It is useful to identify the specific attitudes behind passive aggressive behavior:
“I am right and not wrong.”
“It’s never my fault.”
“I want my way and I have a right to get it!”
“It is your responsibility to give me what I want. When you fail, I have the right to punish you.”
“I don’t tell lies. I’m just telling you the ‘truth’. You should appreciate my consideration.”
“I can do anything I want because I am special and you’re not.”
“I am exempt from guilt, fault, blame and responsibility because I am being helpful.”
It is ironic that many people who are passive aggressive see themselves as good hearted and helpful. They convinced their actions will be appreciated and valued.
Passive aggressive people do not understand why their critical comments are met with such hostility. As a result, they feel genuinely “victimized” by others lack of gratitude and victims are sensitive to persecution.
They come to feel like “victims” of ingratitude, which makes passive aggressive people angry. Their anger is based on a constellation of expectations that can make them vulnerable to sudden volcanic eruptions.
These are some of the excuses people in passive aggressive relationships make:
“Try to be nice at all times so you won’t upset her/him.”
“I try to make her/him understand what she/he is doing wrong so that she/he will change.”
“She/he will change for me because she/he loves me.”
“I assume responsibility for her/him. It’s easier than trusting her/him.”
“I suppress my anger because nice people aren’t supposed to get angry.”
“I feel guilty for having these negative feelings about the person I am supposed to love.”
“When she/he says it’s my fault I believe her/him. I feel so bad, but there’s nothing I can do. It’s too late.”
“I take what she/he says literal, personal, and serious, as if it made sense.”
“When I can’t make sense out of what she/he says, I blame myself as if it were my fault.'”
“I feel guilty of failing to be good enough in her/his eyes.”
“I give control over to her/him because that’s the way she/he wants it.”
“I try to reason with her/him, but I’m not smart enough to keep up.”
People can be taught how to disengage emotionally from this passive aggressive antagonism. Then they will be free to do the unexpected. Instead of defending themselves against her/him, they can agree that she/he feels the way she/he feels. They can calm her/him down by saying, “It’s awful when that happens, isn’t it?” or “I don’t blame you for feeling that way,” or “That must be painful.”
We can even learn to validate her/his anger. “I am sorry that you are so angry.” This is not rationalizing, defending or submitting, it is empathizing. We can say, “I’m sorry that you are feeling victimized by all of this. I don’t blame you for being angry.”
These are the last things she/he expects us to say. We can be creative and find even more ways to take her/his side in spite of her/his abusive antagonism. We can ask, “What can we do to make it better?” No matter her/his answer, we can respond by saying, “I never thought of it that way.”
It takes courage to say these things for the first time. It’s scary. If it weren’t scary, we wouldn’t need courage. Our reward will be a degree of relief from the pain she/he has been causing us.