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How to Stop Passive Aggressive People from Sucking out Your Energy

How to Stop Passive Aggressive People from Sucking out Your Energy

People who tend to continually avoid conflicts are more likely to be passive aggressive. It is a way of them masking their hostility and anger. It is still anger projecting though and the unwanted and seemingly unwarranted behavior can be confusing to the recipient. On the surface the person may seem nice enough, but their intentions, attitude or behavior is being fueled by hostility.

Most of us encounter passive aggressive people on a weekly, if not, daily basis. It can make you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster when dealing with a passive aggressive person. They don’t overtly act angry or upset with you, but their passive ways project that anger to you whether it is through their eye rolls, not returning your calls, walking out of the room when you enter, or another form of covert hostility. If you are the recipient of passive aggressive behaviors, you know all too well how frustrating, energy sucking, and angering it can be to deal with such a person and their behaviors.

The passive aggressive person can continually get other people to do things for them by manipulative behaviors. Their passive aggressive behaviors are just that, emotional manipulation to get their way without having to own up to their true feelings or intentions.

An article on “Barking up the Wrong Tree” explains the manipulative ways of a passive aggressive person:[1]

They never ask for what they want. They whine or charm or sulk… until you offer. But they didn’t ask, so they don’t owe you anything. Hey, you offered. And they claim to be the kindest person in the world. Would never hurt a fly. But they attack others — always with plausible deniability.

It’s never their fault. They’re not a bad person. In fact, at least according to them, they’re always the victim.

Passive aggressive behaviors also come when a person is not able to say “no”. They want to please others, they may have a fear of rejection, or they simply don’t want to be a disappointment so they continually say yes when they are internally saying no. Their behavior then reflects their hostility toward the situation by negative and unwanted behaviors.

Spotting out a Passive Aggressive Person

Whatever the reason behind passive aggressive behaviors there are ways to deal with them once you understand this is what is happening. Passive aggressive behaviors come in many forms including the following:

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  • Sarcasm
  • Procrastination
  • Subtle sabatoge
  • Pretending not to understand
  • Avoidance
  • Lateness
  • Flakiness
  • Purposefully not including others
  • Backhanded compliments
  • Not being a team player
  • Lack of cooperation
  • Eye rolling
  • Sulking or withdrawing

The Energy Vampire

The problem with being the recipient of passive aggressive behaviors is that it is confusing and draining emotionally. The words that the person is saying contradict their behavior in one way or another. Their unwillingness to address the underlying problem is why they are using passive aggressive behaviors.

That co-worker who says they will help you with your important project that is due to the boss in two days yet they are avoiding your phone calls and texts may be passive aggressive. They said they would help you, yet you can’t reach them and you are coming down to the deadline and were counting on their help. They said yes, so it is frustrating and confusing that they are not reachable. They may have said yes because they didn’t want to disappoint you. They didn’t want to “not be a play player”. Their words said yes to help, yet their behavior is telling you the real truth. They had no intention of helping, or they thought that they may be able to help, but deep down they really did not want to help you, but it was easier to say yes in that moment.

Your energy is getting sucked by trying to reach out to this person. At the same time you are analyzing why they are not answering your calls. For example, you may be wondering if they have a family emergency, or an issue with you personally, or if they forgot about the project. You waste all sorts of mental energy and time trying to figure out what is really going on with this person and why they are not contacting you. They then come back with a flaky response to not returning your calls and you realize they were avoiding you because they really didn’t want to help you. They said yes when they really meant no.

It can be extremely frustrating, time consuming, and angering when dealing with passive aggressive people. In the end you feel like the energy is being sucked out of you because of this person. However, there are ways to deal with this type of person in your life.

Protect Yourself from Energy Vampires

There isn’t a one size fits all solution for dealing with a passive aggressive person. It depends on many things including whether you have to actually deal with the person on a regular basis (such as a work environment) or whether you can or want to limit your time around this individual.

Below are some ways to deal with a passive aggressive person.

1. Recognize the Behavior and Discuss the Real Problem

Passive aggressive people are acting this way because there is an underlying issue. They have underlying hostility and anger that they are projecting through passive aggressive behaviors.

That co-worker who always says “yes” but really means “no” is perhaps afraid of losing their job, so they say “yes” even when they have a full plate and more than they can already handle. They may be feeling anger toward themselves for saying yes, anger at their co-workers for not realizing they are already overworked, or anger toward their boss for not appreciating how much they already do on the job. This anger then causes them to flake on co-workers when doing a team project, they may show up late for meetings, or they may fail to follow through on projects that they are supposed to complete by specific deadlines.

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If a passive aggressive person is continually acting this way and you can’t avoid them because you either work with them or they live with you, then you need to address the problem.

When approaching the individual, there are several keys to making the conversation productive and not make it backfire on you by making the person even more angry. Here are some tips:

Stay calm and collected during the conversation.

Approach the conversation trying to put yourself in their shoes and let them know you are there to understand them and help them.

Be kind.

If the person thinks you are “out to get them” or are blaming them, they will not participate openly and honestly in the conversation.

Try to get them to acknowledge a deeper problem is the cause of these passive aggressive behaviors.

Do it in a manner that you create a bridge of understanding and care so they feel comfortable looking at their behaviors introspectively. This is the time to get to the core of the issue, as it is the only way to uncover what is driving their passive aggressive behaviors. You can’t eliminate their behaviors, without eliminating the problem, or helping them work toward a solution.

Be compassionate.

Be understanding. Recognize that passive aggressive behaviors are this person’s coping skills for a real problem that they didn’t want to address, which is why the behaviors arise in the first place. Know that you are being the bigger person by helping them through this, but it is for the betterment of your relationship.

