How to treat passive aggressive behavior

Updated March 23, 2017

It can be challenging to have a relationship with a person who exhibits passive aggressive behaviour. The passive aggressive person is constantly playing the victim and it is your role to bend over backwards to make sure that the person is not victimised by anyone else. That is not your job. The sooner you recognise that passive aggressiveness is a way of controlling you, the sooner you will be able to treat the passive aggressive behaviour in a more appropriate (and healthy) way. Here is how to treat passive aggressive behaviour.

Understand what passive aggressive behaviour is. People who engage in passive aggressive behaviour “punish” those around them in non-confrontational ways. For example, instead of just saying, “I do not want to help you with this task,” they might show up an hour late and sulk about something they are missing in order to help you with your task. They frequently play the “martyr” and “victim” in relationships.

Appreciate the power in being passive aggressive. Because the person is rarely confrontational, people tend to see the person as the “put upon” martyr, and the passive aggressive person is all too ready to feed this perception. As a result, others are more likely to give the passive aggressive person her way so as not to upset her. The passive aggressive person is just as controlling as an aggressive person, but asserts the power in a very different way.

Recognise that a passive aggressive person is not a victim. Interacting with a passive aggressive person is like a dance. He plays the victim, and it is your role to bend over backward to “protect” him from being victimised. This dynamic puts the passive aggressive person in control. He is anything but a “victim.”

Choose not to reward the passive aggressive behaviour. Do not treat a passive aggressive person like a victim. Instead, recognise the passive aggressive behaviour 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 behaviour 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, such as by saying, “I really hope my car can make it to Dallas. It’s a long drive, and my car is really old” instead of just asking if they can borrow your car. Choose not to reward this behaviour and act as if you don’t “get it” until the person asks you a direct question.


Remember that you show other people how to treat you. When you succumb to passive aggressive behaviour, you are showing the other person that it is OK to treat you this way. Instead, refuse to be controlled by passive aggressive behaviour. This will teach the passive aggressive people in your life that you are no longer willing to put up with their games.

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