing affects and therefore you begin to bottle up emotions and then blow them over at minor things. That will never solve issues.

Building Confidence

People with this personality trait have very low self-confidence and that is why they shirk away from responsibilities. They'll let you take all the decisions and then one day turn around and say that you control everything.
The way to deal with this is that you encourage them to take decisions. This will help build their confidence and they'll be more comfortable with taking charge of things. During this time he/she might try to shirk away by refusing to do it or doing something that he knows you don't like. Keep calling them on it.
The passive aggressive personality disorder is common. There's no doubt that understanding them in order to deal with them is not easy. Understanding layers of their personality and deciphering what they are, to read through the layers of deceit and manipulation takes skill.
Which of course only comes about if you've experienced it or observed it. But once you know that you're dealing with this personality trait, dealing with them becomes relatively less difficult. Not easy, but less difficult.