Someone who displays passive-aggressive behavior can be one of the most difficult people to deal with. If you have a passive-aggressive person in your life, you may be feeling very frustrated, and confused as to how to handle them. The great news is – there is a way that you can completely change your experience with passive-aggressive people.
While you cannot make someone else change their behavior without their cooperation, you can choose to change whatever it is in you that responds to that behavior. The result will be: that person will no longer affect you.
There’s no reason for you to control your reactions, or to make yourself change your own responses, or to force yourself to bite your tongue and put up with it. You will simply no longer experience their behavior in the same way, and you will automatically feel and react differently.
What is Passive-Aggressive Behavior?
For most people, passive-aggressive behavior is recognized by the fact that the person seems to cause deliberate harm, in a way that cannot be directly considered aggressive. This is why it is so frustrating for those who are dealing with it – because when pointed out, the other person could use reason and logic to deny their intentions are anything but innocent.
An example of passive-aggressive behavior would be someone consistently being late, causing stress and problems for someone else. When confronted, the passive-aggressive person would argue that they can’t help being late and would list the reasons outside of their control for their delays.
Another example might be someone who seems to make the same kind of mistake over and over – a mistake that costs someone else in some way (in time, stress, financially, reputation, or a range of other possibilities).
When it is pointed out to them, they would argue that they can’t help making the mistakes and it isn’t deliberate. And they may be right… consciously.
The majority of passive-aggressive behavior is subconscious. In other words, the person may genuinely not know they are doing it. As far as they’re concerned, their behavior is not behavior, it is a response to forces outside of their control.
The problem is that to those who are on the receiving end of the passive-aggressive behavior, the intentions are obviously and clearly deliberate and conscious. It appears to those who are suffering from the effects of the behavior that it is conscious and deliberate. However, while it may be deliberate, it is seldom conscious.
As is the case with most of us, almost all of the choices, decisions, actions and responses of a passive-aggressive person are automatic. While it feels to us like the conscious mind is in charge and we are making conscious choices and taking conscious actions most of the time, the truth is: the conscious mind is simply responding to signals from the brain and body that are prompted by the subconscious.
We are consciously completely unaware of most of our automatic responses to triggers. For most people who display passive-aggressive behavior it is without their conscious awareness. For example, the person who causes stress and inconvenience for their partner by being consistently late will probably have no idea that it is subconsciously deliberate.
As far as the conscious mind is concerned, they are doing everything they can to be on time. But, because the conscious mind responds to signals prompted by the subconscious, they will have no real conscious control over their behavior.
How it Works
Here’s an example of how the subconscious can cause passive-aggressive behavior without the individual’s conscious knowledge:
Joan is fed up with David’s passive-aggressive behavior. He seems to go out of his way to let her down. No matter how much she tries to explain how important it is to her that he respects her by turning up on time for appointments, he is always late – and always has some excuse for how it wasn’t his fault. It’s obvious he’s doing it deliberately – it’s too consistent and obvious to be accidental! However, when she points out how disrespectful his habit is, he reacts defensively, claiming he is doing his best.
What’s happening in David’s mind? As far as David’s conscious mind is concerned, he is genuinely trying as hard as he can to be on time. In fact, he gets frustrated with himself when he’s late – again. But he just seems to be unlucky.
Meanwhile, in the background, David’s subconscious is working hard to keep up the pattern of being late. Why? Because it has data that it’s referring to that provides proof that being late is essential to his survival.
Let’s go back in time a little to find out how this data was created and how this proof became so strong that his subconscious will do anything to keep the status quo. When David was a child, his mother and father both worked full-time. David was the youngest of three children; and, was usually left to entertain himself since there was a five-year gap between David and his older sisters – who were twins. By the time David was 10 years old, his 15-year-old siblings were hardly ever home, and he was left in the care of a baby-sitter.
The baby-sitter was an angry, impatient older woman, who was pleasant when David’s parents were present, but very harsh with him when he was alone with her. David found that the longer he took to come out of school, the less time he needed to spend with the sitter. He started joining as many after-school clubs and activities as he could – even those he didn’t particularly enjoy – to shorten the amount of time he would need to spend with the sitter.