Avoid a judgmental tone.

If you act judgmental, this will make the person become defensive and possibly become even more angry at you.

Let them voice their issues and listen.

Many times a person is passive aggressive because they don’t think anyone will listen to their problem, or they believe that they aren’t being understood. Be an attentive listener and reflect back what they are saying so they know you are listening and comprehending what they are voicing.

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2. Set Boundaries and Be Specific

Once you have uncovered the real problem, through discussing it with the individual, you can set up boundaries. Setting boundaries is your way of communicating what you will or will not tolerate in the relationship moving forward.

For example, if it is a co-worker and they have been feeling over-worked, which is why they have been angry and thus acting passive aggressively, then set boundaries. Let them know the lateness is not acceptable, nor flaking on group projects. They have to follow through or not say “yes” to everything. They may need to reassess their workload priorities. Whatever they need to readjust in their life to make things better for them at work is up to them.

It is up to you to set the boundaries. Communicate specifically what you will no longer tolerate in the relationship. In the workplace example, it can be expressed that you will no longer accept the lateness, not following through with group work, or not responding to your messages.

3. Refuse to Play the Tit or Tat Game

Don’t get into tit for tat because you will eventually become the loser too. Playing this game only builds more hostility and anger on both sides. Be the bigger person or find ways to simply not engage in this behavior.

You have two options. The first is to discuss the root problem (go back to #1). The second option is that if this person is not essential in your life and their behavior outweighs the benefits of spending time with this person, you may want to consider limiting your time around this person (see #5).

Whatever you do, resist getting into a playing the passive aggressive game with this person. For some relationships and especially families, it happens for years on end. The tensions will only continue to rise as the behaviors continue. The only solution is to work at healing the relationship, then setting boundaries around the passive aggressive behavior, or simply not be around the person.

4. Recognize That It Is Not You, It’s Them

There are different kinds of people in this world. Aggressive people will do what they want at all costs to get what they want. Assertive people will work to get what they need and want, but they also know when to say no and when to ask for help. Passive aggressive people are another category of people who manipulate other people emotionally. They mask their true feelings by covertly projecting their anger, hostility, or other negative emotion through other behaviors, such as those mentioned earlier in the article (i.e. withdrawing, flaking, eye rolling, sarcasm, subtle sabotage).

It is not your fault they are unable to verbalize their real problems and issues. In order for them to stop their passive aggressive ways, they will need to find a way to express their emotions and issues verbally rather than through negative behaviors. Some people never figure this out and others choose not to ever even try to change.

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It leaves you in the position of deciding whether you want to continue a relationship with this person. Eventually, you will see you have no other options except distance, if they elect to not change and you have discussed this subject with them.

5. Distance Yourself

This is exactly what you think it means. Limit your time and interation with a passive aggressive person if you don’t want to deal with their personality and manipulative ways.

If their passive aggressive ways are beyond the worth of that person in your life, you may want to consider moving on with life and no longer interacting with this person. Sometimes this is easy if it is simply an acquaintance. If it is a close friend or family member, you better be prepared to explain why you want some distance. If its a co-worker and you feel you don’t have another option, then refer back to tips #1 and #2.

Recognize that you do have choices and options. Perhaps it is a boss and you don’t see any possibility of this person changing, then for your own emotional and mental health, you may want to consider different employment in the future.

A passive aggressive person does not easily change, so keep this in mind when you realize you are dealing with a passive aggressive personality.

Decide to Do Something—Anything Is Better Than Nothing

However you decide to best deal with the passive aggressive person in your life, any decision is better than just letting things exist the way that they currently exist.

A passive aggressive person will not magically decide to change their ways. More often than not, their behaviors make relationships have great turmoil over time. It is best to deal with the issue of their behavior head on or simply decide to no longer have a relationship with that person. Either way is better than letting things fester, as time will only prove things to get worse.

Psychology Today stated the following about this topic:[2]

In the long run, passive-aggressive behavior can be even more destructive to relationships than aggression. Over time, relationships with a person who is passive-aggressive will become confusing, discouraging, and dysfunctional.

Don’t let a passive aggressive person take you on an emotional roller coaster in life. Deal with the problem, which is them, or they will continue to take you on this ride until you confront their behavior head on.

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Last Updated on October 30, 2019

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

What is the Stages of Change Model?

Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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    The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

    The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

    The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

    The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

    1. Precontemplation
    2. Contemplation
    3. Determination
    4. Action
    5. Maintenance
    6. Termination

    How are these stages relevant to changing habits?

    To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[3]

      Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

      Stage 1: Precontemplation

      At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

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      For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising, but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

      Stage 2: Contemplation

      At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time – possibly a year or more.

      You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

      The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.)[5]

      Stage 3: Preparation

      At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on a nutrition course.

      Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

      Stage 4: Action

      When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

      Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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      Stage 5: Maintenance

      After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

      Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months – perhaps a year or longer – may enter Stage 6.

      Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

      Stage 6: Termination

      Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine, and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

      However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the Maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort. To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette even a year or so after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the Termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

      How long does each stage take?

      You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from Contemplation to Maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

      So if you need to make changes quickly and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

      The limitations of this model

      The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve, and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

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      Require the ability to set a realistic goal

      For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

      If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages – you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

      Difficult to judge your progress

      The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7] For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

      Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but in actual fact aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the Action stage yet aren’t seeing results. Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

      Conclusion

      The Stages Of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

      While there’re some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit or make some great changes in life.

      Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Psych Central: Stages Of Change
      [2] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [3] Empowering Change: Stages of Change
      [4] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [5] Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
      [6] The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
      [7] Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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