Confronting someone who is passive aggressive is a difficult task. Many times, the outcome is not as healthy as the person doing the confronting would like it to be, however, it is still important to do. Sometimes, it can help give the passive aggressive person insight into their behaviors. If this does not happen, the most important part of confronting someone who is passive aggressive is that it gives the person who is confronting the ability to have a voice and name their concerns. This helps with codependency issues for the confrontee. It is still important to remember a few things when dealing with a passive aggressive person. Do not personalize the passive aggressive persons behaviors to mean something about you. Even though it is difficult and feels shaming, this is their issue, not yours. Your issue is how you respond to their unsafe behaviors and whether or not you get "hooked" in to their passive aggressive dynamics.
Do not confront the person when they are in the middle of unsafe behaviors. These could include silent treatment, withdraw of self or conversation, or using shaming words or actions. This will only frustrate the person doing the confronting, and the passive aggressive person is not able to hear what is being said because they are too defensive.
Initially, focus your words on the feelings that you are feeling, as opposed to the behaviors the passive aggressive person is displaying. This makes it seem less like an attack on the person, and gets more to the heart of the issue and the hurt.
When confronting behaviors of the passive aggressive person, focus on ONE behavior at a time. For example, "When I ask you a question about our relationship and you stop speaking to me, I feel hurt and alone." Dumping a bunch of behaviors on the passive aggressive person will only result in more passive aggressive behaviors, because the passive aggressive person sees things through their own skewed reality. When they feel like they are being forced to confront problems, they withdraw because their sense of self is so fragile that it's hard for them to hear criticism. Focusing on one thing at a time can help with this.
When dealing with a passive aggressive person, and notice they are starting to revert to passive aggressive behaviors, share what is happening in the present time. "I notice you are shutting down again and being silent... This is what I am really struggling with."
Make sure you communicate that you are coming from a good place. "I am not trying to criticize or control you. I truly want our relationship to get better and stronger".
If you feel as though the passive aggressive person is trying to turn things back around on you (which often happens with passive aggressive people), do not feel as though you need to defend your needs. Especially the need to have an adult conversation.
Do not confront a passive aggressive person with distractions or when their are other people around. This allows the passive aggressive person other things to divert their attention to, and also increases the likelihood that they will feel more embarrassed or ashamed of the perceived criticism.
Did you recognize any passive aggressive behaviors in yourself or others this week? If so, we hope you are able to start working on healing those difficult relationships.
Joleen Watson, MS, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling. Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.