8 Ways To Spot Passive Aggression & Steer Clear Of The Stress It Causes!

steve maraboli

When making lots of positive changes in life, growing happier and more fulfilled, the funniest phenomenon can occur: some people will react by trying to chip away at your confidence in passive aggressive ways. I mean, it’s understandable to a degree.  If you are growing and people around you are stuck or standing in their own way, they want to keep you with them.  If you grow, they might lose you if they don’t want to grow, too.  Sometimes people get passive aggressive when they surround themselves with others who are the same.  Passive aggressive behavior is not fun to experience and certainly not a good way to live if you are interested in living a happy, healthy and creative life!

The funniest phenomenon in my own life: every time great things happen, I wind up with at least one person heavily targeting me in a passive aggressive manner.  It used to make me feel stressed, small, it would rattle my confidence and would ultimately help me fall off my own happy path to be targeted in this way. Once I learned to spot the passive aggressive stuff more appropriately and stayed aware of it, the targeting (although it still crops up in my own life) has become motivating more than detrimental. After all, if my purpose is to help others to have more stable, healthy, happy lives, each passive aggressive person who comes at me is another person who reminds me how important my personal mission is to my life!

While it’s not always an easy fix to handle the problem of passive aggressive people, awareness was the first step to making it better in my own life.  All the fury, confusion, stress, lack of confidence…. it all dissipated when I could understand the dynamic of how it was happening in my own life, and started taking responsibility for spotting it and dealing with it!

Here are are some of the ways I learned to identify passive aggression around me….

1. People who make you so angry with their backhanded insults even though they are taking to you with a smile on their face are a big red flag. Passive aggression is the WORST because you look like a lunatic if you try to confront someone who is “so nice.”  If you feel this anger, you have been warned.  Do not share a lot with this person lest you enjoy being stabbed in the back.   If it’s someone close to you and this happens often, maybe a therapist can help to diffuse the anger and unravel things.

2. Being afraid certain people will no longer be in your life if you pursue your dreams shines a light on passive aggression.  Many of my clients have said a version of this phrase that breaks my heart:  “I want to make changes and be happier but I know that I will lose this person  in my life if I do because they don’t agree with my dreams.”  Lots of people hold themselves back because someone (or many people) have warned them that if they started making art or went back to school (etc, etc) that they would likely not stick around to support them because their dreams were “foolish” or “stupid” or “just dreams.”  I had a boyfriend tell me we would break up if I studied subjects I was interested in.  He was right. I broke up with him a week later.  How could someone try to stop me from doing what I loved?!

3. People who  are “just joking” when they say horrible things to you frequently, and perhaps even laugh, are often big-time passive aggressors. Of course, if you are hurt by what they say you just “can’t take a joke.”  These little jokes diminish your confidence if they are hurtful.

4.  People who complain about you but refuse to talk TO you.  Direct people will sit you down and have a conversation.  Passive aggressive people will complain about you, in my experience, without ever telling you directly what they have an issue with. Yikes, yuck, not fun.

5. People who gossip about others to everyone.  You have to know that if you are being gossiped TO you will likely be gossiped ABOUT.

6. You can’t get a straight answer from someone about important issues.  Some questions have no straight answer as they are truly up in the air.  But, most times, “we’ll see”, “maybe” and “I don’t know” are purely infuriating 🙂  More on this type of passive aggression and wishy-washy-ness right HERE! 

7. People with someone to blame for everything.  In my experience, you’ll be blamed for something, too!

8. Someone who reminds you in really underhanded ways that you are not that great/successful/beautiful/ fortunate in their estimation.  My favorite ones, ” You are looking really good, for your age.” … “You know, he’s a good guy to date since there aren’t many guys out there who are single”…. “Your blog is cute. Is it your hobby?”

In my own experience, whenever I can avoid passive aggressive people I do it right away.  I don’t get angry any more, I feel lots of compassion for people, actually, who are that angry and unable to deal with it.  But when you can’t necessarily just avoid people, let’s turn to Dr. Phil for some useful advice on handing this bad-vibe passive aggressive behavior: 

Don’t feel guilty.
Remember that you’re not to blame for someone else’s passive-aggressive behavior.

Refuse to play their game.
Because a passive-aggressive personality doesn’t know how to respond appropriately to conflict, he or she will most likely deny everything. It’s important to express your concerns and anger, but stick to the facts at hand and how his or her actions make you feel.

