Am I being passive-aggressive?

Dr.J has this uncle who’s been a thorn in everyone’s side since he married into the family. He’s loud, he’s abrasive, and his one great joy in life is pushing people’s buttons. You all know this guy. He’s the instigator, the one who never can seem to leave bad enough alone, the one who always has his extra-long shit-stirring stick close to hand. He’s never actually in the argument, but he almost always plays a huge part in getting the argument started.

Apparently my mother-in-law enjoys watching me interact with this guy because I never take his bait. I either feign a polite interest in his views, politely tell him he’s full of shit, or simply pretend I didn’t hear his little comments. This is partly because Uncle Jimmy is really just a fifty-year-old version of the guys who used to bark at me in middle school, and I’m an old pro at not responding to the bait of that sort of asshole. Mostly, though, I do it because I know it drives the old turd absolutely batshit.

And that makes me wonder: am I being passive-aggressive? It seems like I am, since my inaction is primarily to piss the man off, and that’s pretty much the definition of passive aggression. At the same time, though, passive-aggressive is usually considered a negative trait, and I just can’t quite see ignoring a shit-stirring uncle as a bad thing.

While it is passive-aggressive, it’s at least in response to overt aggression. The bad name passive-aggression gets is because it’s usually unprovoked.

Maybe a bit, but I wouldn’t worry about it, because it’s all a game to him. Instead of reacting to his game as most people would seem to, you’ve chosen a different strategy. And if his inability to piss you off in some way off pisses him off, then too bad for him.

If he were being genuine, instead of trying to get a rise out of people simply for the spectacle of it, I’d say you might have cause to be concerned about your reaction to him. In this case, I don’t think so.

If you do it deliberately with the intent of annoying him, it’s PA. It’s just a justified version. If you ignore him because he’s an idiot and don’t care if it annoys him, it’s not PA. IMHO, this is the better way to go… just ignore him completely.

I don’t see how you have a choice. To cater to him and give him what he wants (a reaction that he can feed off of) is not an option.

What you are doing is just not catering to this jerk, not giving him what he wants. By not giving him what he wants, you are annoying him. If it’s technically passive-aggressive, well, that’s what it is. Can’t be helped.

It’s the only way to respond, unless you want to hop into the cauldron of shit with him, which you don’t. Passive-aggressive can be a useful tool; it’s not always a negative thing. Rock on.

I think of passive-aggressiveness as being aggressive in a passive way – that is, trying to cheese someone off without “really” doing anything bad.

The way you’re acting is kind of like this, but to be truly passive-aggressive in my view, you need to be the instigator, and you’re not. What you’re really doing is more like argumentational judo – you’re letting him expend his energy without letting it affect you.

I say keep it up. For one thing, it makes your mother-in-law happy. And that’s almost always a good thing.

You’re not being passive-aggressive, you’re just being plain old passive or plain old aggressive depending on the point of view. He tries to get you riled up, and you don’t want to get in an argument, so you let it pass by - passive. The tactic pisses him off and it’s in direct retaliation for the action that pisses you off - aggressive.

Now, if you normally talk with him but bring out this technique because Unc left the toilet seat up, THAT is passive - aggressive.

No, no, you’re being just fine; I’m sure the way you interact with him and piss him off doesn’t really bother anyone in the family at all, doesn’t upset people. You just go right ahead if you think that’s appropriate.

[sub]surprised that for once, he got to make the cliched joke first[/sub]

More like “appropriately responsive-assertive” if you ask me.

Oddly enough, Daniel’s response sounds like something one of our grandmothers would say. You wanna talk passive aggression…hoo boy. They wrote the book on being passive-aggressive.

I don’t trot out the behavior in question over shit like someone leaving the toilet seat up, but in direct response to Jimmy trying to get me all riled up. For instance, last time we saw them I was working on a baby quilt for my brother and sister-in-law, and Jimmy told me I ought to “make one of those” for myself. I knew right where this was going, since we’ve heard a great deal from this quarter about our decision not to have kids, and he knows I hate listening to people’s shit on the subject. Not wanting to go there, I deliberately misunderstood him and started telling him about my plans for a quilt for the guest room. He then informed me that he’d meant a baby blanket, and I told him I wouldn’t be needing one of those and kept sewing. His response? He commented that birth control doesn’t always work. There not being a good reply to that one, I pretended like I didn’t hear him, while inwardly cackling with delight at the cheated look on his face.

No, I don’t worry about the way I treat Jimmy. As my mil said when I announced that he couldn’t come to our wedding if he was going to stir up a bunch of crap between her and my mother, Jimmy’s an idiot. Idiots who go around deliberately trying to upset people for their own amusement pretty much deserve whatever they get. I was just asking out of intellectual curiosity.

FWIW I don’t think it’s so much passive-aggressive as an unusually neat bit of emotional/intellectual judo, i.e. deftly using his force against him. If he didn’t attack in the first place there wouldn’t be the slightest conflict. In fact I think it’s a thoroughly brilliant manner of handling it. You’re just refusing to rise to his bait. The fact that it frustrates him is just a rich side benefit.


I don’t see it as passive-agressive at all. If you were the instigator, perhaps. But it seems that your actions always come in response to some of his obnoxious behavior. When he comes in with some of his digs, you have the choice of being a victim, ripping him a new one, or responding in your style, which appears generally to be a polite and reasonable response which just happens to have the happy side effect of pissing him off.

No wonder your mother-in-law has so much fun observing from the sidelines!

It’s not passive-aggressive. The “aggressive” part of PA means that you’re the instigator. You’re not starting it; you’re simply consciously putting a stop to his instigation. It’s the best way to handle it.

Zen, even. You are like the willow tree – it bends, but does not break. The fact that it pisses him off is just an added bonus.