5 Comebacks For Passive-Aggressive Parent Behavior
Every family's got at least one person who's passive-aggressive every now and again. It could be a zany uncle who makes lame observations about you being single, or your older cousin who can't help but talk about your eye makeup. Even worse (and more likely), it could be one of your parents, and what they say hits home more because these are the ones that know you best.
Scott Wetzler, Ph.D., vice chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Montefiore Medical Center, told the Huffington Post that being subjected to passive-aggressive comments can really mess with your head. He calls it "sugar-coated hostility" and it can "make you feel like a crazy person." No wonder it feels impossible to keep your cool during these interactions. You know the person is upset about something, but you're not sure what it is and they refuse to be upfront about it. It can make even the most sensible grown-up go nuts.
Expert psychologists always say the underlying purpose of passive-aggressive conversations is to avoid any real conflict, which is ironic because that sly comment about how tired you look is only revving you up for a fight. Unfortunately, the toxic words exchanged between parents and kids (especially mothers and daughters) don't stop when you reach adulthood. You don't have to put up with it, though, and you definitely don't have to wait for your parents to be the ones to fix it. No matter how young or old you are, you can be the one who puts your foot down and puts the unpleasant dialogue to rest.
Here are five comebacks to a passive-aggressive parent. And yes, they all require maturity.
1. "Hearing That Honestly Hurts My Feelings"
Bring it out into the open. Tell your parent that whatever they just said isn't cool with you and that it was uncalled for. This works much better than replying in the same toxic manner, since that will only result in a useless back and forth of hurtful dialogue. This response also requires you to be honest with your mom or dad, and that's always a good start to handling these kinds of interactions in a healthy way.
Lisa Brateman, a licensed clinical social worker and family therapist in New York, told the Wall Street Journal that mothers are known to say malicious things to their daughters about the smallest things, like their lipstick or their outfit, simply because they don't want to talk about the real problem, like the fact that they miss them or want to see them more. By frankly telling them these passive-aggressive comments hurt you, your mom (or dad) is less likely to continue saying them, and will instead be forced to think about where they truly come from.
2. "Is There Something Left Unsaid That We Should Talk About?"
A good rule to live by when you're dealing with a passive-aggressive person is not to respond by pointing fingers and using the words "you" and "your." Those words will likely make them feel like they're being attacked, so it helps to use the word "we" instead. When you ask this question in this particular form, you bring the actual issue out into the daylight — while also making it seem like you're both in this together. It's not a guarantee they will respond in a pleasant way, but it certainly gets them thinking. They may be open to having a conversation with you about it at a later time.
3. "I'm Not Going To Answer That"
Yes, you can completely refuse to participate in the conversation when one of your parents takes a turn down passive-aggressive lane. You've probably never done this before, so it might feel weird at first, but as long as you keep your cool it will turn out better than you think. Find the sweet spot of chill-yet-firm, and then tell them flat out that you don't want to play a role in this nonsense. You can either keep it really simple with this phrase, or you can elaborate on why you don't want to talk this way with them anymore.
It will probably halt them entirely in their tracks, since it's not very common to hear this kind of response to passive-aggressive comments. Don't expect a mature answer every time, but at least you can walk away knowing that you didn't add fuel to the passive-aggressive fire.
4. "We Both Know That's Not True"
Parents sometimes just say things to get a rise out of us. They'll make a cold remark about how we don't care about them anymore, how we're way too busy to give them the time of day. In this situation, it's extremely easy to scoff, roll your eyes, and yell at them to stop being so ridiculous (because they are being ridiculous).
That reaction is going to get you nowhere, though. Choose instead to say the above in a kind, understanding way. You can even hug them or say it with a cheeky smile on your face. This sends them a message that you refuse to engage with their toxic behavior, which Dr. Wetzler says is a useful way to move forward, but it does so in a welcoming way. The more you strip down the sugarcoat that wraps around their hostility, the quicker they'll be willing to take an honest look at themselves and the words they use.
5. "I Really Don't Like It When You Say That/Give Me The Silent Treatment/Do [X Other Passive-Aggressive Thing]"
Dr. Wetzler told the Huffington Post that it pays to speak specifically about your parents' passive-aggressive behavior. Talking in general terms — "You always say that!" or "You act like this every time!" — will only escalate things. "Call a spade a spade," he says. It sheds light on the hostility that's being passed around, rather than covering it up with more toxic words. Calling them out on individual behaviors or words that upset you will hopefully encourage them to think twice about their own actions. They may not have even realized they were doing it before you put it out there.
At the end of the day, It's very difficult for anyone to sustain a passive-aggressive attitude if you show up confident and assertive. That doesn't equal yelling and picking a fight, but it does mean you get to speak your mind in a mature way. Because, as backwards as it sounds, sometimes we're the ones who have to be the adult in our relationships with our parents.
Images: Comedy Central; Giphy (5)