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TherapistMarryAnn, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 5838
Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues.
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I have a friend who has some passive aggressive traits. I've

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I have a friend who has some passive aggressive traits. I've known her for over a year now and her behavior is getting to be extremely frustrating.
I read a little about PA and I've noticed that some things apply to her. Like:
- forgetfulness and chronic lateness. She is always last minute to everything; leaving for work in the morning, paying bills, packing for a trip... Or if I for example ask her to call tonight, she'll say she'll do her best. I'll be waiting but nothing happens. Then the next day she says she was too tired and fell asleep. I feel like she thinks her time is more valuable than mine.
- sulking and pretending everything is "fine"
I've noticed that when she is angry with me, she doesn't tell me about it but I find out she's mad when she mutters something by herself. If I confront her about it, she just says: "Don't worry about it, it's just a stupid thing. It's just..." In many occasions I actually have found out she's been complaining about me to other people and to my face she's said completely different things.
- Not following-through. She's promised me a lot of things, say she has a co-worker who can get me something for a discounted price. But it never happens.
- sarcasm. She claims to like bantering and our text messages are mostly in that tone.
- not accepting of other people's suggestions/ won't take criticism.
She's had some tough times and she has asked one of her former friends for advice many times but she never seems to do anything that was suggested, nor does she try to do anything to change her life for the better
- She buys a lot of (unnecessary) stuff online weekly but complains about financial problems. Has bad credit.
- When talking to her she often turns the conversation to be about her and HER problems. Very rarely asks questions from the other person.
- seems socially awkward in a crowd but claims to be social and out-going.
...and the list goes on and on.
My question is: how to handle a person like this? Is a friendship with her even worth it?
Hello, I'd like to help you with your question.

Being passive aggressive is a defense mechanism which is learned in order to cope with situations where the person is unable to express anger. It is a way to get that anger out without being direct. Another possibility is that your friend has a personality disorder. Both issues can be caused by unresolved abuse or neglect from childhood where the person did not get their emotional needs met. So they developed alternate ways of getting what they need emotionally, which fits the situation they are in but is usually maladaptive otherwise.

Usually someone with defenses or a personality disorder such as your friend has is difficult to treat. The person first has to realize they have a problem and it's not everyone else's fault for how they feel. Most of the time, due to the nature of the disorder, they do not have insight. So they are unlikely to seek help, leaving them to continue as they are already.

One of the best ways to deal with someone like your friend is to try to eliminate them from your life. They are not going to change, no matter how hard you try to help them or be there for them. So you will continue to have the same relationship regardless of your effort. To remove them from your life, stop having any face to face or phone contact. If they call you, don't return the call. Avoid them as much as you can. If they ask you why, tell them you are busy or another legitimate excuse. Take them off your Facebook, remove their numbers from your phone. After a while, they should move on.

If you cannot avoid them completely, try reducing your contact as much as possible. Avoid contact unless you must be in the same place. When they talk with you, offer short, neutral responses. If they try to rope you into an emotional situation, have a neutral response ready like, "Sorry you feel that way" no matter what they say to you. Repeat as needed until they lose interest and leave.

The only way to cope with someone like your friend is to reduce contact as much as you can. Unfortunately, everyone at one time or another must deal with people who act out. It helps to seek out others who are not toxic and develop good relationships so you can have a balance in your life.

I hope this has helped you,
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

So what you're saying is that there is nothing I can do?

I really don't want to cut her off from my life since I truly care about her and she's important to me.

Is it possible to reason with a PA or not at all?

How do they usually act if confronted about being passive aggressive?

I really want to help her... If she continues this way, she won't have any friends at all. She already alienated one of her closest friends with her behavior. I know that she is terribly afraid of ending up all alone, which is why I don't want to make her feel like everyone is just abandoning her.

That's how I would feel if one of my friends just suddenly stopped all contact.

Is there any way to make her realize that what she's doing is actually causing her to be alone?

It is very difficult to change someone who does not see that they are causing the problem. You can certainly try to help her though if you feel it is worth it.

It is hard to say how she will react since everyone is different, but most people with defense mechanisms such as passive aggression usually become defensive when you try to tell them about how they are behaving. They usually are so used to everything being someone else's fault they don't want to see it is really them who is wrong. It hurts too much to see it so they refuse to look at it.

You might also suggest counseling to her, though she may become upset about it, it is worth a try.

You can also modify how you interact with her so you can try to stay friends and still protect yourself somewhat. As long as you know that anything she does to hurt you is not about you but about her, then you may still be able to be friends with her. It will just be very one sided.


Customer: replied 5 years ago.

I have seen how she interacts with her mother and I've noticed that she doesn't have a problem expressing her anger with her.

So I'm guessing she does know how to express it, just not with everyone? I've read that PA's have trust issues and avoid conflict because they think it will cause the person to leave if they argue with them. Is it because she is her mother and cannot actually "leave" her because she is family that my friend can express her anger with the mother?

Can you give me some advice on how to talk with her? I've heard that in an argument you should keep very calm and not for example raise your voice in order not to make her use her passive aggressive defense, is it true?

What else can I do to possible get her to open up a bit and not be afraid to express her anger?

Are there some signs or words I should watch out for?

It could be that she is not passive aggressive but rather she has a personality disorder, especially if she is able to express anger to her mother. Many of the traits you described could also fit a personality disorder. Your friend would benefit from an evaluation to be sure of what she does have.

Assuming she does have passive aggression, it is best to keep as much emotion as you can out of your interactions. A neutral response ready like, "Sorry you feel that way" if she becomes upset or reacts emotionally to something helps.

You can only try to be as nice as you can to her. The only way she will overcome this issue is if she sees she has the problem and seeks the help of a professional. Issues like passive aggression and personality disorders are caused by deep seated issues that usually cannot be addressed outside of therapy through day to day interactions.


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