Be Assertive, not Passive-Aggressive

I did a lot of reading on recognizing and working through passive aggressive behavior and found many good resources in general (not just for the personality disordered).

“Individuals with PAPD experience an undercurrent of perpetual inner turmoil and anxiety. They appear unable to manage their moods, thoughts, and desires internally which results in emotional instability. They suffer a range of intense and conflicting emotions that surge quickly to the surface due to weak controls and lack of self-discipline. They have few unconscious processes they can employ to manage their feelings which emerge into behavior unconcealed, untransformed, and unmoderated. Without self-management skills, PAPD affect tends to be expressed in a pure and direct form, no matter what the consequences (Millon, 1981, p. 256).”

People act in Passive-Aggressive ways because they fear abandonment and rejection. They are afraid that if they express their dissatisfaction, than the other person will take offense, and leave. Or get angry. Or lash back. It all boils down to fear.

Fear is something that we all share. However it is not something that should rule our lives or our actions.

Sharing a common understanding of the origins of this behavior can provide a basis for understanding one another. When we look at it from this perspective, that we share something in common, we can begin to work through these issues together.

How can I confront a passive aggressive person?
If others are being passive aggressive with me I can:
* point out the behavior that indicates passive aggressiveness on their part.
* point out the inconsistency between their words and actions.
* pay attention to their actions rather than their words, then give them feedback as to what their actions tell me about their feelings.
* ask for their true feelings reassuring them that there are no right or wrong feelings, and that it is OK to share negative feelings.
* ask them what has them so intimidated that they fear sharing their feelings with me.
* reassure them that we can reach a “win-win” solution in our communication if we are willing to compromise.
* defuse the competition in our relationship. It doesn’t matter “what” we are discussing as long as we respect how each of us “feels” about what we are discussing.
* remain open to any negative feelings they have and let them know this.
* begin to trust what they “do” rather than what they “say” and let them know that I am doing this.
* make myself more accessible to them.

First you need to find the causes of passive aggression. Passive aggressive behavior is usually based upon fear, resentment or flat-out anger. In order to manage passive aggressive behavior, these feelings and emotions need to be identified and addressed.

Talk it Out. In many cases, passive aggression is not the result of a personality disorder or mental illness, though it obviously can be. Passive aggression is usually the result of a lack of communication between people and deep-seated feelings of fear and resentment that have grown slowly over time. This can be exacerbated in the Personality Disordered person, which means that more than anyone, they need someone who is willing to listen to them.  If these behaviors are not worked on when they first appear, the passive aggressive person may see passive aggression as a solution to avoiding responsibility and could employ these tactics in all aspects of life. Counseling is often helpful, however, a passive aggressive person may just need the opportunity to get something off his/her chest. Passive aggression is usually the result of unexpressed anger or hostility and many of the passive aggressive behaviors may lessen or disappear if the individual is encouraged to express these frustrations in a meaningful and productive way. Not a hurtful and spiteful way!

So how do you do this?

– Avoid using language and actions that mirror the passive-aggressive behavior of the other person. Engaging in “competition” only provokes the pattern further and will place additional strain on the situation. Doing “battle” with a passive-aggressive also can result in your own unhealthy mental state and can substantiate the difficult actions of the other person. A passive-aggressive person fears confrontation and will be increasingly cautious about self-expression if they view you as an opponent.

– Create a safe and comfortable environment. Allow the person to know you are committed to a functional relationship (whatever sort that may be). Speak tactfully, and noncoercively about goals you have for the relationship. Encourage them to express themselves by simply making them feel at-ease.

– State your feelings directly and assertively if they continues to exhibit the behavior. Sit down and clearly explain that these actions are not acceptable. Assert your own emotions, be open about your beliefs and do not let the other persons behavior affect your own personal choices.

In other words, don’t be a doormat, but don’t be a douchebag either.

How to Deal With Passive Aggressive Behavior

– Choose not to reward the passive aggressive behavior. Do not treat a passive aggressive person like a victim. Instead, recognize the passive aggressive behavior for what it is and refuse to “do the dance” with a passive aggressive person. Do not allow the passive aggressive person to push your buttons to get you feeling sorry for her. Only you can choose to allow a passive aggressive person to control the choices you make.

– Be direct with the passive aggressive person. When a passive aggressive person mistreats you, speak to the person about the behavior in a direct manner. For example, if your passive aggressive friend says she will help you with a task but shows up an hour late and sulking, tell your friend that nobody forced her to help out. If she does not want to do something, then she can just say so. Tell her that you would rather she just say no than be unreliable.

– Resist the urge to rise to the bait. Passive aggressive people will often try to get you to do something for them by dropping big hints rather than just asking you directly. Choose not to reward this behavior and act as if you don’t “get it” until the person asks you a direct question.

::laughs:: I do #3 all the time. In my mind it seems like if I hint at something, and someone else picks up on it and offers me what I want, then I’m not pushing them into an uncomfortable situation. I don’t want them to be in a position where they have to say no, or feel obligated just because I’ve asked. So if I hint at it, they have the opportunity to say nothing if it’s not what they want to do and there’s no uncomfortable feelings to deal with for them. Maybe my thinking this way is completely wrong. Hm.

If I find myself being passive aggressive, how can I correct this?
To avoid being passive aggressive with others, I can:
* try to be assertive, open and honest with my negative feelings or anger.
* warn people to “read” my behavior rather than my words if they want to know my feelings.
* confront myself with my inconsistent behavior and challenge myself to explain it.
* take the risk to confront my anger assertively and “on the spot” so that I can bring my behavior in line with my feelings.
* work at making my behavior consistent with my feelings.
* change the way I interact with people and make my relationships more honest.
* admit that I have been a liar.
* work at being more honest with people even if it results in a conflict.
* identify the irrational thinking that prevents me from confronting people when I am angry.
* learn how to become assertive with my negative feelings.
* accept that it is OK to have conflict and disagreement.
* learn to compromise and come to a “win-win” solution.
I found an exercise for how to change Passive Aggressive Behavior