Friday, July 8, 2011

Be Assertive, not Passive-Aggressive

I did a lot of reading on recognizing and working through passive aggressive behavior and found many good resources in general (not just for the personality disordered).

“Individuals with PAPD experience an undercurrent of perpetual inner turmoil and anxiety. They appear unable to manage their moods, thoughts, and desires internally which results in emotional instability. They suffer a range of intense and conflicting emotions that surge quickly to the surface due to weak controls and lack of self-discipline. They have few unconscious processes they can employ to manage their feelings which emerge into behavior unconcealed, untransformed, and unmoderated. Without self-management skills, PAPD affect tends to be expressed in a pure and direct form, no matter what the consequences (Millon, 1981, p. 256).”

People act in Passive-Aggressive ways because they fear abandonment and rejection. They are afraid that if they express their dissatisfaction, than the other person will take offense, and leave. Or get angry. Or lash back. It all boils down to fear.

Fear is something that we all share. However it is not something that should rule our lives or our actions.

Sharing a common understanding of the origins of this behavior can provide a basis for understanding one another. When we look at it from this perspective, that we share something in common, we can begin to work through these issues together.

How can I confront a passive aggressive person?
If others are being passive aggressive with me I can:
* point out the behavior that indicates passive aggressiveness on their part.
* point out the inconsistency between their words and actions.
* pay attention to their actions rather than their words, then give them feedback as to what their actions tell me about their feelings.
* ask for their true feelings reassuring them that there are no right or wrong feelings, and that it is OK to share negative feelings.
* ask them what has them so intimidated that they fear sharing their feelings with me.
* reassure them that we can reach a "win-win'' solution in our communication if we are willing to compromise.
* defuse the competition in our relationship. It doesn't matter "what'' we are discussing as long as we respect how each of us "feels'' about what we are discussing.
* remain open to any negative feelings they have and let them know this.
* begin to trust what they "do'' rather than what they "say'' and let them know that I am doing this.
* make myself more accessible to them.

First you need to find the causes of passive aggression. Passive aggressive behavior is usually based upon fear, resentment or flat-out anger. In order to manage passive aggressive behavior, these feelings and emotions need to be identified and addressed.

Talk it Out. In many cases, passive aggression is not the result of a personality disorder or mental illness, though it obviously can be. Passive aggression is usually the result of a lack of communication between people and deep-seated feelings of fear and resentment that have grown slowly over time. This can be exacerbated in the Personality Disordered person, which means that more than anyone, they need someone who is willing to listen to them.  If these behaviors are not worked on when they first appear, the passive aggressive person may see passive aggression as a solution to avoiding responsibility and could employ these tactics in all aspects of life. Counseling is often helpful, however, a passive aggressive person may just need the opportunity to get something off his/her chest. Passive aggression is usually the result of unexpressed anger or hostility and many of the passive aggressive behaviors may lessen or disappear if the individual is encouraged to express these frustrations in a meaningful and productive way. Not a hurtful and spiteful way!

So how do you do this?

- Avoid using language and actions that mirror the passive-aggressive behavior of the other person. Engaging in "competition" only provokes the pattern further and will place additional strain on the situation. Doing "battle" with a passive-aggressive also can result in your own unhealthy mental state and can substantiate the difficult actions of the other person. A passive-aggressive person fears confrontation and will be increasingly cautious about self-expression if they view you as an opponent.

- Create a safe and comfortable environment. Allow the person to know you are committed to a functional relationship (whatever sort that may be). Speak tactfully, and noncoercively about goals you have for the relationship. Encourage them to express themselves by simply making them feel at-ease.

- State your feelings directly and assertively if they continues to exhibit the behavior. Sit down and clearly explain that these actions are not acceptable. Assert your own emotions, be open about your beliefs and do not let the other persons behavior affect your own personal choices.

In other words, don’t be a doormat, but don’t be a douchebag either.

How to Deal With Passive Aggressive Behavior

- Choose not to reward the passive aggressive behavior. Do not treat a passive aggressive person like a victim. Instead, recognize the passive aggressive behavior for what it is and refuse to “do the dance” with a passive aggressive person. Do not allow the passive aggressive person to push your buttons to get you feeling sorry for her. Only you can choose to allow a passive aggressive person to control the choices you make.

- Be direct with the passive aggressive person. When a passive aggressive person mistreats you, speak to the person about the behavior in a direct manner. For example, if your passive aggressive friend says she will help you with a task but shows up an hour late and sulking, tell your friend that nobody forced her to help out. If she does not want to do something, then she can just say so. Tell her that you would rather she just say no than be unreliable.

