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Published on August 25, 2017

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

Doctor of Psychology

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Published on July 13, 2018

Striving Towards Secure Attachment: How to Restructure Your Thoughts

Striving Towards Secure Attachment: How to Restructure Your Thoughts

What if you could discover some tools and methods that could improve your relationships? What if by gaining a little knowledge you could understand your relationship dynamics better and give them a boost up?

By learning what secure attachment is and how to restructure your thoughts, you can become more self-aware of your relationship dynamics. After becoming more aware, you can then take a few steps to make them better than ever. That’s something that many of us could benefit from.

When we hear the term secure attachment, our mind typically goes to a relationship. And that’s exactly what it’s about.

In this article I’ll discuss the concept of secure attachments in more detail and how restructuring your thoughts can help you strive towards achieving better relationships.

Relationships are a hugely important part of our lives and whatever we can do to improve them is a good thing for everyone involved.

What is attachment theory?

Let’s do a quick overview of what attachment theory is. This will provide a good foundation for the rest of this article.

The esteemed psychologist John Bowlby first coined the term attachment theory in the late 60’s. Bowlby studied early childhood conditioning extensively and what he found was very interesting.

His research showed that when a very young child has a strong attachment to a caregiver, it provides the child with a sense of security and foundation. On the other hand when there isn’t a secure attachment, the child will expend a lot more developmental energy looking for security and stability.

The child without the secure attachment tends to become more fearful, timid and slow to explore new situations or their environment.

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When a strong attachment is developed in a child, he or she will be inclined to be more adventurous and seek out new experiences because they feel more secure. They know that whoever is watching out for them will be there if needed.

Bowlby’s colleague, Mary Ainsworth, took the theory further. She did extensive studies around infant-parent separations and provided a more formal framework for the differing attachment styles.

How attachment develops

Simply put, attachment is an emotional bond with another person. Attachment doesn’t have to go both ways, it can be one person feeling attached to another without it being reciprocated. Most of the time, it works between two people to one degree or another.

Attachment begins at a very young age. Over the history of time, when children were able to maintain a closer proximity to a caregiver that provided for them, a strong attachment was formed.

The initial thought was that the ability to provide food or nourishment to a child was the primary driver of a strong attachment.

It was then discovered that the primary drivers of attachment proved to be the parent/caregivers responsiveness to the child as well as the ability to nurture that child in a variety of ways. Things such as support, care, sustenance, and protection are all components of nurturing a child.

In essence a child forms a strong attachment when they feel that their caregiver is accessible and attentive and there if they need them; that the parent/caregiver will be there for them. If the child does not feel that the caregiver is there to help them when needed, they experience anxiety.

Different types of attachments

In children, 4 types of attachment styles have been identified. They are as follows:

  • Secure attachment – This is primarily marked by discomfort or distress when separated from caregivers and joy and security when the caregiver is back around the child. Even though the child initially feels agitated when the caregiver is no longer around, they feel confident they will return. The return of the parent or caregiver is met with positive emotions, the child prefers parents to strangers.
  • Ambivalent attachment – These children become very distressed when the parent or caregiver leaves. They feel they can’t rely on their caregiver for support when the need arises. Even though a child with ambivalent attachment may be agitated or confused when reunited with a parent or caregiver, they will cling to them.
  • Avoidant attachment – These kids typically avoid parents or caregivers. When they have a choice of being with the parent or not, they don’t seem to care one way or the other. Research has shown that this may be the result of neglectful caregivers.
  • Disorganized attachment – These children display a mix of disoriented behavior towards their caregiver. They may want them sometimes and other times they don’t. This is sometimes thought to be linked to inconsistent behavior from the parent or caregiver.

What attachments mean to adults

So the big question is how does this affect us in adulthood? Intuitively it makes sense that as a child, if we have someone who will be there when we need them, we feel secure. And on the other end of the spectrum, if we aren’t sure someone’s going to provide what we need when we need it, we may become more anxious and fearful.

