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7 Coping Skills to Use in the Face of Passive Aggression


Learn how to side-step their toxic behavior and save your sanity.

Is someone’s passive-aggressive behavior driving you crazy? You feel the energetic hit of her toxic behavior, but then you question yourself.

The receiving end of passive-aggressive behavior leaves you with a yucky feeling of just being sucker-punched, but because it’s subtle, it’s hard to know what’s actually happening. It’s like a nightmare where you try to run away but all you find are cul-de-sacs with no escape.

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Passive-aggressive relationships are crazy-making, infuriating, and navigating them often requires help from an expert to effectively sort it out.

Passive-aggressive behavior is covert — stealthy even. It’s sneaky and causes you to question everything you do because you know everything is going to end up being your fault anyway.

Passive-aggressive people drive otherwise rational folks around the bend. Because those who exhibit the behavior completely lack insight into their own actions, often believing that it is they they are wronged or misunderstood. They object strenuously to your efforts to share your point of view, and they think your (or anyone’s) expectations of them are entirely unreasonable.

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How do you recognize passive-aggressive behavior in people?

  • Passive-aggressive folks are often negative.
  • They complain frequently about being under-appreciated and misunderstood.
  • Nothing is ever their fault.
  • They insist on — and are happy to — blame you for everything, because (of course) it is your fault.
  • They argue readily and have a real need to be right.
  • When things don’t go their way, they are often sullen and withdrawn. They are masters of the cold shoulder.
  • They criticize situations, events, ideas and people at the drop of a hat. It offsets their fear that they are inadequate.
  • They have little regard for authority.
  • They are sure they are unique in their perception that they alone live in an “ain’t it awful, he/she done me wrong” world of misfortune.
  • They run hot and cold between open hostility and seeming to be sorry. (Hint: You can only rely on the hostility part.)

Their traits and patterns are annoying enough all on their own, with or without an actual diagnosis of passive-aggressive disorder. What is really going on with these people is that they passively resist any expectation, request or demand to show up, take responsibility and be accountable for what they say or do — or, more frequently, don’t do. And, boy, does that have a negative effect on relationships!

You might recognize another person’s passive-aggressive behavior by the feeling of insecurity it creates in you, or by the person’s seemingly intentional inefficiency. They are late, forgetful, or punishing — all covert ways of trying to assert control over you or the situation.

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Passive-aggressive people are fearful of competition, dependency and, yes, even of intimacy. You might recognize that as the “push me, pull me syndrome.” Another way of expressing that is the mixed message of, “Come close, but stay away.”

A passive-aggressive person can make chaos out of thin air, and they are secretly delighted in their ability to do so. It feels like power and control to them, and that is what they long for. Because they cannot approach situations, feelings, relationships or communication directly, they do so indirectly. This causes the chaos.

Oh yes, and of course, they do it at work as well as at home. They make endless and seemingly rational (that’s the crazy-making part) excuses for why they cannot, or did not, do things that were expected of them.

They are also experts at procrastination. And because they have difficulty playing nicely with others, they tend to drag their feet in any work team project. From suddenly not feeling well, claiming to not feel included, saying they were not given certain information, or professing to not knowing what was expected of them, passive-aggressive people have a reason (read: excuse!) for everything.

They believe these reasons and will actively work to disparage anyone who will not accept their reasons. They love to play the victim. Passive-aggressive people will go to great lengths to avoid recognizing their own weaknesses, blaming others for their own failures. This is a hallmark of the passive-aggressive personality.

Confronting passive-aggressive behavior in another person is often crazy-making, too. Their behavior is based in deep, old anger and resentment. Unfortunately, the passive-aggressive person is often unaware of what they are doing, and when confronted, refuse to acknowledge either the behavior or its impact. He or she might even get quite upset that you would even think they were the problem, or that you had the gall to suggest they might be.

Here are a few tips for managing yourself in the face of passive-aggressive behaviors:

  1. Do not try to win or apply reason. Neither are what this is about.
  2. Do not join in the hostility, because that simply keeps the fires burning.
  3. Know your boundaries, and express and maintain them, no matter what resistance you experience. Hold on.
  4. Examine what might be your fault, and own it. Reject what is not, and say so.
  5. Do not engage in blame. This only exacerbates arguments.
  6. Remember that passive-aggressive behavior coming towards you is not about you. That can help you to reduce any negative reaction.
  7. Get help. This is bigger than both of you and you cannot see it or solve it when you are in it. You really need a professional to help you both.

This guest article originally appeared on 7 Ways To Keep Their Passive-Aggression From Driving You Nuts.

7 Coping Skills to Use in the Face of Passive Aggression

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APA Reference
Guest Author, P. (2018). 7 Coping Skills to Use in the Face of Passive Aggression. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 5 Dec 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.