How to Recover from A Passive Aggressive Relationship

Recover from a passive aggressive relationship and the damaging effects it can have on you.

Sometimes, it is hard to see it clearly, but it is never difficult to feel its effects.  In this three part series, you will get insights about:

In the first post, I helped you to see the patterns of P-A behavior. They are sometimes difficult to discern because they have so many faces. And, the P-A person is a master at turning the tables on you to make anything you perceive as problematic with their behavior ALL YOUR FAULT!  You know that now, and that in itself is a prime factor to look for in their behavior.  Here’s an example:

HE: “Oh, you always bring a little too little a little too late, don’t you?”

SHE:  “No, I don’t see it that way.  I don’t agree with you.”

HE:  “Oh, now, aren’t we the sensitive one today?”

That last line is classic P-A.  He takes no responsibility for making a judgmental remark, or about the accuracy of the remark.  He simply turns the table and makes it her fault! That’s one way to recognize a P-A person and that behavior will definitely lead to relationship problems.

[tweetthis]If anything you see as a problem with THEIR behaviour becomes about YOUR problems – it is #passive-aggressive.[/tweetthis]

Using the same interaction, the response she made was a very clear, conscious choice that spoke only about herself and what was true for her. She did not try to please, placate or protect herself.  This was a perfect–IMHO–response.  She spoke directly about herself only. P-A people want to be in control because they need to be in control to feed their anxieties about inferiority.  In the worst case of P-A behavior, they are simply looking to squash anyone, like a bug, to protect their facade of control.  That really requires us to have some compassion–best from a distance, though, if possible.

I invite you to go back and read those earlier posts if you missed them, so that what I share here will have more meaning. Also look at the possibility that you are dealing with a Hijackal.*


Who likes the lingering effects of an encounter with an energy vampire?  Obviously, there are no hands up on that one! A P-A person can be just that, an energy vampire sucking all the air out of the room for you.  Once you have experienced and consciously recognized their energy, you want to neutralize their effect on you immediately.

It takes energy just to break old habits of response and break out new ones.  That old pattern might have been to get sucked into the drama vortex passive-aggressive people constantly require, and then complain about them to someone else later. Not now, though, you’re wiser.  You have summoned up your new approach and offered a personally-based response, as in the example above.  If the person was not passive-aggressive, they would not have retorted with the “sensitive” line. Their natural next steps in that conversation might be:

” I’m sorry. That wasn’t one of my best moments, was it?  I didn’t mean to sound or be so judgmental.” OR

” Sorry, no, I’m sure you don’t agree with me, and I can see how harsh/judgmental that sounded. I would like to talk about your participation and collaboration with our team effort.”  OR

“I didn’t choose the best way to express myself and my frustration. I apologize for that.  I do, though, want to have a conversation about that part of our relationship.  The plans are left up to me, however, they never seem to suit. There is always something wrong with my choices, however, I feel like I am shooting in the dark without input. I’d like to make plans that work for both of us. Could we talk about that?”

Old habits die hard sometimes and mustering up these responses takes some doing in the beginning. And, as the scenario above demonstrates, even when the woman in that example did summon up a grown-up response that demonstrates that she values herself and is willing to have the conversation, the dedicated P-A person soldiers on!

Now, she has some recovery to do. She might be thinking “What hit me? That didn’t go the way I hoped it might. Now what?” Fair question.

This is the time to notice what is going on in her body. We take energy hits all the time and our fast-paced culture tells us to ignore them and keep on running.  My advice: Don’t! When you take an energy hit, acknowledge it.  It will help you assess whether you can, or should, continue the conversation in the moment. You know, there is nothing that says you have to.  Yes, if it is your boss that behaves this way, you may have to respond. But, if the energy hit is a big one, the response can be simply listening further.  Words may not be the wisest response.

