How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People

Passive aggressive people are some of the most annoying people I know.

And I’m including people over 30 who wear dungarees in that statement, so you can see how strongly I feel.

I’m quite a direct person. I certainly don’t enjoy confrontation, and I’ll usually walk away to avoid it. But if that’s not an option then I am capable of taking a deep breath and saying what I need to say. Then I go home and eat a giant bar of chocolate and cry quietly into a pillow. Like a normal person.

Trying to deal with passive aggressive people, though? It’s like trying to hold water. Or make sense of Love Island.

Maybe it’s the relative who consistently ‘forgets’ arrangements because their life is so much busier than yours (“you’re so lucky you only have one, and you don’t have to go to work…”).

Or it’s the friend who refuses to tell you which restaurant they want to go to but then sighs over the menu for half an hour and says, “Oh, it’s FINE,” every time you ask if they are okay.

It drives me crazy.

Because you can’t call out a passive aggressive person. What sort of monster are you, being SO mean when they’re ONLY trying to give you a compliment/be helpful/some other nonsense that’s basically ‘screw you’ in a nice dress.

With the arrival of social media, being a passive aggressive tw@tnugget has never been easier. After all, why bother doing something constructive when you can just sub-tweet or post something vague on Facebook, where the person you’re pissed off at will almost definitely see it?

As an added bonus, dozens of your friends will be all,  “U OK, Hun?”  and you’ll get to be all noble, and, “Not really. DM me.”

If you’re like me and driven to the edge of insanity by passive aggressive nonsense, I’m sharing my top 5 tips for dealing with passive aggressive people.

Spoiler: this list won’t include ‘killing them with a can opener when they tell you how great it is that you don’t mind using convenience foods even though you’re at home all day’.

See it for What It Is

One of the most freeing things for me was realising that someone who is passive aggressive is being hostile.

Maybe they can’t show it because they have low self-esteem and feel powerless. Maybe they’re the sort of person who would rather see themselves as a victim because that means they’re not responsible for their own happiness (or lack of it). Maybe they’re someone who worries that showing anger or frustration isn’t socially acceptable, or will make people see them as less than perfect.

Whatever the reason, they’re pissed off and taking it out on you. Don’t let someone convince you that you’re imagining it, that you’re the problem with your unreasonable expectations, that you’re looking for problems where they don’t exist (hello, ex-boyfriend who told me this for eight frickin’ years).

Ignore Them

So if you really look into WHY people are passive aggressive, it’s all about triggering YOUR hostility so that they can vicariously vent THEIR anger without being seen to get angry. Or something.If you refuse to react to their shenanigans, it’s like cutting off their oxygen. Even if you’re boiling on the inside with murderous rage, think ‘calm and serene’.

Anything you do to react to passive aggressive behaviour is just playing their game. “I was only trying to give you a compliment, stop being so sensitive!” “I was only trying to help you out, I can’t believe you’re being so hostile!” “I was only making a joke, where’s your sense of humour?” 


A lot of passive aggressive people are obsessed with telling you about how difficult their life is. Especially compared to yours, you idle slacker.

So you’ll get ridiculous excuses for why they’re always forgetting to meet you on time (“My neighbour’s dog got sick and then Vikings looted the house and took my travel card and I caught leprosy.”)

Whatever you do, avoid the urge to solve their problem (maybe keep your travel card in your bag?) or catch them out in a fib. That only feeds into their view that the world is filled with Meanies (like you) who victimise them and are always pointing out what they do wrong. Just offer bland sympathy. “Oh, it sucks when that happens. Oh dear.” 

Be Super Clear on Expectations

Passive aggressive people are ninjas when it comes to letting you down.

They don’t bring the gift to Grandma’s birthday party. They’re late to a girls’ night out. They were honestly just trying their best and it’s not their fault things didn’t work out.

I’ve found, through years of experience, that the best way to make passive aggressive people accountable is to have incredibly clear communication. Send text messages and ask for confirmation that they’ve got them. Make arrangements over email. Get the important details in writing. Use a lot of bullet points.

Praise Good Behaviour

Anyone who’s raised a toddler or trained a dog knows that the secret to getting Rex to be a good boy is to consistently and enthusiastically praise them for peeing on the right spot. So it is with passive aggressives.

So if your passive-aggressive mother in law offers advice that isn’t a thinly veiled insult be SUPER grateful and responsive. When your co-worker says they’re too busy to help rather than offering and then failing to deliver, point out how helpful it is that they told you, so you could make other plans. Just don’t pat them on the head and let them watch CBeebies as a special treat.

Unfollow them on Social Media

A few years ago, I went through a phase of obsessively worrying about things people said about me on social media. Although – obviously – none of the comments named me, I knew they were about me (narcissistic? moi?). And it would drive me CRAZY that people were Tweeting stuff they wouldn’t say to my face, or even directly to my Twitter account. Then I realised a far more sensible approach would be, “Didn’t see it, didn’t happen, can’t care.” 

If you’re the sort of person who sub-tweets or posts vague insults on Facebook groups about “certain” people, then there’s a really very good chance that I’ve unfollowed you. If it’s TRULY important, then I trust someone will talk to me about it. If they don’t care enough to do that, then they’re really just attention seeking, and I can safely leave it to other people to provide that service.


Do you have any tips for handling passive aggressive people?  Ideally that don’t involve can openers and jail time… 


12 thoughts on “How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People”

  1. I read an article abut how to deal with narcissists but a lot of narcissistic behaviour is passive aggressive because they use this to manipulate you and they they can accuse you of being hysterical, over-sensitive, jealous, etc… Anyway, the advice was to be a ‘gray rock’. A gray rock symbolizes the most boring you can be without being asleep. So when someone someone passively aggressively insults you under the guise of a compliment or trying to be helpful, just smile and say something like: Thanks, that’s helpful. If that’s the only response they ever get from you they’ll eventually stop trying to make you react.

    1. I think actually that’s a perfect response – because any strong response fuels the cycle, I think. I definitely have learned that directly confronting someone who’s behaving that way will only make them feel attacked, and it feeds into the drama.

    1. Ha! Very possibly, but it’s something we all do from time to time. I’d call out a friend who did it once in a while, but for other people, it’s just a core part of their personality, isn’t it? And that’s HARD.

  2. My usual approach with passive aggressive people is take them at absolute face value. It plays havoc with their expectations and really confuses them.

    The other approach isn’t as useful but it’s more fun: respond to passive aggressive people with an aggressive aggressive reply.

  3. I fortunately do not have many passive aggressive people in my life any more, only famliy. It is mainly attention grabbing, self absorbed tactic so I literally just show that it doesn’t affect me and that I missed the point.

    I’m a very direct and straight to the point person and the people I do socialise with now know passive aggressiveness gets them nowhere.

    Alternatively, when I was I did call people out for it in groups which also worked but, I became seen as a cold person which is further from the truth.

    I find sharing pictures on social media hilarious, essentially airing their dirty laundry.

  4. I don’t like this at all. I find them overbearing and selfish. I would much rather know how someone else is doing, I know how I am . I think the smile and walk away as soon as possible. x

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