Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. There's a disconnect between what a person who exhibits passive-aggressive behavior says and what he or she does.
Schanz CG, Equit M, Schäfer SK, Michael T. Self-directed passive-aggressive behavior as an essential component of depression: findings from two cross-sectional observational studies. BMC Psychiatry. 2022;22:200. doi:10.1186/s12888-022-03850-1
Richardson DS, Hammock GS. Is it aggression? Perceptions of and motivations for passive and psychological aggression. In: Forgas JP, Kruglanski AW, Williams KD, eds. The Psychology of Social Conflict and Aggression. Psychology Press.
Passive-aggressive behavior isn't always intentional. As a speech and communications expert, I've found that people who have these tendencies often just struggle with being honest about their emotions.
Sarcasm is the most obvious form of passive aggression, and possibly the most hurtful. Your audience may have no idea that you're upset, much less why you're upset. You're just dumping your feelings on them with little context.
Passive aggression is a way of expressing negative feelings, such as anger or annoyance, indirectly instead of directly. Passive-aggressive behaviors are often difficult to identify and can sabotage relationships at home and at work.
Instead of getting visibly angry, some people express their hostility in passive-aggressive ways designed to hurt and confuse their target. Most people will have to deal with passive aggression from others in their personal and professional lives at one time or another: a roommate who leaves a sweet-yet-scolding note about the one cup that was left unwashed, for example, or the report a colleague keeps "forgetting" to finish.
Some common forms of passive aggression include avoiding responsibility for tasks, procrastinating and even missing deadlines, withholding critical information, and frequently underachieving relative to what one is capable of producing. This type of behavior can cause problems at home when the family cannot depend on a passive-aggressive individual to follow through on their promises. Passive aggression at work can sabotage group projects, resulting in unachieved goals.
While passive-aggressive behavior can be hard to pin down, experts agree on the most common signs, which include refusing to discuss concerns openly and directly, avoiding responsibility, and being deliberately inefficient.
These individuals will hide their anger instead of expressing it directly. Passive-aggressive behavior can take the form of words (e.g., blaming others or making excuses) or actions (e.g., giving someone the silent treatment). Some subtle but insidious kinds of passive aggression are diminished eye contact, persistent forgetting, and ignoring the targeted individual during a group conversation.
Passive aggression often stems from underlying anger, sadness, or insecurity, of which the person may or may not be consciously aware. Passive-aggressive behavior may be an expression of those emotions or an attempt to gain control in a relationship.
Bearing that in mind can inform how you respond. Although it can be tempting to react by being passive-aggressive yourself, expressing anger or frustration will likely spur the person to continue behaving the same way. Demonstrating that you value the passive-aggressive person's perspective may help if you are thereby addressing an underlying sense of insecurity. But you should not apologize for unfounded offenses or otherwise placate them.
Stonewalling occurs when one partner shuts down, withdraws, and stops responding altogether, essentially turning into a stone wall. Stonewalling may also involve passive-aggressive avoidance behaviors, like pretending to be busy with work when a partner wants to talk seriously. While men are less likely to get physiologically aroused when their partner stonewalls them, women tend to experience an increased heart rate.
Staying as calm as possible can prevent stonewalling behavior. If a couple can listen and speak without getting defensive, that will decrease the need for passive-aggressive tactics like stonewalling. Start practicing validation and other communication skills that make marriages work to repair any damage stonewalling has done to your relationship.
Passive-aggressive behavior is characterized by a pattern of passive hostility and an avoidance of direct communication. Inaction where some action is socially customary is a typical passive-aggressive strategy (showing up late for functions, staying silent when a response is expected). Such behavior is sometimes protested by associates, evoking exasperation or confusion. People who are recipients of passive-aggressive behavior may experience anxiety due to the discordance between what they perceive and what the perpetrator is saying.
In psychology, "passive-aggression" is one of the most misused of psychological terms. After some debate, the American Psychiatric Association dropped it from the list of personality disorders in the DSM IV as too narrow to be a full-blown diagnosis and not well enough supported by scientific evidence to meet increasingly rigorous standards of definition. Culturally, the ambiguous "passive-aggressive" label is misused by lay persons and professionals alike. The removal of the passive-aggressive personality definition from the official diagnostic manual was in large measure because of the frequent misapplication and because of the often contradictory and unclear descriptions clinicians in the field provided. Most of the definitions which follow (which had previously been classified as passive-aggressive) are often more correctly described as overt aggression, or covert aggression (which is the correct definition to describe subtle, deliberate, calculating and underhanded tactics that manipulators and other disturbed characters use to intimidate, control, deceive and abuse others).
The outdated definition rejected by the American Psychiatric Association is as follows: Passive-aggressive behavior is characterized by a habitual pattern of non-active resistance to expected work requirements, opposition, sullenness, stubbornness, and negative attitudes in response to requirements for normal performance levels expected by others. Most frequently it occurs in the workplace, where resistance is exhibited by indirect behaviors such as procrastination, forgetfulness, and purposeful inefficiency, especially in reaction to demands by authority figures, but it can also occur in interpersonal contexts.
Another source characterizes passive-aggressive behavior as: A personality trait marked by a pervasive pattern of negative attitudes and characterized by passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to complying with expectations in interpersonal or occupational situations. Behaviors such as learned helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate/repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is often explicitly responsible. Other examples of passive-aggressive behavior may include avoiding direct or clear communication, evading problems, fear of intimacy or competition, making excuses, blaming others, obstructionism, playing the victim, feigning compliance with requests, sarcasm, backhanded compliments, and hiding anger.
In conflict theory, passive-aggressive behavior can resemble a behavior better described as catty, as it consists of deliberate, active, but carefully veiled hostile acts which are distinctively different in character from the non-assertive style of passive resistance.
Passive-aggressive behavior from workers and managers is damaging to team unity and productivity. In an ad for Warner's[who?] online ebook, it says: "The worst case of passive-aggressive behavior involves destructive attitudes such as negativity, sullenness, resentment, procrastination, 'forgetting' to do something, chronic lateness, and intentional inefficiency." If this behavior is ignored, it could result in decreased office efficiency and frustration among workers. If managers are passive-aggressive in their behavior, it can end up stifling team creativity. Paula De Angelis says, "It would actually make perfect sense that those promoted to leadership positions might often be those who on the surface appear to be agreeable, diplomatic and supportive, yet who are actually dishonest, backstabbing saboteurs behind the scenes."
Passive-aggressive behavior was first defined clinically by Colonel William C. Menninger during World War II in the context of men's reaction to military compliance. Menninger described soldiers who were not openly defiant but expressed their civil disobedience (what he called "aggressiveness") by passive measures, such as pouting, stubbornness, procrastination, inefficiency, and passive obstructionism" due to what Menninger saw as an "immaturity" and a reaction to "routine military stress".
According to some psychoanalytic views, noncompliance is not indicative of true passive-aggressive behavior, which may instead be defined as the manifestation of emotions that have been repressed based on a self-imposed need for acceptance.
Passive aggression is a way of expressing negative feelings in indirect rather than direct ways. Instead of having open, honest conversations about how they feel wronged, the individual may use hints, silence, denial, and other subtle tactics to communicate their discontent. Here are 18 of the most common signs of passive aggression:
A passive-aggressive person is a master of hinting at their feelings without expressing them directly. They may reference an earlier incident without stating their feelings about it or speak about a similar situation and how they feel about that incident instead. 2b1af7f3a8