If the energy hit is simply a recognition of their behavior pattern, you might be able to respond right then in one of these ways:

I would like to talk about the issue behind what made you comment. Are you willing to do that?”  OR

“My sensitivity is not in question. Tell me more the purpose of your assessment of ‘too little, too late?’  OR

“If there is an issue you would like to discuss with me, I’m open to hearing it. Otherwise, I am going to let your remark pass.”

If you acknowledge that your energy blow was a big one, you may be wise to leave the conversation with a declaration and a question:

“I think there are things we need to discuss, however, I am not prepared to do that now. When would be a good time tomorrow to talk?”



  • You don’t have to engage with folks, even when they want you to.
  • You do not have to answer questions just because they are asked.


Recovering from a P-A person’s remark  in the moment requires fast thinking on your feet…and practice, practice, practice. It’s well worth it!



Hands up anyone who had a passive-aggressive parent, teacher, minister, lover or friend.  Oh, so many hands!

Passive-aggressive people are common…unfortunately. And, what is even more unfortunate, in one way, is that they had us in their grip during our formative years while we needed them for survival!

By now, you’ve read enough that I’ve written about our P-A companions to immediately relate to those you’ve previously met, loved, and maybe, left. But, are you carrying their legacy? That requires some introspection.  Here are some clues that you might still be carrying that charge:

  • You second guess yourself constantly
  • You think more about what “they’ might think than about what you do think
  • You are a people-pleaser, even when it negates or discounts your own feelings
  • You have to do what you do as perfectly as possible…no matter how small. Nothing is insignificant
  • You make up reasons or excuses in your head, just in case someone asks you a “Why?” question
  • You generally take a passive stance, even physically, while feeling anger and resentment  internally
  • You feel anxious around people, never fully relaxed…even around the ones who really like you and have never hurt you
  • You are afraid to speak up for fear of the other person becoming petulant, sullen,  stubborn, or even worse, silent

You might not know this, but “Passive-Aggressive Personality”  is listed as one of the abnormal personality disorders with the American Psychological Association. It is a diagnosis, not just an irritant, annoyance, or frustration! People who suffer from a passive-aggressive personality have more limited abilities to reason with logical arguments and thoughts, so they belittle, demean, badger, rant, discount and dismiss other people instead.  Once again, it certainly calls for compassion from us. Living in their shoes is constant tension.

Whether we choose to distance ourselves from these folks or not is a personal choice.  Not stepping up and taking charge of our own insights, desires, behaviors, boundaries and choices while interacting with them puts us in the category of being a ‘volunteer’ rather than a victim, though.

You can learn to keep your sanity, clarity and calmness in your interactions with P-A folks.  AND, you can recover from those in your past by seeing them clearly and recognizing that their behavior had little or nothing to do with who you are and what you do. You were just handy. So, don’t take it on.

Yes, I know. That’s easier said than done, but put it in perspective. A P-A person has many victims. It is a stance they take in the world in order to feel superior, in charge, in control and on top.  It’s a sad way to interact.  So, it’s not about you. It’s about them. In fact, it never was about you. Knowing that might make it easier to get some help to recover from the energy vampires of the passive-aggressive kind you’ve met in your life if they seem to still have their fangs in your neck.

NOTE TO SELF:  A PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE PERSON CANNOT PLAY ALONE!  If you engage with them in their up/down, “she hit me back first” drama, you are encouraging the behavior. If you set clear boundaries and learn to express your boundaries well, you can limit the relationship problems these people want to create. To interact with them, it is imperative not to debate because they are not under delusions of logic, order and rational thinking. They are always in superior/protective mode. You will need highly honed skills to stay in relationship with such a person in depth over time. ….which is why they are likely in your past.

RECOVERING from a relationship–or, even a one-time hit–from a passive-aggressive person is possible. It takes reflection, time, focus and the willingness to believe that you matter, that you deserve to always be treated with respect for who you are and the boundaries you set.  If you want help doing that, let’s talk.

*Hijackal: a person who hijacks relationships for their own purposes while scavenging them for power, status and control. This term was coined by Dr. Shaler.

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