Passive-Aggressive: Definition, Signs, Examples & How To Deal With It
Being a passive-aggressive person can genuinely hurt you in a multitude of ways.
Your career growth can be stifled, individuals are less likely to help you in times of need, and you generally are not well-liked.
For most careers, you need honest and direct conversation to keep you informed and efficient.
However, changing how you deal with direct conflict and switching your communication style can be tough.
Many individuals are raised with aggression in families. Others find that passive-aggressive tactics make them feel more confident and assertive in the short term.
To overcome your aggression, you need to learn about it. Specifically, you must understand how aggression impacts your life.
In this article, we will illustrate the best ways to find and challenge your passive-aggressive behavior.
What Is Passive-Aggressive Behavior? Definition & Meaning
Passive-aggressive behavior allows someone to indirectly express negative emotions.
Those that are typically passive-aggressive do not find effective ways to express their dislikes or negative emotions.
What may seem like positive behavior may, in fact, be passive-aggressive.
Individuals who perform such activities may at times try to fool others into thinking they have more positive motivations than they truly do.
For instance, they may pretend to agree with some, even enthusiastically. However, their true emotions are the exact opposite.
They may resent the individual presenting the opinion or idea. A passive-aggressive person may even try to sabotage this individual or ridicule them.
Passive aggression can manifest itself in numerous ways. Some may choose to ignore their commitments, defame individuals they dislike, or simply fail to comply with another person’s demands.
Resentment, negativity, resistance, isolation, hostility, and being cynical are all related to passive-aggressive behavior.
A passive-aggressive individual may suffer from mental health conditions.
However, it should be made clear that passive-aggression is not a medical condition in and of itself. Nonetheless, it can lead to many kinds of regret, career failure, and ruined relationships.
What Causes Passive Aggressive Behavior?
Passive-aggressive behavior can be rooted in numerous relationships, environmental, and social factors.
In nearly all cases, aggression leads to relationship conflict and workplace issues. A few factors that are most contributing to passive-aggressive behavior include the following.
Many individuals are raised in a way that increases their susceptibility to passive-aggressive behavior.
For example, if your parents do not give you attention or praise you, you may become passive-aggressive.
Additionally, if you were never allowed to be your true self or express your emotions as a child, passive-aggression is more likely.
Instead of being able to effectively tackle their emotions, they turn to more violent and/or passive-aggressive methods.
It is best to deal with uncomfortable feelings with a group that supports you, which many passive-aggressive teens and young adults lack.
Your life circumstances also play a key role in how passive-aggressive you are. Sometimes, a group of individuals determines that aggression is an appropriate way to handle negative feelings.
This is why tackles and fights in high school would not be called passive-aggression (they are simply aggression).
However, when discussing a real business issue or speaking about intimacy issues, such aggression is simply unacceptable.
To still show annoyance and disinterest in the topic, individuals often turn to sarcasm and passive aggression.
Taking the easy road
For some, if not most, people, it is quite challenging to open up. This is especially true about sensitive and emotional topics.
If they cannot be open and honest, they prefer to take the easy road when it comes to dealing with their emotions and communication.
That easy road is often passive aggression. It is much easier to give your spouse the silent treatment rather than have genuine, vulnerable, and honest conversations with them.
If someone chooses the easy road often, they become passive-aggressive.
List of 20 Passive-Aggressive Signs
If you understand how passive-aggressive behaviors manifest themselves in your daily lives, you can tackle them far better.
Below, we have complied a list of the twenty most common signs that a passive-aggressive person may exhibit.
1. Denying negativity and anger while feeling such emotions
If you were raised to suppress your emotions, this is a likely sign of your passive aggression.
Instead of “appearing weak” or tackling one’s emotions, you may categorically deny that you experience them.
Commonly, this is done for the most negative emotions, such as deep anger or sadness. Doing so also helps you avoid negative feelings such as guilt, and it helps you avoid confrontation.
2. Instead of complaining directly, you give slight hints
If you are a passive-aggressive person, you are likely uncomfortable with honestly expressing your thoughts and feelings. Instead, they feel more comfortable with giving hints.
For example, they may speak about prior moments where they felt a certain way instead of specifically stating how they feel.
3. You may cry, have a negative attitude, or sulk
To a passive-aggressive person, their number one question when it comes to communication is: how do I cover up my feelings? Another way to avoid direct conversation is to sulk or pout.
With sulking, pouting, or pointing fingers, you may still give others the idea of your emotions but not expressly state them.
You still get the attention you desire, but without the difficulty of speaking about emotions.
4. A negative attitude and sullenness
Yet another way to ensure you avoid direct, honest, and open speech on sensitive issues is through a generally negative attitude.
This is not to say that all individuals who are negative are passive-aggressive, though.
However, many passive-aggressive people use this tragedy to replace confrontation.
If they deny anything is wrong but still act sullen, they may still get the desired attention but without the undesired confrontation.
5. Difficulty with fulfilling their obligations and keeping promises
Those who have passive-aggressive tendencies are typically procrastinators.
