Have you ever felt someone is upset with you but you don’t know why?
Have you second guessed your behaviour attempting to work out what you did ‘wrong’?
Or perhaps felt guilty for something that isn’t really your responsibility or you didn’t even know about?
Sure, maybe it’s time to clear some negative beliefs and emotions, that’s always a great option.
Or just maybe . . .
You’re on the receiving end of PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE behaviour!!
And you need to take a new approach.
Why would someone be Passive Aggressive?
Usually it is because they feel powerless, stuck or resentful.
Instead of simply communicating their needs and wants, they do one or more of the following behaviours:
- Refuse to communicate
- Deny there is a problem to you but complain to others about you
- Delay important decisions or actions even when they have time
- Have body language that doesn’t match feelings, like smiling when angry
- Covertly sabotage you
- Pretend to agree with you and then do the opposite behind your back
- Constantly run late
- Communicate abruptly
- Be cynical, sarcastic or sullen
- Make jokes at your expense then say: ‘I was only joking.’
- Give backhanded compliments that are either patronising or put you down
This can be very frustrating.
You can find your self thinking:
‘Why don’t you just tell me what’s wrong. It would be so much easier!!!!’
And then all of a sudden you feel angry YOURSELF!
This can make the whole situation worse!
Before you know it you’re having sleepless nights . . .
But you decide it’s all in your head.
Or even your fault but you don’t know why.
Then THEIR behaviour gets worse.
Now you start avoiding them.
Oh NO. You’ve just become Passive Aggressive YOURSELF!
It truly is a lose/lose situation.
And all the time you feel controlled and powerless and don’t know why.
You can even look like the ‘baddy’ but you were not the initial cause.
It really is pretty crazy making.
(Which is why, if you happen to be the one who is being Passive Aggressive, it’s best to come clean and just tell the other person what’s bothering you.
Just ensure you do this in an ‘I Focused’ manner, while taking full responsibility for your part.)
What is the deeper reason behind Passive Aggressive Behaviour?
The reason some people don’t communicate openly is because they fear rejection, abandonment or reprisal.
Or they fear hurting, rejecting or disappointing you.
It can also be a habit of communication they learnt from their parents or culture.
The problem is . . .
When someone agrees to something they don’t want to do, there is ALWAYS resentment.
And resentment builds and leaks out, even when suppressed.
When someone does not tell the truth of who they are, it destroys emotional intimacy.
Because loved ones don’t really know who they are!
And let’s face it, you can’t have a deeply, profound relationship with someone you don’t know.
It also eats away at self-esteem, trust and love for both parties.
And unfortunately, it’s really common.
Most people don’t know what to do about it.
So they self-pacify by escaping into social media, technology and work.
What can you do about it?
It is really important when faced with someone’s Passive Aggressive behaviour, that you don’t end up doing it back!
The best approach is to be really honest, gently ‘call it out’ and say how it is affecting you.
Something simple is usually best:
‘You seem upset to me. I am concerned it is something I’ve done. And I don’t know if that’s true or what it might be. I’d really love to find some time to talk because I’m starting to feel anxious about it.’
- Sometimes people will admit it.
- Sometimes people will deny it.
- Sometimes it’s nothing to do with you and there is some other explanation.
- Sometimes people will turn it back on you.
Whatever the outcome at least you have been honest and empowered.
You can now measure how mature the other person is by their response and make some decisions about what you want to do next.
What are the common responses?
- A good person, who loves you and is mature, will want to talk about it and your relationship will go to another level of depth, trust and vulnerability. This is truly an amazing outcome and worth the effort.
- An unaware, immature person will deny it, even when it’s true. But at least you have given them something to think about and the behaviour is less likely to escalate because, on some level, they know they have been caught out.
- Sometimes someone is upset about something else and has been taking it out on you. At least now they are aware of it and you can get to the bottom of what is happening. They are also less likely to take it out on you in the future.
- Sometimes someone is very manipulative and just wants to mess with your head. They will turn it back on you. But at least now, you have their measure and can decide if you still want to spend time with them.
Remember that manipulative people rely on you blaming yourself, instead of seeing who THEY are and what THEY are doing.
By being honest you just saved yourself a lot of time and heartache.
You also just stopped being their Patsy (someone who is easily deceived, manipulated and taken advantage of) because you were empowered enough to call it out.
But remember Passive Aggressive behaviour is really common, even with really GOOD people.
In many cultures and eras it was the norm because many people had to do what someone else told them, to survive.
And they were much more dependant on others than we are now.
So before we get all judgemental about others, we need to remember that:
We have all done Passive Aggressive behaviour at some point!
We have all done things we don’t want to do, felt resentful and blamed someone else.
We have all avoided difficult, emotional conversations.
We have all felt angry with someone and then ‘tried’ to suppress it or deny we have any anger at all!
Even if we have ‘tried’ to blame ourselves instead . . .
We are still being Passive Aggressive and it will still lead to resentment because the situation is not resolved.
In fact, sometimes people blame themselves to AVOID difficult conversations with others!
In the end, if the relationship is valuable to you, it is worth giving both of you a chance to work it out and understand each other more deeply.
The key is not: never doing Passive Aggressive behaviour.
We have all had times when we get grumpy and don’t want to talk about it!
We have all had moments when we blame others because we can’t get our big girl or boy pants on!
The key is:
- How long do we indulge in it for? A minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year . . . forever?
- Can we catch it? Or is it always up to someone else to be brave?
- Do we take responsibility for rectifying it with honest, open communication? Or do we hold onto our resentments, blame others and expect them to guess what is upsetting us?
If we do communicate, can we:
- Use ‘I focused’ statements?
- Take responsibility for our part?
- And STILL communicate our feelings, including our fears and frustrations?
Then can we hold the emotional space when the other person responds?
Remember they may be really shocked by our revelation and frustrated too.
They may wonder why communication didn’t happen earlier.
They may wonder what else you’ve been keeping from them and if you actually love and trust them.
They may be triggered by their own fears of not being good enough or abandonment.
They may feel really insecure because they thought all was good between you and now they find out that wasn’t true.
It is important to know that these are all normal responses.
The best thing to do is to validate for them for the other person. You don’t need to be defensive or argue back.
Because in fact it’s actually fair enough.
Once you allow these feelings to be aired and listened to, they usually settle down.
Then there is space to realise that you both love and care about each other.
That in actual fact the whole problem has been about self-esteem, self-worth, self-love and communication, usually for both parties, and nothing more.
The beauty is, honest and deep communication actually raises self-esteem and self-love, increases emotional intelligence and deepens trust.
It also allows both parties to be empowered, have choice and move into solution focused, creative problem solving conversations.
These are all significant keys to great relationships with others and also within.
If someone never wants to engage in honest conversation, it maybe worth rethinking the relationship and the time you spend with that person.
And during all of this remember:
- All relationships reflect something within ourselves.
- It isn’t about never having a problem. It’s about what we do when problems arise.
- It is worth the effort because when we surround ourselves with loving relationship with others, we love the relationship with ourselves more!
And most important of all, it’s best to be honest with ourselves and others.
It’s always OK to have your own needs and be self-loving.
Just ensure you communicate that to others in a loving way, so they also have choices.
If someone loves you, they want what’s best for you too, they want you to be happy and empowered as well.
So don’t sacrifice yourself for love, instead communicate and find loving, creative, win/win solutions.
In the end this is best for all.
It’s never fun to be around someone who is martyring themselves.
But it’s always inspiring to be around people who can communicate lovingly and authentically.