How to Deal with Passive-Aggressive People

by | Aug 12, 2014

The trouble with passive-aggression is that both the giver and the receiver often have no idea what’s really going on. In other words, the person who’s passive-aggressive (P-A) may know he hates conflict, may know he’s feeling a little angry and may know he’s covering it up. But he doesn’t register how rancorous he really feels.

The person who’s the object of the P-A’s anger may never know what hit him because the rancor is well disguised. Consequently these incidents go largely unacknowledged for what they really are—hostility.

If you love a passive-aggressive person, you are probably making excuses for him on a regular basis. “Oh he can’t help procrastinating, he’s got so much on his plate.” In truth, he procrastinates finishing the job you need to make you suffer. He never wanted to do it in the first place. Or, you defend his disturbing joke with something like this: “He’s such a kidder.” Really, the joke was not funny at all. Instead, it was thinly veiled hostility.

Identify hostile behavior.

There’s that word again. Hostility. Once you realize the root of your loved one’s passive-aggressive behavior is hostility, you can begin to deal with the problem. The first thing to do is stop making excuses for him. After all, he’s really behaved in a hostile way toward you. And you’ve probably let him have his way without calling him on it. Perhaps for years. Now is the time to acknowledge that while the hostility is not overt, it’s there, and maybe even more damaging than obvious anger. So what can you do?

Tell him the truth and consequences.

When a P-A is late and causes you to wait, or procrastinates, and puts your project in jeopardy, don’t let him get away with it. Be open and honest enough to let him know that he’s inconvenienced you. Repeatedly. Let him know that if he does this again you won’t wait for him. Let him know that if he procrastinates you’ll get someone else to partner with on your project. And then follow through and do it.

Call him on his dishonesty.

If your passive-aggressive mate tells you he supports your efforts to diet, and then fills the fridge with ice cream and cookies, you know one thing. He actually does not support your diet. Actions speak louder than words, and in this case, the P-A is not telling you the truth when he speaks. He is sabotaging you. You need to tell him so in an assertive and respectful way. You may not be able to change his behavior, but at least you have brought the issue out into the open.

When you confront a P-A with the truth about his behavior, you may also point out that it’s often just as detrimental to him as it is to you. When he expresses his anger in an unhealthy way, sometimes it causes even more conflict—the one thing passive-aggressives find so difficult to tolerate. When he sweeps an unpleasant issue under the rug, it really doesn’t hide the problem—it only prolongs it. Being straightforward with him about his behavior can help you both.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here:



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