They express their negative emotions and thoughts by showing their discontent and disinterest in work and other activities.
Silent resistance is common in such individuals. They express this resistance by consistently not fulfilling the duties they are assigned.
Passive individuals also deny that this bad behavior is occurring.
6. Speaks about being under-appreciated and overlooked
Individuals who are passive-aggressive likely will not attribute their lack of success to personal flaws or lack of productivity.
Instead, they may blame others for overlooking them and being to feel under-appreciated.
If you ask such a person to give an example of this undervaluement, they are likely to scapegoat issues on others and avoid directly answering the question.
7. Keeping track of other’s wrongdoings
While it is unlikely that a passive-aggressive person takes action when it comes to wrongdoings, this does not mean they overlook them.
Instead, they take a non-interventionist approach: simply keeping track of who and how often someone harms them.
This type of tracking helps them validate their negative emotions toward others and gives them a reason to continue being aggressive.
8. Giving backhanded compliments
Compliments are universally viewed as positive, but backhanded compliments are not. In fact, they have the exact opposite goal.
Instead of trying to boost the other person’s confidence and mood, a passive-aggressive individual tries to hurt the other person with a compliment.
For example, they may tell a compliment to throw off someone’s train of thought or give a compliment they know the other individual does not appreciate (for example, calling a transgender woman handsome).
9. Using physical aggression
It is rare for passive-aggressive behavior to get physically brutal. However, it does manifest itself in more mild forms.
If you slam your phone down, this is a display of physical aggression.
Slamming doors, screaming at someone, and other forms of physical aggression can be categorized under passive-aggressive behavior.
10. Use of the silent treatment
This technique is one of the most commonly used tools for a passive-aggressive individual. It is the most passive-aggressive way to avoid direct conflict but still build tension.
The silent treatment involves a complete and abrupt end to communication with a certain person. It is used as payback for someone else’s negative treatment.
This treatment hurts one’s communication skills and could even destroy relationships.
11. Believing that a conflict is over even when it is ongoing
It is healthy to let go of conflicts once they have been resolved. However, it is not healthy to avoid addressing conflicts by fooling yourself into thinking they are resolved.
When an issue is clearly not resolved, a passive-aggressive person may convince themselves and others that they should not worry about it or give it any thought.
12. Believing they are doing something on behalf of everyone
There is a difference between someone genuinely doing a favor to others and simply feeling like you are.
They may believe that their lack of direct conflict benefits organizations at a group level. Thus, they may think they are doing everyone a favor.
13. Genuinely dislike those who want open and honest communication
Since those who are passive-aggressive dislike direct conversation, they may start to resent those that encourage it.
This can lead to conflict, even though passive-aggressive people say they avoid conflict at all costs.
They see the individuals wanting open communication as immature, dishonest, pro-conflict, and threatening to the organization’s future.
14. Sabotaging those they disagree with
To indirectly express their dislike toward an individual, they may try to sabotage them.
If they are doing this to a loved one, they may invite them to a nice night out but surprise them by forcing them to pay for the outing.
If they have a thrifty friend, they may force them to go along on an expensive dinner.
In all of these moments, they put someone in an uncomfortable position for revenge instead of honestly talking to them.
15. Insisting others do not understand them
To avoid conflict, someone who is passive-aggressive may insist that others simply do not understand them.
They overlook the possibility that someone had malicious intent in favor of this non-interventionist approach.
However, they still place all the blame on the other party by claiming it is their duty to understand them.
They do not consider the possibility of themselves simply not being clear.
16. You stop speaking to an individual without stating why
If you stop speaking to a girlfriend or boyfriend, for instance, you are exhibiting passive-aggressiveness. This type of avoidance is often referred to as “ghosting.”
Passive-aggressive people distance themselves from individuals that make them upset, but they never address the deep issues that cause these emotions.
If the spouse tries to repair the situation, a passive-aggressive person may deny the existence of any problems.
17. Telling your problems to unrelated individuals
If you do not want to take responsibility for tasks you inefficiency performed or troubles you caused in a relationship, you may vent to someone else about such struggles.
Speaking with an unrelated person allows you to avoid responsibility and conflict. Yet, it still lets you gain sympathy from someone else.
Thus, this strategy is very appealing to passive-aggressive individuals.
18. Making others afraid or uncomfortable
When you create a tense environment and make others afraid of speaking honestly to you, you create what is known as an “eggshell environment.”
When it comes to passive-aggressive people, they make others afraid by appearing emotionally unstable.
If you seem to handle criticism very poorly, those around you will have to “walk on eggshells” or be very careful when they talk to you.
19. Stating sarcastic or condescending remarks
Another common sign of being passive-aggressive is the over-reliance on sarcastic speech.
While being occasionally sarcastic is fine, especially if done in a funny manner, this is not the goal of passive-aggressive individuals.
They use sarcasm and condescending comments to make other parties feel guilty. With this addition of guilt, they hope their problems may get settled.
20. Consistently getting involved with gossip
Gossiping about others’ behavior can influence how those around you act.
