Ever try to describe the behavior of a passive-aggressive person to someone else?
Inevitably, you come off sounding petty. And a little crazy.
There’s disbelief: “No way. That doesn’t seem like them.”
There’s doubt: “Are you sure? Maybe you misunderstood.”
There’s advice: “You should talk to them about it. They probably have no idea you feel this way.”
And then you think, “maybe I am crazy after all. Maybe I just imagined everything. They seem so normal. So nice.” You look around. “Nobody else has a problem with them. Everybody else thinks they’re nice. There must be something wrong with ME. Maybe I’m tired. or overstressed. oversensitive.”
“Yes, that must be it. This is definitely all in my head. I just need a good night’s sleep. or a day off.”
and then, with the stealth of Eddie Haskel and sweetness of Marie Barone, they strike again.
When you get your bearings, you realize. You weren’t imagining things! You’re not crazy!!! woo hoo!!
That’s not better. It’s just a different kind of bad. and they’re not going to change. You’re not going to change them.
The only thing you can change is your response.
Someone who engages in passive-aggressive behavior is like a woman sitting in the front row at a play, wearing a big ol’ hat. People approach her and politely tell her that her hat is blocking their view of the stage. They make sure not to insult the hat, assuring her it is a beautiful hat, unique and perfect for her. She smiles and thanks them as they walk away, but she doesn’t take the hat off. She just repositions it to a different spot on her head.
It never even occurred to her to take off the hat.
She’s not being mean. In her mind, she’s not doing anything wrong. Nobody actually asked her to take the hat off. They just told her it was in their way, so she moved it. They told her it was a nice hat. So, by leaving it on, everyone still gets to admire it. She’s doing everyone a great service.
If you’re sitting behind her, you have five choices, only one of them good:
1. You can sit there, mumbling and complaining about the rude woman in the front row wearing the big ol’ hat:
“Can you BELIEVE her? WHAT is her problem?”
2. You can address the issue directly and politely ask her to remove her hat.
But you’re too late. Someone has already told her what a nice hat it is. She’ll defensively tell you that other people have told her they like it, implying that you are a schmuck for asking her to take it off. What’s wrong with you? Why would you even say anything bad about her hat? You must not like her. You’ve hurt her feelings. (You can tell because her bottom lip is quivering.) You’re mean. And after you go back to your seat, just as the show starts, when everyone is supposed to turn off their phone, she’ll send you a text message to tell you that she understands that you’re just upset because you don’t have a hat. After the show, she’ll tell everyone who will listen what happened. Then they’ll all know how petty and mean you were.
3. You can walk up to her and snatch the big ol’ hat off of her head yourself.
Don’t do it. It just makes you look crazier. and even meaner than if you asked her to remove the hat.
4. You can give up and leave.
What’s the point of sticking around? You won’t be able to see anything anyway.
5. You can STAY and MOVE to BETTER SEAT.
If you’re smart, you’ll move. You won’t let a big ol’ hat run you off.
And if you’re a Christian, you can pray. That she’ll see her big ol’ hat for what it is – an obstacle to open communication and good relationships. Of course, you should probably also pray that God will bless you with the patience and energy to keep moving to a better seat without letting it get to you. (Jesus said we should turn the other cheek. But He didn’t say we had to stand within smack radius.)
New people will come in and, at first, not paying attention, they’ll fill the empty seats around her. After a while, they’ll notice. “That’s a big hat.” They’ll assume she knows it’s rude to leave the hat on. They’ll assume she’ll take it off. When she doesn’t, they’ll find themselves facing the same five choices you did.
As the new people thin out and the crowd consists of people who’ve been there a while, you’ll notice something. She’s surrounded by empty seats.
But she still looks – and feels – good in the hat. And to her, that’s the most important thing.
CLICK HERE to see other posts I’ve written about dealing with emotional bullies, narcissists and passive-aggressive people.