Passive-aggressive behavior is defined as the indirect expression of hostility, rejection, insecurity, jealousy, or unfairness such as through procrastination, sarcasm, cancelling plans, coming home late, stubbornness, sullenness, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible for. When someone is passive aggressive they are not wanting or they dont know how to communicate their feelings directly. Here are 4 pointers to work effectively with the passive aggressive person in your life.
1. Call it out for what it is, naming a behavior disarms the impact of that behavior. With Passive-aggressive behavior there is a fear and avoidance of direct conflict, while a feeling of powerlessness and helplessness remains. According to Scott Wetzler, Ph.D., vice chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center, “The big thing here is to recognize the phenomenon, the behavior, for what it is — to see it as a kind of hostility and not be fooled by the innocuousness, the sugar-coatedness of it,”
2. Set Limits and Be Assertive. The truth is, we teach people how to treat us. If we continually accept maltreatment, we will get more maltreatment. We need to muster up the courage to confront passive aggressive behavior, call it for what it is, and set limits with that behavior. Example- if your friend repeatedly breaks plans with you, make other plans vs. staying home and waiting for that person to come around. Your limits are only good to the extent that you maintain them. Assertiveness is like a muscle, we need to practice it in order to build it. If you struggle with being assertive, when you first start, you will feel very insecure, awkward, and silly. Embrace these feelings as evidence that your growing your assertiveness muscle vs giving up on it because it’s too hard or uncomfortable.
3. Talk Specifically Not Generally about Behaviors. When you communicate refrain from using “all or never statements” These statements create defensiveness because the reality is people rarely “always or never” do anything. When you communicate, be clear and concise about the passive aggressive behavior. Say something like; “When you did __________ I felt _________. Instead of doing _________ can you do _________ next time.
4. Behavior is Everything. Evaluate the quality of your relationships by the persons’ behaviors, not by their words. Words can sometimes manipulate, charm, deceive and cause confusion because the persons words are not in agreement with their behaviors.
For more information on passive aggression, there is an excellent article on Psychology Today here. If you would like help with developing assertiveness skills or with working on your own passive aggressive tendencies, please call us at 720-204-8747 and set up a consultation today!
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