These delay tactics became recorded in David’s subconscious as survival mechanisms. The later he was coming out of school, the shorter his torment when he got home. Since the subconscious is not able to use logic or reason, it connects data and information based on its interpretation of experiences.
The conscious mind is, naturally, unaware of this. In this case, David’s subconscious connected the tendency to delay with protecting himself. Because his conscious mind wasn’t involved in this understanding, as he got older, David had no idea why he always seemed to be running late. Even when he planned ahead and tried really hard to be on time, something would happen to make him late. It seemed to be completely out of his hands.
How Does the Subconscious Make Him Late?
When David is planning to be on time – or even early – his subconscious is referring to the data it holds, the connection between delay and survival, and is counteracting his conscious decisions and actions without his awareness.
Since it is the subconscious that is in control of most of the bodily functions, it will prompt the brain to trigger the organs to produce chemicals that cause certain sensations.
These sensations will then be given meaning by the conscious mind, and David will act (or fail to act) accordingly.
For example, David may have consciously planned to start getting ready to leave the house at 7am, leaving plenty of time to get to where he needs to be by 8am; but at 7am he suddenly remembers he hasn’t responded to an important email. Two main things form part of his decision to delay his departure from the house to reply to the email:
- His subconscious has prompted his brain to trigger his organs to produce the chemicals that cause the sensation of worry and anxiety. His conscious mind duly interprets this sensation – reasoning that if he doesn’t answer the email now, he may forget later, and then he’ll lose out on that opportunity (or he’ll experience some other unwanted consequence).
- As his conscious mind starts to argue that it will make him late, his subconscious prompts his brain to trigger his organs to produce the chemicals that make him feel the sensation that his conscious mind interprets to mean it will be okay. His conscious mind, picking up on the cues of the sensations in his body, reasons that he has allowed extra time, and he’s sure he’ll still get there on time.
We think we prioritize using the conscious mind; but the truth is, it is the subconscious that prioritizes, and the conscious mind follows its cues.
There are, of course, infinite scenarios and ways in which the subconscious can influence the conscious mind through the body and brain in order to counteract the deviations from what (as far as the subconscious is concerned, from the evidence of the records it holds) is essential for survival. This is one small and simplified example.
How to Deal with Passive-Aggressive People
As is clear from David’s example, the conscious mind has very little control over our automatic behavior. Even the behavior and choices that appear to be conscious are, at least to some extent, affected by the subconscious. This means that most of those who display passive-aggressive behavior wouldn’t recognize it as passive-aggressive.
Because of this, it is ineffective to try to reason with the person. In fact, even if they are consciously aware of what they’re doing, there is no point in trying to convince them to change since they are unlikely to cooperate. Fortunately, you don’t need their cooperation to change your experience of them!
Think about the passive-aggressive person in your life, and notice how you feel as you think about them and what they do. Now think back to when else in your life you’ve felt that same feeling. When else have you felt the same feeling you’re feeling now?
It may not have had anything to do with the same situation; but if it is the same feeling, your subconscious will have connected it. Go to that memory, whenever it was, and use the FasterEFT Technique to flip it. Make sure you keep repeating the process until it flips completely.
Do the same with all other memories you have of experiencing the effects of passive-aggressive behavior – or anything else that produces the same feelings for you. Once you’ve flipped all of those feelings and memories, go back to the passive-aggressive person you have in your life currently, and do the same with the memories you have of them. Flip each one so that your subconscious no longer has any references of the old reactions.
From now on, whenever you feel bothered by anyone’s behavior – passive-aggressive or anything else – or any other trigger, use the FasterEFT technique in the moment to clear the feeling. If you are in public, or can’t tap physically for some other reason, use Mental Tapping instead.
For more information on how and why FasterEFT works, read: The REAL Cause of All Your Problems.
For step-by-step guidance in using the technique, read: The FasterEFT Technique – Step-by-Step.
To listen to Robert G. Smith (founder of FasterEFT) explain how the mind works, and to watch him demonstrating the technique on others, visit the FasterEFT YouTube Channel.
Article by: Robert G. Smith