- Resist the urge to rise to the bait. Passive aggressive people will often try to get you to do something for them by dropping big hints rather than just asking you directly. Choose not to reward this behavior and act as if you don’t “get it” until the person asks you a direct question.

::laughs:: I do #3 all the time. In my mind it seems like if I hint at something, and someone else picks up on it and offers me what I want, then I’m not pushing them into an uncomfortable situation. I don’t want them to be in a position where they have to say no, or feel obligated just because I’ve asked. So if I hint at it, they have the opportunity to say nothing if it’s not what they want to do and there’s no uncomfortable feelings to deal with for them. Maybe my thinking this way is completely wrong. Hm.

If I find myself being passive aggressive, how can I correct this?
To avoid being passive aggressive with others, I can:
* try to be assertive, open and honest with my negative feelings or anger.
* warn people to "read'' my behavior rather than my words if they want to know my feelings.
* confront myself with my inconsistent behavior and challenge myself to explain it.
* take the risk to confront my anger assertively and "on the spot'' so that I can bring my behavior in line with my feelings.
* work at making my behavior consistent with my feelings.
* change the way I interact with people and make my relationships more honest.
* admit that I have been a liar.
* work at being more honest with people even if it results in a conflict.
* identify the irrational thinking that prevents me from confronting people when I am angry.
* learn how to become assertive with my negative feelings.
* accept that it is OK to have conflict and disagreement.
* learn to compromise and come to a "win-win'' solution.
I found an exercise for how to change Passive Aggressive Behavior

1. Write down a past experience that caused you to act in a passive-aggressive manner and include as many details as possible. Identify what the person said or did to make you feel angry or frustrated, how you responded and what the benefits were of avoiding a confrontation with that person. The point of this exercise is to understand when you are being passive-aggressive and unearth the root cause of the avoidance.

2. Express how you feel when conflict occurs. Part of passive-aggressive behavior is holding in your frustration and anger. Instead of smoothing over the issue, confront the person and tell them why you are upset. Be open and honest with the person and allow them to express how they feel as well. 

3. Once you and the other person have a chance to express how you feel, work together to brainstorm possible solutions of the issue. When you come to an agreement, be sure your actions are consistent with how you feel. If you are not really satisfied with the outcome, say something. A necessary part of changing your passive-aggressive behavior is verbalizing how you feel without fear of rejection or anger.

4. If someone you know is being passive-aggressive with you, it is important that you point out their behavior when it happens. Let them know their actions and their words are not in agreement and gently ask how they honestly feel. It is important that the other person does not feel intimidated when speaking to you. Let the other person know it is okay to express negative feelings because it helps both of you understand how the other is feeling. As in Step 3, brainstorm possible solutions to the problem, and let the other person know if they are behaving in a way that shows that are not happy with the compromise.

I also found something of a checklist for how to deal with a variety of passive aggressive behaviors.

How to deal with repeated forgetfulness:  Encourage the person to become more organized. Offer to help them set up a reminder book or to do list for the tasks that they need to accomplish. Writing tasks down makes them real and helps the person to acknowledge their awareness of the tasks. It's hard for them to claim that they forgot when they have a written reminder right in front of them.
How to deal with procrastination:  Set firm deadlines for tasks that need to be accomplished. Encourage them to plan ahead, using a calendar to keep track of upcoming deadlines and required completion dates. Break large tasks up into smaller parts and require that they complete each part within a certain time frame. This creates an artificial schedule for them and prompts them to start work sooner rather than later.

How to deal with the inability to make decisions:  Give them a choice. If possible, offer several different options when asking them to make a decision. The ability to make their own choice empowers them and makes decision making easier and more fulfilling. This method works for young children and it might just work for that indecisive person in your life. Put them in control of the decision making process. Inform them that the decision is for them to make and no one else will make that decision for them. Put the responsibility on them from the start. Don't offer advice or guidance, make them be in charge.

How to deal with the inability to accept responsibility:  Hold people accountable. Don't accept excuses. Don't let things just slide, just because it's easier that way. That's exactly what the PA person is hoping you will do. They think "I'll do such a bad job, that no one will ever ask me to do anything important again". Make them meet their obligations without any room for compromise. This can be done by gently expressing sincere disappointment when they fail to show responsibility for their inabilities followed by affirmation that you believe they are capable of doing what they say they will.

