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AAW ’20: Handling Passive Aggression with Compassion

Five tips for handling 'pass-agg' the right way.

During National Anger Awareness Week 2020 we’re shining a spotlight on passive aggression, explaining how it’s a form of anger, and learning more about healing it. Read our posts about identifying passive aggression in yourself here and tips to manage passive aggression here.

Our clients at BAAM broadly fall into ‘active aggressive’ and ‘passive aggressive’ anger communication styles (take our test now to find out your anger communication style).

Both of course need to learn how to communicate assertively rather than shouting and ranting (active aggressives) or sulking and manipulating (passive aggressives).

The two often ‘find’ each other, for example ending up in a relationship or a conflict-based rivalry at work. 

The passive aggressive person likes having the active aggressive around mainly because passive aggressive people act out their own anger by triggering it in others. If the active aggressive is a people-pleaser who they can shame and manipulate into doing what they want, even better.

Active aggressive people are drawn to passive aggressive types because they feel compelled to spar with them – something the passive aggressives are more than happy to facilitate. Active aggressives can also be surprisingly susceptible to people-pleasing and codependent relationships… which, again, the passive aggressives like to be on the other side of. 

If you find yourself dealing with a passive aggressive person – it could be a spouse or simply a new temp at work – you need to be very careful how you deal with them. They are very manipulative and have spent a lifetime honing their craft. As frustrating as this can be, remember that their anger comes from a place of hurt and insecurity. Like all mental health difficulties, it is best handled with pity and compassion while remaining assertive.

Here’s five tips for dealign with passive aggressive people.

1 Stop apologising

Making you feel guilty puts you on the back foot, right where they want you. Unless you’ve done something wrong do not apologise, even if it’s a polite reflex reaction. Especially do not apologise if it’s not clearly explained what you actually did wrong. 

2 Stick to standards

Passive aggressives know exactly what they can get away with and when. So express sympathy for them being late for work because yet another aunt has died unexpectedly, but remind them that a bereavement is not necessarily a good reason to be late for work, as per company guidelines. ‘Poker-faced and bureaucratic’ may not be your default management style, but it works wonders with passive aggressives.

3 Put yourself first

Passive aggressives love to control situations and see others jumping through hoops. So make sure you don’t find yourself deferring to them all the time. The best way to keep track of this is always ask yourself if you’re putting yourself first or someone else. And if you feel guilty for doing so, don’t. As Dr Gabor Maté says, “if you feel guilt, give yourself a pat on the back because you did something for yourself for once.”

4 Confront the issue compassionately

Your health and happiness is the point, not ‘winning’ the psychological battle the passive aggressive has created (with your help, it must be said to a degree). Rather than steam straight in with accusations of manipulation and game-playing, tell them what is making you upset by their behaviour and what will happen if it continues. If it carries on, then it could be time to reassess the relationship. 

5 Don’t let them wind you up

This should be rule number one. It’s hard not to get wound up by a master winder-upper – especially if you’re active aggressive. If it helps, remind yourself that the passive aggressive behaviour comes from a place of considerable hurt, and the sufferer is deeply unhappy. Be thankful you’re not in the same place and be the bigger person.

4th December 2020

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