How would you deal with passive aggressive people who refuse to apologise even when they are in the wrong?

A student asked:

How would you deal with passive aggressive people who refuse to apologise even when they are in the wrong?

People who display the traits you mentioned are very toxic people. It is this precise trait of refusing to apologise for their wrongs that is the hallmark of toxicity. And unfortunately, you can’t do much about it except to keep a distance from them. I say this because I have had too many past experience with such people at various points in my life and I have tried so many things. Nothing worked.

Just to share an example… Years ago, I had to share office space with an inconsiderate ass who would talk very loudly and make a mess on other people’s tables (he behaved as if he owned the entire office space). I told him off for being inconsiderate. He could never see why he was in the wrong because he kept playing the victim card. And since then he’d go on this vindictive passive aggressive campaign. It was very awful but also very cowardly of him since he’d never dare to confront me face-to-face. I did get upset by his stupid antics. I asked myself if things would have been better had I taken a gentler approach. The answer is no. Because he’d still have played the victim card and refuse to apologise for his awful behaviour (other people tried). So at the end of the day, I just pity him because it shows how messed up a human being he is – how petty and mean a creature he really is. I can tell you that people like him won’t go very far in life be it career or even relationships. And since he always plays the victim card, he’ll never be able to see why he is the problem. So he’ll stagnate in his cesspool of toxicity.

This sort of person will remain toxic and will breed further toxicity in the people around them. With such people, you can’t do much. And in fact, the more you try, the more upset and bitter you’ll get, and you too might become as toxic as them. They are trying to drag you down to their level of pettiness because they cannot understand how people can be better than them. You know you’ve allowed yourself to be dragged into their cesspool of toxicity when you begin thinking that getting away from such people is an admission of defeat.

I know this because my parents used to have a daily dispute with a toxic neighbour who terrorised everyone who lived above, below, and beside her. She had a 101 reasons to fault us and she was unapologetic as well. The solution to preserve one’s mental health would be to move out. But my parents got caught in the petty squabbles and refused to move out. They saw moving out as an admission of defeat. My parents regularly said that they refused to lose to her. And so in the 10+ years of living there, they gradually ramped up their arsenal of passive aggressive reciprocation. They bought many speakers and positioned them at the neighbour’s unit to blast loud music early in the morning, in the exact the same way the neighbour did to us (she was better equipped with a subwoofer aimed at us that would cause our walls and furniture to vibrate).

In the end, my parents became no different from the neighbour: they got poisoned by that neighbour and became just as toxic as she was.

So, just call a spade a spade, and acknowledge how pitiably petty and toxic they are. Don’t reason with yourself that these people can improve. They have damned themselves and they wish to damn other people with them. I can only recommend keeping a distance from such people. Cut them off if you can. They are the rare few people whom I’ll say are very detrimental to your mental health. And after you’ve cut them off, move on with your life. You don’t need such toxic negativity in your life.

How do you deal with people who are passive aggressive (paggro)?

A student wrote to me, asking:

How do you deal with people who are passive aggressive (paggro)?

Usually passive aggressive people do what they do because they want do avoid confrontation. The reasons for avoiding confrontation varies. Sometimes it’s because the matter seems too trivial to warrant a direct confrontation and so feels like s/he has no outlet to vent his/her frustration about the matter; or the person is afraid of the repercussions of confrontation; or the person is aware that s/he’s so bad at handling direct confrontation that s/he will make the situation worse (it may also be because the person has a very bad temper and is avoiding have to reveal this awful side to you).

It would be incorrect to assume that the passive aggressive person is the incarnate of evil in the form of a paggro individual.

Often times, it’s because we ourselves are doing something to upset them, but not enough to trigger direct confrontation. So it would help to pause and reflect on what it is that we might be doing to upset them, and try to do less of that.

It may surprise you, but it’s usually the little things that drive people mad. This is especially true when you live with other people, or work with them regularly. Someone might be typing way too loudly, or handle things in a way that upsets them. It’s ok when it’s once or twice. But it does make people get crazy upset to have to endure it repeatedly for days or weeks.

Notice how such things seem so trivial that it feels so petty to bring up the matter? But it’s not petty at all. It’s human nature to get upset over the disruptions or small annoyances that make up our everyday routines. But many people think it’s so petty that they can’t bring themselves to talk about it, and so passive aggressive action is, the only outlet to vent their frustration for those who don’t know how best to deal with such issues.

If you can’t figure out what it is, or if it’s not possible to stop it entirely, then dialogue is important. You yourself must be prepared for what they will tell you, and you must assure that person you will not get mad. All you want to do is to solve a problem and make things better for both parties. You can try saying something like, “Hey, I noticed you seemed rather upset yesterday. And I want to better understand what is upsetting you, and what I can do about it to make it better for you.” Make sure you are mentally prepared to respond in a calm way whatever the answer may be.

I once went on a 3-week work trip with someone who made passive aggressive snide remarks at me almost every day. It upset me a lot and I finally told the person how I felt and that I could not understand why he would behave like this. His response was that we hated how I conducted myself, as he interpreted that it meant I was a certain sort of person which he despised. That was an answer I did not expect, and it did catch be off-guard. But I talked it out with him and tried to explain that I’m not such a person. In the end, the resolution was a sort of compromise: I can’t change myself completely, but at the very least, I would not do certain things that would trigger him. The conversation helped as he stopped making the snide remarks thereafter.

This incident happened 16 years ago, but it stays with me as a vivid memory, as a successful model on how I handle difficult situations with people, especially passive aggressive people. Now, as with all things with life, use your own discretion on how you might use the ideas I share here, and assess for yourselw how you might want to adapt to your own unique situation.