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How to handle passive-aggressive and negative comments: Don’t tell yourself you ‘don’t care’

‘People who are comfortable in themselves don’t judge others. They aren’t influenced by others’

A dig from a colleague, a passive-aggressive snark from a family member, a “neg” from a so-called friend — you know it when you hear it. When someone has landed a veiled jibe, it can be hard not to take the bait. The remark often says more about them than it does about you, however.

If they loved the pricey lake view lodge they booked for holidays and make a dig that your woodland cabin option must have been a squeeze, let the remark slide off. “You can be aware of others’ perspectives, but you don’t need to filter your choice through that perspective,” says Dr Ciara McEnteggart, psychologist with Perspectives Ireland. “When our actions are driven by what we want and what matters to us, it makes us less vulnerable to others’ perspectives.”

So just ignore everyone else?

“A good habit to get into when you are making a choice is to ask yourself, who is this really for? Am I doing this for myself, or is it for someone else?” says Dr McEnteggart. By making your choice for you, and not based on how it will appear to others, you can insulate yourself from their opinions. If someone criticises your choice, you will feel firm that it was the right choice for you.

I just don’t care

When someone else is critical of you, staying neutral or telling yourself you “don’t care” is not always the best tack. Sometimes we do care. “We can’t change how we feel about other people if they are important to us or their opinion is important to us. But the best way to disengage from someone else’s views is to be rock solid in our own views,” says McEnteggart. “It’s the confidence of knowing who you are, without filtering it through what other people think of you.”


It’s not you, it’s me

If someone has a perspective that you are a particular kind of person, whether it is good or bad, that’s their perspective, says McEnteggart. “Relying on what other people think are the good things about you can also be problematic,” says McEnteggart. It’s the difference between “inside-outside” living and “outside-inside” living, she says. “Inside-outside living and choices are grounded in who you are, the choices that you make are from the inside out. Outside-inside living is where we filter our choices through another person’s perspective. These are choices made from the outside in.”

If someone makes a dig at you, it’s likely they themselves are being triggered. “The same process is operating in them, they are comparing. They are being influenced by the outside. It’s that outside-inside way of living that’s exactly driving their behaviour too. It’s very rarely about you and more about them,” says McEnteggart. “People who are comfortable in themselves, they don’t judge others. They aren’t influenced by others.”

Please yourself

Making decisions based on pleasing others, or doing what you think others expect, is problematic. “People often worry about how other people view them. While it might seem harmless on the outside, it can really take its toll mentally and physically because we are not prioritising ourselves,” says McEnteggart. Start practising saying “no” and setting boundaries, she says. “Saying ‘no’ is not selfish, it’s self-care. It gives you more energy and more time for what matters to you. That’s a way of building self-worth outside of what others think. Focusing on you always pays off.”

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance