Passive aggressive people play games with our head. They impose their reality upon our reality. Both realities cannot co-exist at the same time. After a while, our interpretations break down.
When we are feeling a clash between a passive aggressive people’s perception of reality and our own, we feel helpless. We feel like we cannot trust our judgement.
We call this clash between their attitudes and our perceptions cognitive dissonance. It is not mere “confusion” or a “difference of opinion.” It is the inconsistency between the beliefs they hold and the actions they take.
Studies have found there are four different tactics for getting rid of dissonance.
First, deny it. Just pretend like it didn’t happen. Ignore it. It is not there, never was, and never will be.
Second, swamp the dissonance. Sure this time things didn’t work out like we expected, but remember all those other times when it did? The goal here is to overload all that bad dissonance with a ton of good memories and thoughts.
Third, change the expectancy. Some people would call this a form of rationalizing.. Here they are trying to cover up something that really did happen.
Fourth, they evaluate the event and Instead of responding with dissonant thoughts (“I can’t believe this”) they actually change their evaluations to find the best possible outcome.
Under these circumstances, we are not their conversation partner, we are their target. Instead, we can catch ourselves making the mistake of taking their perceptions and opinions at face value as if they were sensible. We can choose to stop trying to make sense out of nonsense. We can disengage ourselves mentally and emotionally from their passive aggressive antagonism. We do not fight, nor do you give in. Instead of playing tug-o-war over right and wrong, we drop the rope.
That is why we do not dignify their hurtful statements with a well-reasoned, mature reply. We do not waste time or energy debating their position on the issue at hand, either. There is no substance to their argument, no merit in their thought processes. These are only childish remarks confirming that under stress they have regressed to an earlier stage of personal development. We can choose not to join them in fifth grade.
Instead, we can choose to:
- Use our adult judgment to identify passive aggressive antagonism for what it is, childish attention seeking.
- Resist the temptation to straighten them out.
- Disengage ourselves emotionally from their antagonism by catching ourselves about to take their words/behavior personally. Their antagonism is not a reflection on our worth as a person. Resist the temptation to defend. They not interested our point of view. They are focused on relieving their hurt at our expense. We are not guilty. We require no defending.
- Disengage from our own defensiveness, explaining or criticizing. That only gives the antagonistic comment more significance than it deserves.
- Let go of our intention to control the situation. Focus on controlling our reactions to the provocation.
- Muster up the courage to take the risk of doing something new. We can choose to say, “I don’t know what you are trying to accomplish.” or “What are you trying to achieve?” We are not attacking. We are telling the truth.
- Agree with it. The last thing passive aggressive people expect us to do is agree with them. When we say, “I hear what you’re saying,” or “I never thought of that,” we are not saying that they are correct in the facts, merely that we heard what they said, which is the truth.