In a previous post, I was struggling with dealing with passive aggressive people. I've since learned a lot about this, through websites, books, and talking with friends.
Passive aggressive people usually use other tools, too, which are just as hurtful and difficult to navigate: blaming, accusations, martyrdom, labeling, enemy/good guy storytelling (and usually it's them or someone who they are currently putting on a pedestal who is the "good guy"), threats, bringing in other people to gang up on the target, discounting people's value, punishing, expecting mind reading, and many other behaviors that are anything than healthy.
It's no wonder that P/A's are so hard to deal with. They aren't fighting fair.
They also pick their targets carefully. They may not realize they do this, but they manipulate situations and people so that they can craft a reality that does not involve them having to look at themselves, take responsibility, or change. To do this, there are targets who they can make the "other" and there are "friends" who agree with them.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, and if you've been the target of these kinds of bully behaviors, I recommend a book called Emotional Blackmail by Susan Forward. She goes one by one through the different kinds of emotional blackmail, why people use these tactics, what it looks like when they do, how we let them do it to us, and how it gets to the point of making us crazy. Then, she gives us concrete tools on how to deal with people who try to use emotional blackmail on us.
We cannot change people. But we teach them how to treat us by allowing behavior. Emotional blackmail is not fair, and it's not right. We know it, but few of us understand how to recognize it and then how to stand up to it. Most of us use tools that only make it worse - begging, arguing, explaining, staying silent, waiting for things to cool off, trying to give them what they want, or pretending like everything is OK. None of these things work.
Many of us will use emotional blackmail ourselves. Not because we're bad people, but because we are backed in a corner, and what they are doing to us works, so why wouldn't it work back at them? Fight fire with fire. There are no alternatives left.
But when we do use emotional blackmail ourselves, we know it is not who we are, and it goes against our own integrity. There's got to be a better way, but without having seen it in action, having experienced it, or having any clue what other ways there are, how can we do anything different?
I am seeing there are other ways, but it takes being brave, changing my own internal habits and thoughts, and instead of trying to fix the other person, to hold on to who I am, my own integrity, create and defend boundaries, and not be dependent on the other person's approval and love to define my success and self-worth. It's a tough road to take, but it's the only way to stop spinning when dealing with people who do everything they can to keep the spinning going.