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Campus Life - Health & Wellness

Asking for A Friend

Need advice about health, mental health, relationships, roommates, professors, whatever? Asking for a Friend (#AfAF) - a new advice column and podcast for the Lasell community - has launched! It's a mashup of great columns like Love Letters, Dear Sugars, Savage Lovecast, Go Ask Alice! and the classic Dear Abby. It's hosted by the Counseling Center, and features a rotating panel of expert voices, including students, staff, and faculty, depending on the question. Click here to ask your question (and yes, you can remain anonymous!).

Episode 1. My Best Friend Is Passive-Aggressive


Hosts Cindy Spertner, Nasya Smith, Alex Beaton, and podcast guest, Erin Vicente, Associate Professor of Communications

Listen to the full podcast!

Dear AfAF,

My best friend is constantly saying passive aggressive things to me and I don't know how to handle it. She hurts my feelings constantly, but I can tell that she doesn't do it on purpose. I also know I'm not the only person who she talks to in this way because I've seen her talk to her other friends and family the same ways she talks to me. I am also her suite-mate on campus and I find myself distancing myself from her and not wanting to spend as much time with her as I normally do. I don't want her passive aggressive personality to ruin our friendship, but I'm also too shy to stand up for myself and tell her when she is hurting my feelings. I just don't know what to do or how to fix this situation.

A Friend

[Below is an abbreviated and edited response. To hear the full podcast of counselors and guests discussing the response in full, click the media link above.]

Dear Friend,

While experts agree that defining communication styles and the theories behind them is complicated, we can generally categorize communication styles into the following groups: Submissive/Passive, Assertive, Aggressive, Passive-Aggressive, and Manipulative. You mention that your best friend/suitemate often communicates in the passive-aggressive style, which means while it may seem like everything is okay on the surface, there is an underlying tone of anger, resentment, or aggression. Your friend may use sarcasm, sulking, back-handed compliments, or guilt-tripping as a way of communicating. There are many reasons why your friend may be passive-aggressive. Perhaps she learned this behavior from family members while she was growing up. Perhaps she is insecure, and subtly putting others down helps her feel “better” about herself. Perhaps she has needs she’d like met but wants to avoid conflict or taking responsibility for those needs. Whatever the case, it may be true that she’s not aware she’s behaving this way or, as you mentioned, that she “doesn’t do it on purpose.”

So, what can you do? First, take a moment to commend yourself for not only acknowledging what you’re feeling, but for seeking ways to make your situation better. It’s obvious that you care about yourself and your friend and that you want to maintain this friendship. That’s admirable! Next, let’s focus on you for a bit. You have a right to your feelings… and you also have a right to tell your friend that you’re feeling hurt. The danger in keeping this to yourself is that your resentment toward your friend may continue to grow. By avoiding the conflict here, you may keep distancing yourself until the friendship ends, or the avoidance could lead to more anger or an explosive confrontation between the two of you. You and your friend have something in common: your shyness and her passive-aggression are keeping both of you from communicating authentically with each other. Being authentic is necessary for deep and rewarding connections.

If you do decide to share your feelings with your friend, here are some tips and things to remember:

  • Conflict isn’t a negative thing! It can be uncomfortable — a bit scary, even, if you’re the type to shy away from confrontation — but engaging in conflict is an opportunity for growth, the chance to resolve what is already feeling stressful.
  • Frame your conversation in the positive. When you talk to your friend, you could begin by saying, “Our friendship is important to me, and I really want us to be open with each other. Lately I’ve been feeling ______ when you say/do ______.” Address the behaviors as the issue, not that your friend is “bad” or “wrong.”
  • Be open to a dialogue with your friend. This isn’t about determining who is right or wrong, but working together to find a resolution for the benefit of you both. You may want to hold the conversation in a neutral place at a time when neither of you is tired, hungry, or preoccupied.
  • Remember you can’t control how your friend responds to you. She may become angry or upset, or she may feel embarrassed or grateful. Whatever the case, you can come away from the conversation knowing your intentions were good.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Engaging in conflict and navigating friendships can be challenging. Learning to confront someone and to express your feelings can be a lifelong journey. The good news is that communication skills can be learned (check out A Nice Person’s Guide to Being More Assertive here), and while conflict may never feel comfortable, you may start to feel more comfortable being uncomfortable. Communicating your needs in a relationship is not selfish or wrong or aggressive. It is an act of self-care. And in this case, it just might save your friendship.

Wishing you the best,

The “Asking for a Friend” Staff and Guests