Confront their dishonesty.
Not confronting the passive-aggressive behavior will only reinforce it. Confront the person immediately and let him or her know you are confused by the behavior. If they value the relationship, he or she has to stop the behavior.

Don’t let them get away with bad behavior.
Instead of letting the person off the hook and allowing him or her to continue the behavior, try to create an atmosphere in which he or she might feel more comfortable sharing feelings of anger, resentment, fear, etc.

Ultimately, its most awesome when you make changes for the better in your life and inspire others to do the same for themselves!  And, that happens a whole lot, too!

xoxo Dana

& One of the biggest benefits of ditching passive aggression is the massive amounts of energy and abundance that are opened up!!! The Cash Camp is coming in September, and the FREE 3-video intro series is all about weath-building in profound and amazing ways.  It’s nearly an hour of exercises to shore up your energy, focus and presence to start building more abundance in every way…!

You can sign to the free video series right HERE!  

I’m so excited to share this with you!!!

xoxo Dana

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Christy October 25, 2013 at 11:57 pm

I love love love this!

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danaclaudat October 27, 2013 at 9:20 pm

yay!!!

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Ohboy January 26, 2014 at 9:02 pm

this article describes seriously everyone in my life in one way or another… it seems like everyone these days only knows how to express themselves passive aggressively… I blame social media in part.

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danaclaudat January 27, 2014 at 11:43 pm

that’s an interesting perspective. i do agree, social media has helped create distance and no-accountability. texting too 😉

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Theodora February 2, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Hi Dana,
I really don’t know what to do, and it’s so embarrassing constantly annoying you with questions, but I really value your advice and your point of view.. All you write on this post, it feels so much like what I have with my boyfriend of one year today. My parents tell me I’ve lost my smile, but I do feel happy with him, and he is very nice, and I can’t describe why but I have these extremely strong feelings about him that I can’t control, and that make me act in ways I’ve never acted for anyone, trying to always please and be nice. By dealing with this whole experience I came across your blog, trying to fix everything in my house thinking this relationship will also be fixed, and so will my life with an undecisive, always contradicting himself, moody, never-know-what-to-expect person, with whom I can never rest and enjoy the moment or be happy. Sorry for the rant, I don’t even know what my question is! HELP! please. thank you <3

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danaclaudat February 3, 2014 at 3:32 am

Well, you can shift your home. You can shift your life. But you can not shift him. Thats up to him. (You can now get frustrated as I did when people would give me this advice and i just knew I could change/inspire/motivate/ make whatever man happy. I never could and in the end just wound up losing lots of productive time in my life, and lots of joy.) Seems like he’s very good at finding people to accomodate his never-know-what-to-expect-ness. That said, I don’t know you or him. I just do know that when people want to change they do. And they don’t do it for anyone. Just for themselves. Wishing you tons and tons of happiness! You might want to check this out and see if the resources are helpful… http://www.fengshuidana.com/2013/08/16/love-and-the-emotionally-unavailable/

xoxo

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Theodora February 3, 2014 at 5:27 am

The way you state it makes so much sense, why could I not see it so clearly!? Well, no matter what, by coming across your blog through all this, at least my apartment looks better!! Thanks for the links, really helpful xo

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Faith March 26, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Thank you Dana this article is super helpful. It seems passive-aggressiveness can start early. Maybe a leaned behaviour from a parent? This gives me another way to explain to my son what his online friend is doing and helps explain why ignoring his mean behaviour is not the answer. I guess both kids will get a chance to learn a valuable lesson thanks to you. 🙂

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danaclaudat March 27, 2014 at 5:55 am

Faith you are amazing and yes, it starts when it starts. I think for some people its a function of what they absorb from their environment- like a bad habit- and for others, its learned like you say, early on. Any way it is, anything can be switched with willingness and awareness…!

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Tara April 16, 2014 at 12:28 am

This is very helpful! I have a passive aggressive MIL and my fiancée defends her all the time because she pulls a “poor dear sweet Moma was only trying to help” trick whenever I react to her games. For example: she offered to help me clean my floors (I’m 8 months pregnant), and when I took her up on the offer rather than respectfully declining, she showed up un-announced at 10pm! I was in bed, so she began crying and scoffing after I told her it was too late in the night for company. I’m in a very sticky situation! 🙁

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danaclaudat April 16, 2014 at 12:54 am

I supose you know who you can decline next time 🙂 Good luck!!! Awareness is the first step!!!

