How to Sanely Respond to Passive-Aggressive Behavior

When you stop for milk will you grab me so & so?” ~Mysterious Passive-Aggressor

“Wait, what? I was never planning on stopping for milk, so how on earth did I give you that impression?? Ohhh, I get it. You’re asking, nope, telling me to stop for milk {not to mention so & so}. But why didn’t you just come right out & ask me instead of being slithery & slimy about it? Ahem, I mean, why couldn’t you simply be direct & assertive?” ~Me


Because that’s how passive aggression works & I cannot stand it! It’s one of my biggest pet peeves, but this is probably because I’m tortured by it daily.

My {ex}therapist once called it “crazy-making.” And it absolutely is! Can you recall a time in which you’ve attempted to point out passive-aggressive behavior, only to be met with “I didn’t mean it like that” or “I was just joking?” – But clearly they did mean it like that & they were deathly serious about it too?! The person makes you feel crazy & even guilty for making such accusations. There’s only one problem, they’re true!

The dilemma I’m currently having is, how do I healthily respond to such an unhealthy behavior? Because 1} I know that this person is not going to change the behavior & 2} The only person I can control is myself, right?

Well, I’ve done a little reflecting and this is what I’ve come-up with. . .

Awareness: Recognize that passive-aggression is a form of manipulation & that it’s disrespectful. Become aware of the many different forms it takes on: the silent treatment, withholding of praise &/or intimacy, disguising criticism as compliments, deliberate procrastination, sabotage, etc.

Set Clear Boundaries: Like Dr. Phil said, we teach people how to treat us. Let the individual know that we will not tolerate being treated in such a way. Stand-up for ourselves.

Address Each Event as It Arises: I’ve made the mistake of attempting to change the overall behavior. I may have said something like, “You’re so passive-aggressive all the time.” That was not well-received. If I wanted to address the above milk scenario, for example, I should have stuck to that & only that.

Lead By Example: Often times, the thing that bothers us the most in others is something we need to address within ourselves. It’s called projection. “Spot It, You Got It.” “Name It, You Claim It.” As a matter of fact, since writing this blog post I’ve caught myself personally using passive-aggression too many times to count! Honesty isn’t always easy but it’s the only way we grow. Also, show the individual the same respect that we’d like to receive.

Have Compassion: It always helps to consider things from another person’s point of view. At some point, this person learned that passive-aggression was an appropriate or effective way to cope. We all know how difficult it is to break old ways of coping, and then to replace them with new. And sometimes, there are factors that contribute to passive-aggressive behavior that we know nothing about; like deeply-rooted issues from the past. It’s important to try to remember that everyone’s at different points in their journeys, on their own paths, and that we all grow at our own rates. A little shift in perspective could make a big difference – for everyone. 

I hope my experiences help you. How do you respond to passive-aggressive behavior? Leave a comment!

Krista-Lee-Pfeiffer :: Blogger & Creator of The Sunny Shadow


  1. Hi Krista,
    I am at the moment struggling with passive aggressive behaviour of my partner. We finally named the problem and although he realizes it and is willing to do something about it. It is not easy. It is work for the both of us not just him. Your points are very valuable. What helps a lot for me is compassion. Understanding where my partners behaviour is coming from – overly critical parents and the fact that he harbours very little self-compassion for himself and has a problem with expressing his needs, because he thinks he is not worthy – helps me tremendously.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. You make some great points that I’m not sure I’ve taken the time to consider. Compassion for the “mysterious passive-aggressor” in my post is something I’ve been battling with for some time. As I’m sure you know, family dynamics can be difficult.

      Thank you SO MUCH for helping me see my part in this. That’s something I always say, to ask ourselves what our role is in any given situation. Yet I’ve failed to do so here. Sometimes it’s difficult to take our own advice.

      I’m so happy that you & your partner are approaching the issue as a team. It sounds as though you’re very supportive & patient. Again, thank you for sharing this with me!

      Hope you’re having a fabulous weekend! -Krista

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