Awesome Dude asks: “With confrontation, I was also wondering how to deal with the “passive-aggressive” type (ironically as I have a mild streak of this myself, I guess all people do). I am watching my own friend fall into the trap of a passive-aggressive/sneakier type of bully. This guy knows that my friend has some weight/self-esteem issues and instead of directly going up to him and saying “wow, what a lard ass!” he implies it or constantly pokes or pats him on the belly when walking past with a cocky little laugh.
The conversation will be pleasant enough, but he leaves with a little poke or pat on the “flabby” area.
Or people that are sarcastic, and you can’t really put a finger on it, but they insult you with nice words said in a really backhanded kind of way.
Or the more extreme passive-aggressive (I used to be this kind) that would have snuck into the kitchen and completely smashed the offending coffee cup, with an almost psychopathic, anonymous note left near the smashed up cup with some witty, zinger of a line about washing their stupid cup. Ok maybe not that bad, but yeah I used to be somewhat like that.
How do you deal with those people and what makes that belly-poker, sneak attack guy tick?”
Ah yes, the old passive aggressive sneak attack we all know so well. Who amongst us hasn’t had the pleasure (*cough *cough) of dealing with that person whose “nice comments” make Stalin look like Mother Theresa? One minute, we’re having a totally normal conversation and the next thing we know, we’ve been blindsided by a verbal baseball bat to the proverbial cojones. The PADO (Passive Aggressive Douchebaggy Offender), can come in many shapes and sizes. There’s the seemingly harmless little old lady with a tongue that could cut glass, the co-worker who’s totally professional when the boss is around but enjoys making people cry with her backhanded compliments, and the PTA mom who cannot help but subtly imply that you’re a horrible parent and your kids would be better off being raised by wild wolves than be subjected to your incompetent attempts at mothering. Although, she’s of course never going to come right out and say so.
Why PADOs usually render us powerless
There are two main problems with PADOs:
- We’re often taken by surprise by their sudden meanness. Because of this sudden and drastic turn of events, we usually need a bit of time for the full impact of what they’ve just said to hit us.
- They often seem so nice and/or the severity of their offense is totally out of proportion with what came before it. Their digs are often totally unprovoked. This leads to a kind of disbelief. Did they really just say that?? They couldn’t have possibly meant that!
These two factors lead to a delay in our response. Often, we don’t realize just how inappropriate their reaction was until hours later, when we recount the whole thing to someone else. In other words, we’re so stunned by the sheer audacity and venom coming out of a usually unlikely package, that we’re powerless to respond in the moment. This, of course, makes us feel all the worse.
But, even in hindsight, it’s often difficult to think of something we could’ve said that would’ve resolved the situation. Laughing it off doesn’t feel all that much better. And punching them in face isn’t generally an option. If we do nothing, we feel like a doormat. But if we react the way we’d like to and just bitch slap them into next year, our reaction will be seen as totally inappropriate. After all, they just innocently said something. And with a smile. Often the words themselves, taken out of context, aren’t even all that offensive. Really, do you even have a right to be so upset? The ambiguousness of the PADO’s comments often make us second guess ourselves. Are you sure you’re not just taking it the wrong way? Isn’t it really your responsibility to figure out why, exactly, you want to strangle this person every time you see them?
It’s about boundaries, people
Well, yes. Yes it is. But here’s the thing: You are not responsible for how other people act. You ARE responsible for your experience of them. In other words, it’s not your fault or your creation if someone is being a dick. But, the fact that you’ve gone ahead and attracted a dick into your reality, does contain some valuable information.
So, while it’s not your job to change anyone else so you can feel better (that doesn’t ever work anyway), you also don’t have to allow people to walk all over your boundaries. The reason you have such a negative reaction to a PADO, is that they’ve just stomped on one of your boundaries. But, they’ve done it in a way that’s making you question if you have the right to enforce that boundary. You’re not sure if you have permission to get mad. Also, you may not even know exactly which boundary they’ve stomped on. Often, after a PADO attack, when the victim is asked “Why did that bother you so much?”, they’re not really sure. Well, if you can’t even identify exactly why you’re so mad, do you have a right to be mad?
Yes. Yes you do.
You ALWAYS have the right to feel how you feel. You just don’t have the right to force others to change so you can feel better. So, if you’re feeling mad, you have a right to be mad. The emotion is already there. Of course you freaking have a right to feel it. The idea that our emotional responses are somehow “wrong” unless we can justify them is utter and absolute bullshit. That’s right, people, the Bullshit Fairy has arrived and he’s not pulling any punches today.
The anatomy of a PADO
But how exactly are PADOs created? What makes them react the way they do? And why does anyone, even the nicest amongst us, sometimes take on some PADO characteristics? Let he who can claim not to have uttered some passive aggressive comment at least once in their lives be slapped by the Bullshit Fairy. Because he’s lying. We’ve all been there. But why?
