How Passive Aggressive People Quietly Poison Relationships & Sabotage Their Success

Nothing exhausts me like dealing with someone who’s passive aggressive. 

Coaxing them into telling me what’s wrong makes me feel like a hostage negotiator.

By the time I realize what I’m dealing with, I’ve generally spent hours gaslighting and berating myself for being paranoid, despite the pile of evidence pointing to a serious problem that the person I’m agonizing over won’t name. 

It’s a foreign concept to me — expressing animosity by whittling replies down to intermittent single sentences. Or single words. Or through phone calls that go unanswered. 

I am, by nature, an aggressive person who has learned to express myself assertively. It took me decades to learn how to share my feelings in a calm, respectful way that invites disagreement in the service of repairing the relationship. My greatest challenge has been exerting self-control when what I want to do is impulsively unleash my rawest thoughts and feelings when I’m heated.

Which is why I’m so slow to recognize the passive aggressives of the world. Their ability to keep their mouths shut both amazes and incenses me. 

Given my line of work, you may think I’m talking about the behavior of a client. 

I am not. 

And thank God I’m not talking about anyone in my personal life. 

I am referencing an experience with a service provider — someone I paid for specific deliverables which are outlined in an agreement we put in writing. 

I’m sharing this with you because passive-aggressive behavior shows up the same way whether it’s coming from someone in our personal or professional life. 

It’s always the same bullshit. 

They overpromise. Or agree to things that initially feel OK to them but which become burdensome at some future point. Or they accommodate us quietly. Or, over time, their feelings about the relationship change — and instead of sharing their feelings directly to end or renegotiate the terms of the relationship, they become slow to reply, “forgetful” or “confused.” Their communication becomes terse or intermittent. They fail to follow through on promises. 

The common denominator is a pervasive resistance to show up in the relationship at a basic level.

Which provokes a dynamic between us…

We follow up and reach out more, asking questions we try to phrase differently, hoping the issue is rooted in communication instead of a personality problem. Or a personality disorder. 

They may or may not reassure us. But they certainly do not acknowledge the problem. 

Which, ironically, only escalates us and the tension that hangs between us.

I use the word ironic because the very thing they want is to avoid confrontation. 

And they provoke it by being a pussy.

But they let you know their feelings indirectly.

Because feelings come out one way or another. 

The person who’s passive-aggressive is emotionally dishonest. They are internally fragile, insecure, and intolerant of their own discomfort to directly express their feelings, thoughts, or boundaries. Underneath their infuriating behaviors is a limiting belief that any words they express will fall on deaf ears and will likely make things worse, not better.

So they choke it down. Which sucks for them. But it’s not my problem or yours. 

So, what should you do when you realize you’re dealing with this kind of shit? 

Take a page from Maya Angelou: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

If you don’t want to engage in an endless rinse and repeat cycle of having awkward, uncomfortable conversations in which you stalk, then confront the passive aggressive person when they behave as they inevitably do, you need to end the relationship, because they’re not going to change. 

I pondered writing a Yelp review to save the next client from what I’ve just experienced. But somehow I always come down on the side of protecting the entrepreneur. Or, at the very least, not wanting to be responsible for ending their career. 

Instead, I choose to publicly shame them. 

Does this make me passive aggressive?


Because I’ve tried to be direct. And predictably, the more I approached, the more they avoided.   

I have a right to express myself. They’re passive aggressive. And I have a blog.