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As an adult, we tend to wind up in one of three primary attachment types based on our childhood experiences. These are secure, avoidant, and anxious. Technically, there is a fourth one, anxious-avoidant, but it is quite a bit less common. They are described as follows:

  • Secure – When you have a secure attachment, you are comfortable displaying interest and affection towards another person but you’re also fine being alone and independent. Secure types are less apt to obsess over a relationship gone sour and handle being rejected easier. Secure types also tend to be better than other types with not starting relationships with people that might not be the best partners. They cut off the relationship quicker when they see things in a potential partner they don’t like. Secure attachment people make up the majority of the attachment types.
  • Anxious – Folks who have an anxious attachment style typically need a lot of reassurance from their partners. They have a much harder time being on their own and single than the other styles and fall into bad relationships more often. The anxious style represent about 20% of the population. It’s been shown that if anxious attachment styles learn how to communicate their needs better and learn to date secure partners, they can move towards the secure attachment style.
  • Avoidant – Avoidant attachment style represents approximately 25% of the population as adults. Avoidants many times have the hardest time in a relationship because they have a difficult time finding satisfaction. In general, they are uncomfortable with close relationships and intimacy and are quite independent. They are the lone wolf type person.
  • Anxious-avoidant – The anxious-avoidant style is relatively rare. It is composed of conflicting styles – they want to be close but at the same time push people away. They do things that push the people they are closest to away. Many times there can be a higher risk of depression or other mental health issues.

Here’s where it gets really interesting:

Move towards secure attachment

The good news is that it is possible to move from one style to another. Specifically, it is possible to move towards a more secure attachment style.

Now as you might imagine, this is not an easy or a quick process. Like any type of big change where you are attempting to alter such a deeply ingrained mindset, it takes a strong will to accomplish.

The first step is developing an awareness of your attachment style. The next step is to have the desire and drive to move your attachment style towards the more secure style.

If someone with an anxious or avoidant style has a long term relationship with a secure type, the anxious or avoidant person can slowly get brought up more towards a secure style.

The opposite is also true, they could bring the secure person more towards their attachment style. Therefore, you have to be conscious of your type and if you want to move more towards secure, it takes persistence.

Therapy is an option as well. Anxious types many times need to work on their self-esteem, avoidants on their connection specifically and compassion.

How to restructure your thoughts

Ready for the way to do it? Here we go:

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For the Avoidant Style

As with any type of change on such a deep level, the first step is awareness. Realize you have an avoidant style and be aware of it as you have interactions with your partner(s).

Try to work towards a place of mutual support and giving/taking. Try to lessen your need for complete self-reliance. Allow your partner to do some things that make you a little uncomfortable that you would normally do yourself.

Don’t always focus on the imperfections of your partner. We all have them, remind yourself of that.

Make yourself a list of the qualities that your partner has that you are thankful for.

Look for a secure style partner if at all possible, they would be good for you to be with.

If you have a tendency to end relationships before they go too far, be aware of that and let it develop further.

Get into the habit of accepting and even instigating physical touch. Tell yourself that it’s good for you to have some intimacy. Intimacy can help you feel safe and secure.

And over time you can realize that it’s okay to rely on other people.

For the Anxious Style

For the anxious style, the #1 thing to work on is learning to communicate needs better. This is a huge issue for the anxious style.

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First and foremost if you communicate your needs more clearly, you will have less anxiety, that’s already a big win. This will also allow you to better assess if a potential partner is good for you.

Try to bring your feelings more to the surface and most importantly, share them with your partner. Remember that secure attachments typically communicate pretty well, this is what you are working towards.

For the Anxious-Avoidant Style

The anxious-avoidant is a very small percentage of the attachment styles. Since this type tends to be anxious in the relationship AND more or less a loner, the key here is working hard to be very self-aware of your actions.

Use the parts of striving towards secure attachment from the anxious tips and the avoidant restructuring of your thoughts to consciously work towards being more secure.

When you find yourself pushing someone away, ask why. If you feel worried that your partner is going to leave you, again, ask yourself where this is coming from. Have they shown you any reason to believe this? Many times there is no real evidence. In that case, allow yourself to calm down and try not to obsess over it.

For the Secure Style

Since the goal is to move towards a more secure attachment style, there isn’t much needed here as you might imagine.

Something to be aware of is being in a relationship just because it’s “okay”. Don’t stay if it’s not a good place for you and your partner. If your partner is of an anxious or avoidant attachment style, stay mindful to not start developing characteristics of those styles.

Strive towards Secure Attachment

As we wrap things up, you’ve probably developed a good idea of the benefits of secure attachment. If you don’t currently have a secure attachment style, here are some benefits of restructuring your thoughts more towards this style:

  • Positive self esteem and self image
  • Close and well adjusted relationships
  • Sense of security in self and the world
  • Ability to be independent as well as in relationships
  • Optimistic outlook on life and yourself
  • Strong coping skills and strategies for relationships and life
  • Trust in self and others
  • Close, intimate relationships
  • Strong determination and problem solving skills

If you are an anxious or avoidant style or the combination of anxious-avoidant, it is possible to move towards a secure attachment style.

It takes self-awareness, patience and a strong desire to get close to being secure but it can be done. You will find that putting the effort into it will provide you with more open, honest and satisfying relationships.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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