Passive-aggressive behavior is the expression of negative or hostile feelings in an indirect manner. In its extreme it is a form of emotional abuse. Many narcissists use this type of behavior as their primary communication tool because they are deeply insecure, angry, and terrified of direct conflict. Dealing with passive-aggressive people is crazy-making. No one’s needs are adequately being met and because communication is covert, you often can’t put your finger on why it makes you feel so frustrated and upset. Passive-Aggressive behavior presents in these key ways:
- Silent treatment – this is designed to punish the victim for setting boundaries and expectations and also used as an avoidance tool to prevent direct communication about feelings and conflict
- Sarcasm – criticisms and put-downs are veiled as sarcasm with the hope that the victim won’t catch on to what’s happening. This also elevates the narcissist’s sense of self-importance.
- Failure to meet customary expectations – passive-aggressive people are notorious for habitually running late, failing to follow through on a simple request that they already agreed to, or not following basic etiquette. They will have many excuses for why they should be forgiven or an exception should be made for them.
- Deliberate procrastination – an example of this is failing to make a travel reservation until it’s too late as a way to sabotage the event
- Withholding intimacy or praise – again, this is designed to punish the victim for having their own needs and also sends a message that they are unworthy
- Complaints about injustice and lack of fair treatment – passive-aggressive people tend to blame the rest of the world for their problems and have an extremely difficult time with accountability
Attempting to have a healthy relationship with a passive-aggressive individual is often a losing battle. Being too lenient, and over looking or forgiving their behavior is the worst thing that you can do. Here are some tips to better manage the interactions:
- Make sure you label the behavior for what it is: a dysfunctional and at times abusive display of hostility and control. You are engaged in a power struggle whether you want to be or not.
- Set clear limits and expectations and consistently follow through. Articulate precisely what behavior is unacceptable to you. Communicate exactly what your needs are and what the consequences will be if they fail to meet them. Refuse to tolerate or turn a blind-eye to behavior that you know to be passive-aggressive. Call it out.
- Practice respectful yet assertive communication. Be aware of your own passive-aggressive tendencies (most of us occasionally have some) and be willing to confront your own fear of conflict.