Passive aggressive behavior is nothing more than a defensive mechanism. Not a good one mind you, but nonetheless, it’s all about protecting the self. Let me demonstrate via the example that Awesome Dude mentioned in his question: The PADO Bully pokes fun at his friend’s weight. I’m going to dub the pudgy friend Bob, just for simplicity’s sake.
So, there’s Bob, with a bit of extra cushion for the pushin’ around the middle. He’s minding his own business, talking to his friends when PADO Boy comes up. Now, PADO Boy clearly has some massive insecurities about his looks. He may well be someone who takes excessive care of himself (or not, this is not always the case), but inside, he feels as though he’s never good enough. Perhaps he used to be pudgy himself, or still is. No matter what his actual outside looks like, inside, he’s feeling like the ugliest one in the room. But, he DESPERATELY wants to feel like he’s ok. So, he seeks out any opportunity to make himself feel better. When he sees Bob, he instantly locks on to him as a target. His mind compares his own body to Bob’s and if Bob is fatter than PADO Boy, he’ll rejoice. It’s not so much about putting Bob down, as it is about lifting himself up. So, when PADO Boy pokes Bob’s fat or makes a comment about his weight, what he’s actually saying is “I’m not so bad, am I? I’m ok, right? I mean, I’m thinner than this guy! Please tell me that I’m ok.”
Of course, any characteristic that PADO Boy can identify with, will also trigger his insecurity and self-hatred at the very same time. This is where the venom comes from. That nastiness isn’t actually about Bob. It’s the hatred that PADO Boy has for himself that’s coming to the surface, directed at the characteristic in Bob that has triggered the reaction. If PADO Boy thinks of himself as fat or has a fear of becoming fat, he will mercilessly focus on Bob’s weight and take a shot at it any time he can.
By doing this, PADO Boy actually feels a very temporary sense of relief. He saw the fat, which triggered his own fear of becoming fat (this includes a sense of powerlessness, lack of control over the body, lack of acceptance by others, lack of love, and much, much more), which was incredibly painful. Comparing himself to Bob and coming out favorably makes him feel better. Declaring it publicly is an attempt to get others to agree with him (because if they laugh at Bob’s jiggly belly, they are by default saying: “You are not like Bob. You are much better than Bob).
Of course, passive aggressive behavior isn’t very effective. All it does is alienate others, and ultimately doesn’t get the PADO what he really wants, which is to feel better about himself.
If you know a PADO and have the opportunity to observe them, do so. If you watch carefully, you’ll be able to see that just before they make one of their rat-poison-dipped-in-sugar comments, they were triggered in some way. This can be anything really, like an offer for help (trigger: you’re not good enough to do it on your own), or someone saying something nice about someone else (trigger: they’re implying that this someone is better than you). Remember that beliefs and fears usually aren’t logical. This trigger may seem harmless to everyone BUT the PADO, so don’t expect it to make sense.
It all starts with you
So, now that we understand what’s actually happening when a PADO fires off one of their stealthy bitch bombs, we can turn our attention to the art of disarming them.
This, of course, is easier said than done. And as always, the work starts with us. I know, I know, you’re getting sick of me saying that, but if blaming everything on others worked, we’d all be super happy by now. So, suck it up cupcake and get ready to own your shit (and I say this with love, of course).
As I said, this all comes down to boundaries. And, you can’t enforce boundaries if you don’t even know where they are. A PADO can actually help you find them (even though it may, understandably, be a while before you’re willing to thank them for it). If a comment, any comment, has offended you, it’s only ever because it’s triggered something within you. Yep, it ultimately comes down to your own insecurities. If a passive aggressive comment about your weight makes you mad, you’re insecure about your own weight. That one’s pretty straight forward. But they’re not always that simple, are they? Some offenses require some digging. What is it that you’re truly upset about? What’s the insecurity that’s been mirrored back to you?
You’ll want to figure out what’s going on with you BEFORE you try to disarm the PADO. This is because it’s much harder to stay neutral and authentic when you’re in the middle of having a negative emotional reaction yourself. You can’t help someone deal with their trigger unless you’re in a higher vibration than they are. So yeah… it all starts with you.
But, let’s say that you’ve dealt with your trigger, or you’re watching a PADO go after your friend, so you’re not personally being upset by what’s being said. The key is to stay in a high vibration. This means you have to practice compassion and love, not usually the way we tend to look at PADOs. But, if you want to affect real change, that is precisely what you’ll need to do. Remember that your friend attracted the event with his own insecurity, and that ultimately, the whole experience only showed up so that he could release the negative thoughts he’s having about himself. So, it’s not about protecting him, as much as it is about shining a loving light into the dark, painful corners of the PADOs mind. It’s not about comeuppance. It’s about helping another human being find a way to truly feel better. If you can’t approach the PADO from this angle, just stay away from them as much as possible.