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Hal August 20, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Dana,

I really enjoyed this post. I recognized many of the behavior patterns in people I know (in-laws for starters), and in some people I’m blood-related to. I agree with you that it’s best to avoid these types of people altogether–if you can. I have a good friend who has turned out to be very passive aggressive, and there are times when I have to walk away and get some emotional distance from the situation. Each time an ‘event’ occurs, I vow to myself never to return to the friendship, but sometimes detaching from a person or situation can be a process–at least that’s the way it’s been in my case. Having a close friendship with this person has proved to be very challenging for me, and I think in this case, it probably would have been better for me if our friendship hadn’t been as close. There have been multiple times when I have felt as though I were riding on some kind of ‘passive aggressive roller-coaster’ with them, and so right now, I’m keeping my distance.

Anyway, great blog post! 🙂

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danaclaudat August 20, 2014 at 6:16 pm

I hear you— its never seamless. But awareness is the first step to crating change, you know?! Glad you liked the post. Its been a very big part of making life go right for me and a zillion others, to beat this toxic cycle! 🙂

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Melanie August 26, 2014 at 6:49 pm

I just love this! Great advice and wisdom!

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Anna Haillie June 18, 2015 at 3:50 pm

I have to live out these steps every day! I have a passive aggressive mother who would do things like say “*Sigh* If you had just lost 10 more pounds, you would’ve looked perfect” as she’s zipping up my prom dress at 17 years old. Or “No, you can’t have your Sweet 16/Wedding Reception/Baby Shower at the Country Club like your sisters because you don’t have as many friends as they do.” Or “You have such a pretty face, if only you dropped some weight everyone else would see it, too. Good men don’t marry fat women, you know.” And my recent favorite “Anna Haillie, you are getting BIG. Your stomach is huge.” My response? “Of course I’m getting big, I’m 34 weeks pregnant!”

I’m just happy my husband and I are getting moved to Korea with the military so I can be further away from her backhanded compliments.

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danaclaudat July 1, 2015 at 2:33 am

omg wow, i’m so sorry you had to go through that. i don;t think people realize how harmful their words can be. 🙁 happy you are happily married and building your own family too!!!

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Mary July 8, 2015 at 7:20 pm

I’ve began to realize that my husband of over 22 years has passive aggressive traits and I probably do to because when I’m hurt I retreat (although I do it out of awkwardness and not to punish, and I hate that I can’t get over it immediately). I know that inside I am really angry and I have no way to tell him. I’ve tried and it always backfires as he responds with a passive aggressive remark and gets mad-I retreat and tell myself not to speak up again and the cycle continues. One day in a chaotic situation he said “Move, move” to me. Later when we where alone I asked (very carefully) to please not talk to me like that and his reply was a snide “Yes dear, once again I’ve screwed up”. It makes me angry that he had the right to tell me not to speak to him a certain way, but I don’t have that same right? Last night I came home from a trip and he had done a nice job of tidying up the house. After he had been home awhile I said, “Oh, thank you for cleaning up the house. It looks great”. He said, “there you go” (meaning Its about time you said thank you). I feel like I get shamed in these little verbal jabs for not living up to his expectations. I am beginning to do more outside on my own and with friends and I love being alone, but I’m tired of either being angry, depressed or on edge and feeling that I just can’t win. This is the one thing that is bad. There is no abuse, no cheating, no substance abuse. Just this. I don’t want a divorce, but at the same time I feel like I want to live alone….if that makes any sense. We’ re also in a small very isolated frontier town so marraige counseling isn’t even an option. Is it possible to learn to simply let it go and make it not hurt so much?

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danaclaudat August 19, 2015 at 6:01 pm

Letting things go is a good thing, but communication is a big deal. it sounds like a lot of this has built up over time so you want to clear out the clutter before it turns into an explosion of emotions you don’t want! you might want to consider a virtual counceller (online, on skype, there are many!) or even by phone, too, to have an impartial person to help facilitate unpacking all of this. Wishing you tons of happiness Mary!!!! xoxoxo

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Joy July 30, 2015 at 12:25 am

Love your video and blogs. Glad I “found” you. Thanks so much for the awesome information and making it all so fun!! <3

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danaclaudat July 30, 2015 at 7:02 pm

oh i’m thrilled Joy!!!

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Daphne July 16, 2016 at 5:52 am

This article was good but the fact that you quoted Dr Phil bothered me.

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