Are you passive-aggressive?

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I don’t normally blog about social issues, but this one was a surprisingly hot one. You know how it is: We encounter passive-aggressive people all the time, especially in Hawaii. Having grown up here, I’m kind of used to this behavior in small doses, but I recently got it from so many people in such a short amount of time that it went from a minor annoyance to a major grate-on-the-brain video loop in my head.

So last week, in the wee hours of the morning, I randomly vented on Facebook:


It quickly blew up to 230 likes and almost 100 comments, most in vehement agreement. I sure hit a nerve with that one!

In Hawaii, due to the heavy Asian influence, you’ll find more passive-aggressive people. For many who move from the mainland — where people usually tell it like it is and let you know where you stand — this can be a huge factor of culture shock. When someone is displeased with you, you’ll often find they will avoid/exclude you, stop communicating, procrastinate, be mildly incompetent, or sulk.  In some cases, they may also throw blame or resentment at you, leaving you feel bewildered as you try to figure out why they’re mad, what you did wrong, and/or how to rectify the situation or make them happy.

Why are they doing this? Well, many passive-aggressive types — especially Asians — are unable or reluctant to show their true feelings because they’re afraid of the possible consequences if they assert themselves the way they want to. It’s possible, too, that they are afraid they’ll offend you by being honest; some people aren’t able to say things tactfully and may have come off as being rude when they tried to say how they feel. (Also note that it’s possible the person isn’t actually manipulative, but has something wrong in the part of their brain that enables them to act appropriately.)

When someone shows this type of behavior, the person s/he manipulates usually feels frustrated, angry, sad or betrayed. Note to passive-aggressive folks: We can tell that you’re being dishonest with your feelings! I tend to process this behavior the same way I react to a regular lie — I’m offended once that you chose to lie to me, and offended twice because you think I’m stupid enough to fall for it.

I’m sure it must be hard on the passive-aggressives, too. By bottling up their anger, they must walk around with increased pent-up frustration, leading to additional resentful behavior. Tension often develops in the relationship, which then leads to conflicts. If the manipulated person reacts badly or ends the friendship, the passive-aggressive person might feel that the fears about loss or having to hide feelings are well founded, creating a cycle. The real problems behind the behavior might never be solved.

Now, I’m not claiming that I don’t engage in this behavior. I am guilty of it, for sure, but usually with people I don’t know. I try to be direct (not rude) about what offends me, especially with those I’m close to, out of respect for the relationship and to preserve it. I don’t want to add tension to relationships or make people walk on eggshells, and I appreciate when people are honest (not rude) about what they need, as well. Maybe we can’t completely change ourselves to please the other person, but we can at least manage how we act or react when situations arise to avoid hurting people’s feelings.

I’m speaking as an unlicensed non-professional, but here are my two solutions for either party.

Passive-aggressive types (if you know who you are), maybe you should practice with family or friends on possible responses when someone offends you. This way, you can give honest feedback on something you don’t like without coming off as equally offensive. With kids, I’ve seen parents coach the simple, firm response, “((Name)), stop that. I don’t like that.”

Then again, if you don’t respect the person or the relationship, I can’t help you there!

For those on the receiving end, I got some advice from life coach Alice Inoue at Happiness U yesterday. She recommends that when this happens to you, try to turn it and look at the situation from a different perspective. Don’t think about how offensive or deceptive the person is; think about how this has possibly affected you for the better. Has it made you more conscious of being a nicer person? Do you have a good reputation as an honest, upstanding person because others don’t feel like you’ve been deceptive or manipulative?

“You get stress because you care about something,” she said. “You don’t have to like the situation. You just have to see it differently.”

What do you think? How have you experienced or coped with Hawaii’s passive-aggressive people?