How to disarm a PADO
So, there’s Bob, being poked by PADO Boy. What can you do?
Technique # 1: Treat the PADO with respect and kindness. Since passive aggressive behavior stems from a severe lack of self-esteem, the answer is not to smack the PADO down, but rather to uplift them. I know, this seems like you’re rewarding good behavior by being nice to them, but trust me on this, it works. The only caveat is that you have to be genuine. If you spend some time finding things you can truthfully appreciate about the PADO when you’re nowhere near them, it’ll be a lot easier to do so when they’re not there.
Technique # 2: Ask them very nicely and kindly (like you really want to know) why they’re doing that. Then shut up and make them answer. Don’t fall into the trap of giving PADO Boy a speech about what a horrible human being he is. He already thinks that, and you’ll just be confirming it. All you’ll get is more defensive behavior. The trick is to remember that they’re doing the best they can, just like everyone else, and look at them with the knowledge that they are not broken, and that they are good enough. If you ask PADO Boy why he’s poking Bob, and then shut up, he will have to come up with some explanation. He may still try to deflect with something like “Oh, he knows it’s all in fun”, but then you’ll have the opportunity to explain that it isn’t actually fun, and that he might not like it if someone treated him that way (DO NOT start pointing out the PADO’s faults, as in “How would you like it if I pointed out your receding hairline?”. This will not go well. You’ll just be feeding the monster and making it worse in the long run.)
Technique # 3: Ask “Why would you say that?” This is pretty much the same thing as the point above. You may need to ask some follow up questions, but remember, after each question, shut up and make them answer (or let them walk away. But don’t feed the monster!) For example, PADO Boy might say something like “Are those new jeans?”, when he damn well knows they aren’t. If you confront him directly, you’ll look like you’re overreacting. The PADO’s best defense is that his comments often come off ambiguous out of context. But, if you ask very nicely and kindly (like you really want to know) “Why did you ask him that?”, now he’ll have to come up with an answer. At this point, most PADOs will lie. This is not because they’re bad people, but simply because dealing with their own shit is too painful to contemplate (which is why they became PADOs in the first place!). Do not press them for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. A little bit of insight will be enough to affect some change. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you can’t force someone to give up all their defensive mechanisms in one go, especially if they have nothing to replace them with.
As I stated, passive aggressive behavior doesn’t work. PADOs are people who have no idea how to get what they want, and have become so frustrated and full of self-doubt (and often self-hatred) that the venom has to squirt out whenever an opportunity arises. These are people in pain, and with no resources to get out of it. It will serve you well to keep that in mind.
It’s not about teaching them a lesson or taking revenge
Back to the example: So PADO boy has been asked why he’d ask Bob about his jeans. Now, he will almost certainly deflect and say something like “I don’t know. I was just making conversation.” At his point, you’ll want to avoid (like the freaking plague!) taking it a step further, but pointing out that perhaps they made that comment so they could point out that the jeans aren’t very nice, and is that really the only way they know how to make themselves feel better… This is counterproductive, mean and condescending. Not to mention that all you’ll be doing is making them feel worse, which will feed the monster. Theirs and yours.
By asking the question, you’ve stopped PADO boy in his tracks. His misguided method of trying to feel better will now be too transparent to work. He was trying to set up a bit, but you’ve now made that impossible.
Helping a PADO
If you have a PADO in the family, have to deal with them regularly and would like to help bring them to the point where passive aggressive behavior is no longer an issue, then remember Technique #1 – it’s about building them up. If you can recognize that passive aggressive behavior is NEVER actually about you (or whomever they’ve targeted) and ALWAYS about them feeling better, then you’ll understand that finding ways to help the PADO focus more positively on themselves will be the best, long term solution. Show them how to get what they want. Talk about how you go about things. Give them support in their endeavor to feel better. What most people do with PADOs is to look at them as though they’re horrible, mean people. All this does is feed the monster. It just reinforces their beliefs. Plus, if you expect the worst from people, you will manifest it. If you expect the best from people, you’ll manifest, that, too. See their good qualities, even when they can’t. Point them out. Give them permission to feel the way they do. Talk to them. Help them find better alternatives. Help them figure out what it is they actually want and how to ask for it in a way that doesn’t diminish others.
And no, I don’t for a second think this will be easy. But I’ve done it on more than one occasion, so I know that it works. There are PADOs in my reality who are not even remotely passive aggressive in my presence. I get to see a completely different side of them because that’s what I elicit. I get to see the real them, the amazing qualities they have, which they often hide away from those who expect only the worst of them. They are often completely different people than others think they are. Amazing people. Funny people. Loving people. They just have horrible self-esteem. Uplift them a little and you may be shocked at what they’re capable of becoming.