Dealing With Passive-Aggressive People

Passive-aggressive people, because they are incompetent in some form or another, hide behind manipulations and games. They’d rather imply than just come out and say it, because being direct means they’d have to be held accountable, and that would expose their weakness.

So, they imply, work on your subconscious. You just know you feel bad, but you’re not sure why. First step in dealing with someone who is passive-aggressive is to recognize what they’re doing. This is a true case of better late than never, since your own reaction to the effects of their abuse can be delayed because of their veiled attacks; you don’t see it coming but you feel the after-effects.

Here’s a few of their tricks.

Bait and Switch

This one’s very tricky. They insult you but veil it behind something such as “teaching” you something. But the insult is in there, hidden in the “lesson”. When you inevitably respond to the insult but also try to stand your ground, you end up in their trap. They then switch it on you by saying something like “I’ve obviously struck a nerve”, and then proceed to be very condescending and tell you how to get help. They’ve made it look like you’re the one who is wrong. They’ve sneakily baited you into the trap and then struck again by implying you’re incompetent and pathetic.

Obviously the best way to handle this is to see it coming; recognize the bait and don’t go for it. Understandably, you might not see it coming, though. That’s the point. They don’t want you to see it coming; that’s why they veiled the insult. But somewhere along the line you feel it. At that point, reassess what they said, pin-point the insult, and realize they are just playing a game that can only escalate. That’s when I would totally disengage. Of course, as with all passive-aggressive people, you could call them on it; they don’t like to be exposed, that’s why they hide behind games and veil their offense. If you do call them on it, give detail, tell them what they said and that you know it was a bait.

The Joker

All of the attacks are supposed to be jokes. But it becomes clear to you that the point is to degrade you. The jokes are just a bit too pointed. Of course, as soon as you protest, they will say that you just can’t take a joke and you’re hyper-sensitive. This is another way for them to win and still attack you. They really put you in a catch-22 situation.

Get more pointed back at them. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.


The Comparison

Many passive-aggressive people like to use comparison to attack you; how much smarter someone is than you are, and then when you talk they find ways to make it seem like what you say is unimportant and unintelligent; nitpick, walk away, etc. They are trying to make you feel dumb and worthless. Realize at once that they themselves feel pretty bad about themselves and puff themselves up by belittling you. Also realize that they must feel very threatened by you or else they wouldn’t want to attack and degrade you.They actually think you are smarter. Understanding this will make it easier to walk away with your dignity intact.


As I alluded to, the passive-aggressive person has an inward problem. They build themselves up by degrading others; which implies they don’t think very highly of themselves. They have a warped sense of themselves, want to be better but the only thing they know how to do is attack people. It is important to understand that they are the one with the problem; it makes it that much easier to walk away, confront them or to take action or not take action, whatever it is you have to do; because you know what you’re dealing with. It can be painful not even knowing what has hit you. When you realize the attacker is pathetic and desperate, you realize they’ve projected their inadequacies on to you.

Along these lines, it is important to trust your perceptions. You can feel it in your gut that something’s wrong. Understand it’s them, not you. At that point you respond the way you must; like when a speeding car is coming at you, you act as soon as you see it.

Half the battle is seeing it. The other half is comparatively easy.

Featured image: By Bernal Saborio from Costa Rica (sleepy sneaky) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

One Response
  1. Kathy V.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *