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Last Updated on September 26, 2022

How to Stop Passive-Aggressive People from Sucking Your Energy

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How to Stop Passive-Aggressive People from Sucking 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.

These individuals might seem nice enough on the outside but their intentions, attitude, or behavior are fuelled by the hostility that can negatively impact your mental health.[1]

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 an emotional situation. Passive-aggressive people don’t overtly act angry or upset with you, but their passive ways project that anger to you 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 this passive-aggressive manipulation, you must know how frustrating, energy-sucking, and angering it can be to deal with such a person and their behaviors.

Here are some tips for protecting your energy against passive-aggressive people.

Spotting a Passive-Aggressive Person

They never ask for what they want. They whine or charm or sulk until you offer. But since they didn’t ask, so they don’t owe you anything. It’s never their fault. They’re not a bad person. At least, according to them, they’re always the victim.

According to WebMD, the term passive-aggressive behavior is when you “express negative feelings indirectly instead of openly talking about them.” This term was coined by experts during World War II to describe soldiers who didn’t follow officers’ orders.[2]

Passive aggressive behaviors also come when a person cannot say “no” to a situation. They want to please others, they may fear rejection, or they don’t want to be a disappointment, so they continually say yes when internally saying no. Their behavior reflects their hostility toward the situation through rough, negative, and unwanted behaviors.

Dealing with passive-aggressive people can be extremely frustrating, time-consuming, and angering. 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 once you have spotted a passive-aggressive individual.

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Passive aggressive behaviors come in many forms, including the following:

  • Sarcasm
  • Procrastination
  • Subtle sabotage
  • 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 they are very confusing and emotionally draining. 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 use passive-aggressive behaviors.

You constantly waste your energy trying to reach out to this person, but it is just emotionally and mentally draining. You waste all sorts of mental energy and time trying to figure out what is happening with this person and why are they behaving toward you in a certain way.

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 deal with the person regularly (such as in a work environment ) or whether you can or want to limit your time around this individual.

How to Deal with a Passive-Aggressive Person

1. Recognize the Behavior and Discuss the Real Problem

The actions of passive-aggressive individuals are always based upon some underlying issues. They project underlying hostility and anger through passive-aggressive behaviors instead of dealing with the situation.

That co-worker who always says “yes” but 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 they are supposed to complete by specific deadlines.[3].

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.

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When approaching the individual, several keys to making the conversation productive and not making it backfire on you by making the person even angrier.

Here are some tips:

Stay Calm and Collected During the Conversation

Approach the conversation by 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.

Help Them Acknowledge the Root Cause of the Problem

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 issue’s core, 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 they didn’t want to address, which is why the behaviors arise in the first place. Know that you are 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 angrier at you.

Let Them Voice Their Issues And Listen

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

2. Set Boundaries and Be Specific

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

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For example, if it is a co-worker who has been feeling overworked, which is why they have been angry and thus acting passive aggressively, then set boundaries.

Let them know that 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.

3. Refuse to Play the Tit or Tat Game

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

You can choose from 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 them, you may want to consider limiting your time around them (see #5).

Whatever you do, resist getting into a passive-aggressive playing game with this person. For some relationships, especially families, it happens for years. The tensions will only continue to rise as the behaviors continue. The only solution is to work at healing the relationship, then set boundaries around the passive aggressive behavior or 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 ask for help. Passive aggression can be used when people want to avoid direct conflict. [4]

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). Passive aggression can also be related to mental health diagnoses like adjustment disorder and borderline personality disorder.[5]

5. Distance Yourself

Distancing yourself from a passive-aggressive person is sometimes the best option. Limit your time and interaction with a passive-aggressive person if you don’t want to deal with their personality and manipulative ways.

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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 it’s 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, so you may want to consider different employment in the future for your own emotional and mental health.

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

How to Stop Passive-Aggressive People from Sucking Your Energy

How to Handle a Passive-Aggressive Person

5 Actions
How to Stop Passive-Aggressive People from Sucking Your Energy
 Talk Out the Root Cause: Finding the problem and talking it out with the person is the best way to deal with their passive-aggressive behaviors. 
How to Stop Passive-Aggressive People from Sucking Your Energy
Draw Boundaries: Drawing boundaries and setting limits is how you can protect your mental health. Be upfront about their bothersome attitude towards you and let them know that their flaky attitude is unacceptable.
How to Stop Passive-Aggressive People from Sucking Your Energy
Be The Bigger Person: You cannot win the tit-for-tat game with a passive-aggressive person. Therefore, the best way is to make the first move and work to find the root cause of the problem. Also, be understanding if someone has a passive-aggressive personality disorder.
How to Stop Passive-Aggressive People from Sucking Your Energy
Do Not Bow Down All The Time: Being the bigger person does not mean you have to take responsibility for your actions. Verbalize your feelings and let them know what you feel. Be open and assertive. 
How to Stop Passive-Aggressive People from Sucking Your Energy
Distance Yourself: If you feel that nothing is working out and the passive-aggressive person is not changing his/her ways, the best way to preserve your mental energy is to distance yourself from the person.

Conclusion

However you decide to best deal with the passive-aggressive person in your life, any decision is better than letting things exist the way 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 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.[6]

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

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

Featured photo credit: Charl Folscher via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

An author and a Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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