5 Subtly Toxic Phrases Passive Aggressive People Use All The Time

Photo: Mangostar / Shutterstock
Tense Asian businesswoman looking at male partner with crossed arms

By Dr. Rhoberta Shaler

If you live or work with someone who uses them frequently, you may now realize that it’s the sneaky anger of passive-aggressive behavior that is pushing you over the edge.

You think everything is fine, and going along swimmingly. Then, with one sentence, that is turned upside down and your ride on the emotional roller coaster begins … again. It catches you by surprise, and you often can’t quite grasp what’s pushing your buttons. This should help.

Sneaky anger? That’s the way it escapes initially: little looks, off-hand comments, rolling eyes, and that “What do I say to that?” question that catches you off-guard…and a little defensive.

Passive-aggressive people want to keep you guessing so they are in control.



Risky business! Right? You’ve been there if you know anything about what I’m talking about. You don’t know whether to speak up, or let it lie. Or, be angry. Or go along with the supposed joke while you’re inwardly seething.

RELATED: 7 Unhealthy Signs The Person You Love Has A Martyr Complex

Here are five potentially passive-aggressive things people say too frequently.

1. “Sure, I’ll do that.”

Sounds like a great answer, right? Problem is, that after saying it, nothing gets done. And, when you ask why, s/he tells you that you had no right to ask for it to be done in the first place. Or, the far too habitual response, “I forgot.” (Infuriating, right?)

2. “You ask too much.”

The person agrees to do something you’ve asked, but only puts in minimal, “token” effort. S/he knew exactly what you wanted, but gave you the barest minimum just to be able to say it got done. It’s a kind of Catch-22. Drives you up the wall, right?

3. “I know you’ve done what you could with what you had to work with.”

Ouch! The ultimate back-handed, undermining comment is served up and could be taken in several ways. You’re sure that s/he meant to say “For your lack of skills, insights, and background, I couldn’t have expected anything more from you, you worm,” however, s/he hedges the bet. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t respond.

If you respond with incredulity: “Are you saying I don’t know what I’m doing?” you’ll be met with “I never said anything of the sort. Are you insecure about your abilities?” Wham! If you respond with “Yes, there was very little background and few facts to work with,” you hear: “Well, I was counting on you to take it and run with it, and that didn’t really happen, did it?” ARGH!!!

RELATED: What Is Passive Aggressive Behavior — And Why Do People Behave Like That In Relationships?

4. “Oh, I thought you were in the loop.”

Fraught with potential minefields! If you ask for further information, you demonstrate you’re not “In the loop” and affirm that you are not part of the inside group or have been purposefully left out. Passive-aggressive people want to rip off your arm and hit you with the wet end while making it your fault. Does that sound familiar? That’s what’s happening here.

Best thing is to ignore the remark. It’s a no-win situation best left at the moment.

5. “I was only joking.”

You don’t know what to believe. You feel hurt. Yet s/he has just dismissed the possibility that you were meant to get that message. If you take it as a joke, you accept the put-down and s/he gets away with it. The ultimate “gotcha!”This is usually what you hear after a sarcastic remark has been tossed your way.

Again, this is sneaky anger. It is often used by passive-aggressive people when they are in a group. They feel insulated by the group, betting that you will not display your possible insecurities, or healthy anger, by speaking up.

If these are sounding all too familiar, know that you’ve been rightly picking up the underlying negative intent.

It’s common to want to give people the benefit of the doubt, though. Good idea in most cases. However, if it is a pattern that you experience with that same person repeatedly, start thinking in terms of passive-aggressive behavior.

Now you know what it actually is that is driving you nuts. Now, you can take steps to change your part in the interactions with this person. Learn new strategies to respond in assertive, healthy ways. Stop the crazy-making!

RELATED: 5 Signs Your Man Uses Passive-Aggressive Power To Control Everything

Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, has spent the past 30 years helping couples navigate challenging relationships.

This article was originally published at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.