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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 January 6, 2019

Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

No one wants to suffer. As a general rule, people like to avoid hurt and pain as much as possible. As a species, humans want a painless existence so much that scientists make a living trying to create it.

People can now choose “pain-free” labor for babies, and remedies to cure back pain, headaches, body-pains and even mental pains are a dime a dozen. Beyond medicine, we also work hard to experience little pain even when it comes to loss; often times we believe a breakup won’t hurt as much if we are the ones to call it off.

But would a world without pain truly be painless? It’s unlikely. In fact, it would probably be painful exactly for that reason.

If people never experienced hurt, they wouldn’t know what it was. On the surface level, that seems like a blessing, but think for a moment: if we didn’t know pain, how would we know peace? If you don’t know you’ve hurt or been hurt, how would you know that you need to heal? Imagine someone only knowing they have an incurable cancer at the final stage because no obvious symptoms have appeared at early stages.

Without the feeling of pain, people won’t be aware of dangerous situations—what should or shouldn’t do for survival.

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Pain Is Our Guardian

Pain serves to protect human beings from harmful actions. It’s the same reason parents teach babies that fire equals hot, and that hot equals hurt. Should the baby still place its hand in a fire or on a stove, the intense pain remains so memorable, that the child is certain never to repeat that action.

In the same way, pain within human bodies can serve as a warning that something is not right. Because you know what it is to feel “well,” you know what it is to feel poorly.[1]

Along with serving as a teacher of what not to do, pain also teaches you what you are made of in terms of what you can handle as an individual.

While the cliche, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a tired term, it’s used excessively for a reason: it’s true. Pain helps you learn to cope with life’s inevitable difficulties and sadnesses— to develop the grit it takes to push past hardships and carry on.

Whether it’s a shattering pain, like the loss of a loved one or a debilitating accident, pain affects everyone differently. But it still affects everyone. Take a breakup as an example, anyone who has experienced it knows it can hurt to the point of feeling physical. Especially the first breakup. At a young age, it feels like the loss of the only love you’ll ever know. As you grow and learn, you realize you’re more resilient with every ended relationship.

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No Pain, No Happiness

You only know happiness when you have known pain. While the idea of constant happiness sounds nice, there is little chance it would be. Without the comparison to happiness, there’s no reason to be grateful for it. That is to say, without ever knowing sadness or pain, you would have no reason to be grateful for happiness.

In reality, there is always something missing, or something unpleasant, but it is only through those realizations that you know to be grateful when you feel you have it all. Read more about why happiness and pain have to exist together: Chasing Happiness Won’t Make You Happy

In a somewhat counter-intuitive finding, researchers found one of the things that brings about the most happiness is challenge. When people are tested, they experience a greater sense of accomplishment and happiness when they are successful. It is largely for this reason that low-income individuals can often feel happier than those who have a sense of wealth.[2]

This is a great thing to remember the next time you feel you would be happier if you just had a little more cash.

Avoiding Pain Leads to More Suffering

Pain is inevitable, embrace it positively. Anyone who strives to have a painless life is striving for perfectionism; and perfectionism guarantees sadness because nothing will ever be perfect.

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This isn’t a bleak outlook, but rather a truthful one. The messy moments in life tend to create the best memories and gratitude. Pain often serves as a reminder of lessons learned, much like physical scars on the body.

Pain will always be painful, but it’s the hurt feelings that help wiser decisions be made.

Allow Room for the Inevitable

Learning how to tolerate pain, especially the emotional kind, is a valuable lesson.

Accepting and feeling pain makes you human. There is no weakness in that. Weakness only comes when you try to blame your own pain on someone else, expecting the blame to alleviate your hurting. There’s a saying,

“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”

Think back to the last time you were really angry with someone. Maybe you were hurt because you got laid off from a job. You felt angry and that anger caused so much pain that you could feel it in a physical way. Being angry and blaming your ex boss for that pain didn’t affect him or her in any way; you’re the only one who lost sleep over it.

The healthier thing to do in a situation like that is acknowledge your pain and the anger along with it. Accept it and explore it in an introspective way. How can you learn and grow? What is at the root of that pain? Are you truly hurting and angry about being laid off, or is the pain more a correlation to you feeling like you failed?

While uncomfortable, exploring your pain is a way to raise your self-awareness. By understanding more about yourself, you know how to deal with similar situations in the future. You can never expect to be numb to difficult situations, but you will learn to better prepare financially for the loss of a job and be grateful for an income since you now know nothing is promised (no matter how much you work or how deserving you may feel).

Pain Hurts, but Numbness Would Be Worse

Pain does not feel good, but the bad feeling of it will help you learn and grow. It makes the sweet moments in life even sweeter and the gratitude more sincere.

To have a happier and more successful life, you don’t learn from success or accomplishment, but through pain and failures. For it is in those moments that you learn how to do better in the future or at least cope a little more easily.

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You are the strong person you are today because of the hardships this life has presented to you. While you may have felt out of control when those hard times came, the one thing you will always have control over is how you choose to react to things. The next time you hurt or you’re angry or sad, acknowledge it and allow yourself to ruminate in it. Then take a deep breath and start learning from that pain. You’ve got this!

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1]University of Calgary: Why is Pain Important?
[2]Greater Good Magazine: The Importance of Pain

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