How to deal with the person that is constantly making excuses:  This is perhaps one of the most difficult passive aggressive behaviors to deal with. It's difficult in the sense, that everyone makes excuses from time to time. It's natural to rationalize and blame other people or factors for failure. The problem is that people with a passive aggressive tilt use excuses to explain everything. They don't make occasional excuses for poor performance or mistakes; they are always blaming others for their failures or shortcomings. It's just never their fault. Put a stop to the constant excuse making with a simple statement: "I'm not interested in excuses, I'm interested in results". Once the PA person learns that excuses don't fly with you, you'll see one of two things. Their performance will improve, or they'll just try to avoid you completely. You can hope for improved performance.

This last sentiment of “I’m not interested in excuses, I’m interested in results” is not the best idea for dealing with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. It could completely shatter their sense of self-worth and cause them to lash out which is exactly what you do not want to do. A gentler approach with this spin would be better. Recognize that the excuse has hindered them in the past, but then work towards a path that diverts from repeating the excuse. Remind them that it is within their control to choose another way of approaching things.

Alright. I personally feel more equipped to deal with passive aggressive people and recognize it in myself. If you have a passive aggressive Borderline, just remember, Be Tactful! We’re emotionally volatile people. Just pointing out our behavior in an accusatory fashion is not going to be productive for you or for us.

Wow, so this was a week of passive-aggressive posting. I had not planned on that at all. Tomorrow I’ll try to post about emergency therapy. Of course, it’s Saturday, so I may give myself permission to be lazy. We shall see =P


  1. Somehow I think your lazy is still a thousand busier than most people's lol

  2. Hah! Yes, by lazy I mean I have to go to the gym, meet up with Lady Friend, and I have a Bacon party (don't ask) so I'm cooking a couple dishes. I also need to get some sewing done. ::headdesk:: I need to figure out how to relax.

  3. I was going to think of a witty faux-passive-aggressive response, but I'm too lazy.

  4. Very insightful - thanks! I think we are all passive-aggressive from time to time. I have an issue right now where I have to quit my job, and I don't want to do the whole passive-aggressive email wimpy-way out thing. I want to confront her face to face, which I am determined to do, but it sucks! But I know it's the right thing to do...

  5. I think I just feel overwhelmed by all this. It is like I cannot wrap my head around it. It is too much to learn to deal with. What if you have been trying for years and years and nothing seems to change? What do you do then? I guess I am just asking rhetorical questions...

  6. This is a great post. Treating them like peers, and making sure they feel comfortable enough to share is key. You see so many internet examples of passive-aggressive signs and notes because people fear confrontation.

    Maybe if we can be a little less confrontational, people would communicate better overall...

  7. This passive-aggressive section has been really eye-opening wow! Not only in looking at my Borderline friend, but at myself too. It's true, everyone displays passive aggressive traits at some point. Confrontation isn't something that comes natural to most people, and more importantly, it's a delicate art in making it tactful-which as you've pointed out Haven, is super important when dealing with someone who struggles with Borderline. And I completely get this, it makes sense.. My problem is----I honestly have no problem with confrontation, but I almost hate to call it confrontation because I don't see myself as being intimidating with it. I'm just an open-book type of person, hold back very little, and asking questions is part of my nature. I say it like it is. Well in looking at this whole thing, I'm thinking perhaps it's this dynamic that triggers all sorts of passive aggressiveness in my Borderline friend. It totally does. From my point of view, I feel like I'm trying to understand him, to show that I truly care, to make it obvious that I'm an open book, accepting of people and things. (Ok, there have been other times I've been accusatory, and short-tempered, and asked questions that I knew would corner him....can't lie there). But honestly, I've found he doesnt respond well to questioning at all, no matter how vague, non intrusive. And what it boils down to is, he is super secretive. I feel like he expects "friendship", yet only gives me 1/2 of everything, 1/2 of the truth....and why? So here I confess my petty side---but this definately brings out MY passive aggressiveness (I'm a non BD). He pulls me in, demands my attention, and then is totally reserved in telling what is going on in his life. And then there goes that passive aggressive circle you mentioned a few days back, Haven, where one feeds off the other and both minds are spinning.

    Passive Aggressiveness---great topic! Emily

  8. I feel like he expects "friendship", yet only gives me 1/2 of everything, 1/2 of the truth....and why?

    Its probably about fear of being wrong representing himself properly. But I'm projecting of course. Passive aggression is sometimes a healthy, accidental defense mechanism, wouldn't you say?

  9. I definitely think passive aggression is often accidental but I'm not sure it's really healthy. It can definitely be better than being overtly aggressive, that's for sure. I think if people learned to communicate better though there would be less problems for sure.

  10. Hey Emily, Did you ask your friend why they are secretive? Maybe it is simpler than you think. Also, do you have a pd?


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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