The passive-aggressive individuals believe that by speaking about someone else’s negative behavior, they will make a friend realize they should not participate in such behavior.
Since they feel too uncomfortable with speaking openly about the friend’s behavior, they instead choose this more convoluted process.
How To Overcome Passive-Aggressive State of the Mind
1. Be Honest with Yourself
To overcome passive-aggressiveness, you must first address the fact you are passive-aggressive.
To do this, you should learn about why and how this behavior is implemented in your daily life.
One of the best ways to understand your passive-aggression is fo focus on your approach to conflict resolution. How do you directly respond to conflict, and why?
2. Notice when you are passive aggressive
Ask others if they noticed you are not fulfilling your duties or giving sarcastic comments. If someone fees you do this often, do not criticize them.
Thank them for their feedback, for this is the issue you know to focus on. Try to recall any of the reasons why you may be passive-aggressive.
Which environmental factors contribute to it most? By understanding this, you can create an effective plan to tackle aggression.
3. Formulate your plan of attack and ask others for honest conversation
Then, start to formulate this plan. Ensure that you find new ways to communicate with others.
While your impulse may be to avoid honest and open speaking, try to encourage communication.
If you cannot start these conversations yourself yet, encourage others to be open with you.
Remove any reasons why others may feel uncomfortable or worried about speaking openly with you.
Then, you will become accustomed to open discussion and less reliant on sarcasm and blame.
Bonus: Passive-Aggressive Vs. Assertive Communications
There are a number of key differences between being passive-aggression and assertive. Someone who is assertive effectively communicates their views.
They do not back down from honest discourse, even if it means to criticize their conduct. These individuals create an environment where being open and vulnerable is encouraged.
When they believe that someone is wrong, they actively tell them. It may result in short-term conflict, but in the long run, it will help the organization avoid disruptions.
On the other hand, those that are passive-aggressive avoid this type of open, honest communication. They believe that conflict should be avoided at all costs.
When expressing their opinions, they do not do this very directly. Passive-aggressive individuals like to blame others and often feel undervalued.
An assertive individual realizes the value they bring to a team but also listens to criticism. Passive-aggressiveness leads to the creation of a tense environment where individuals cannot give honest feedback.
Frequently Asked Questions About Passive-Aggressive
What are some examples of passive-aggressive behavior?
Passive-aggressive behavior can be exhibited in numerous ways:
- The silent treatment
- Blaming others
- Creating an eggshell environment where no one feels comfortable criticizing them
- Often rely on sarcasm and gossip
How does passive-aggressive behavior affect others?
Passive-aggressive behavior hurts more than just you. It also has a negative impact on virtually everyone around you.
Someone’s passive-aggressive behavior could lead to misunderstandings in the workplace.
In your relationships, your partner may be strained or confused when you refuse to talk about your emotions or be vulnerable. They may also get upset when you do not fulfill your duties or blame them.
Why is passive-aggressive behavior dangerous?
Passive-aggressive behavior poses a number of key threats to your career, social life, and relationships. It can be dangerous to any progress being made in your relationship.
For instance, your spouse may even begin to resent you if you continually blame them for your flaws.
In the workplace, failing to fulfill your duties can lead for getting fired or demoted.
How do passive-aggressive people act?
One common quality that unites them is their opposition to open communication. These individuals do not want to discuss sensitive issues.
Additionally, many passive-aggressive individuals have a negative outlook on life and often appear sullen.
Sarcasm is commonly used by those who are passive-aggressive, too.
How can you tell if someone is being passive-aggressive?
There are a number of key signs that can indicate someone is passive-aggressive. First, listen to how they communicate. If they are uncomfortable with being honest and open in their speech, this is a red flag.
If they often blame others and avoid speaking to them for the sake of “keeping the peace,” they may be passive-aggressive.
Additionally, overreliance on sarcasm is common.
Notice if they fulfill their duties and live up to their promises. See if they ever claim to be misunderstood, undervalued, or overlooked.
How to deal with passive-aggressive people?
While passive-aggressive individuals typically tend to avoid conflict, you may need to initiate a bit of tension to get them to change.
Most of such individuals tend to avoid speaking openly, so you must be the person who initiates the communication.
Provide their goals and the duties they must fulfill and ensure they understand the consequences of not fulfilling these duties.
Note their talent and boost their confidence so they are more likely to work with you.
What can you say to a passive-aggressive person?
Speaking to a passive-aggressive person is challenging, as they do not like a direct conversation.
Try to break down why doing something will benefit them instead of benefit you.
Make sure they understand that you value their input and appreciate them.
You can give them genuine compliments, for example. Try to outline why not speaking to you has negative effects on them as well.
How to deal with a passive-aggressive person in a relationship?
Start by getting them to realize they are passively aggressive and how this behavior influences your life and your relationship with them.
Then, suggest a few strategies that help them overcome this behavior. For example, you could encourage them to communicate with you openly.
Ensure they feel safe and comfortable being vulnerable to you.
Boost their ego by giving genuine compliments, so they do not feel overlooked.
Finally, give them consequences if they back out of agreements and do not fulfill their duties.
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