- What Does It Really Mean To Be Passive-Aggressive? Here Are Some Examples
- What does it mean to be passive-aggressive?
- 11 behaviors to look out for:
- 8. Backhanded compliments
- 9. Unsolicited opinions or advice
- 10. Contemptuous comments
- 11. Negative body language
- Where passive-aggression comes from.
- How to deal with passive-aggressive people.
- What are the major signs of passive-aggressive behavior? — Tikvah Lake Florida
- Is passive-aggressive behavior a mental health illness?
- Signs of passive passive-aggressive behavior
- What causes passive-aggressive behavior?
- How to deal with passive-aggressive behavior
- Passive-Aggressive Behavior In Your Relationship
- What Is Passive-Aggressive Behavior
- How To Recognize Passive-Aggressive Behavior
- Why Engage In Passive-Aggressive Behavior
- How Passive-Aggressive Behavior Can Harm Your Relationship
- What You Can Do If You Are Being Passive-Aggressive
- What You Can Do If Your Partner Is Being Passive-Aggressive
What Does It Really Mean To Be Passive-Aggressive? Here Are Some Examples
While most people know what direct aggression looks , sometimes people display aggression indirectly. You've probably met someone who falls into the latter category—aka someone who's passive-aggressive. Here's what passive aggression is all about, examples to watch out for, and what to do if someone is being passive-aggressive toward you.
What does it mean to be passive-aggressive?
Someone who is passive-aggressive acts out their anger in ways that are cloaked and hidden, explains therapist Alicia Muñoz, LPC. «Essentially, you 'hide' your little acts of violence in plain sight. This makes passive-aggression uniquely insidious and destructive.»
Passive-aggressive behavior can be anything that avoids direct confrontation but still expresses a negative emotion, according to licensed marriage and family therapist Weena Cullins, LCMFT.
She notes that this, of course, sends mixed signals to the person on the receiving end of the aggression, which can be confusing, frustrating, and lead to emotional distrust.
Muñoz adds that it's also difficult to prove someone is being passive-aggressive, which can make it even more confusing.
11 behaviors to look out for:
«Indirectly refusing to meet someone's needs is a form of passive-aggressive behavior,» says Cullins.
For example, say you've asked your partner or a roommate to take care of the dishes multiple times, and they don't outright say no—but they don't intend to do the dishes. Sure, maybe they're just being lazy.
But they could also be purposefully avoiding the dishes in a spiteful way, without telling you directly what's going on.
Muñoz tells mbg that ghosting is a classic passive-aggressive behavior. Rather than owning the fact that they no longer wish to speak with you, a passive-aggressive person would rather let it all go unsaid—by never speaking to you again.
Oftentimes, passive-aggressive people will repeatedly arrive late, Muñoz notes. Cullins adds that this can look procrastinating, as well. The idea behind this is, if there's something a passive-aggressive person doesn't want to do, they will put it off until the last second rather than airing their grievances directly.
Silence can be very passive-aggressive in certain contexts. This can look stonewalling in the middle of an argument, ignoring a question, or leaving a text on «read.» As Cullins says, silence anytime a response is warranted can count as passive-aggression.
Sometimes people will make up excuses for doing or not doing something rather than directly stating the frustrations they have. «Regularly getting sick in a way that interferes with responsibilities, or 'forgetting' important appointments or dates,» can be passive-aggressive, according to Muñoz.
Sometimes people will display passive-aggression in the things they say, including making patronizing comments, Muñoz notes.
Maybe they undermine your intelligence with phrases «Do you know what I mean by that?» or vaguely disrespect you with pet names «kid» or «honey.
» Anything that makes them seem superior, and you inferior, can be very passive-aggressive. (This is a typical narcissist behavior as well.)
Sarcasm, too, is passive-aggressive in certain contexts, according to Muñoz.
For example, if you invite your partner to a family gathering and they say, «Yeah, you know how much I love your family,» in a sarcastic tone, that's passive-aggressive.
Rather than directly talking about their issues with your family, they're expressing their negative feelings by masking them under the guise of a joke.
8. Backhanded compliments
Cullins and Muñoz both tell mbg backhanded compliments are very passive-aggressive. Think statements , «I'm impressed you acted civilized all night,» or «Wow, your outfit is actually really cute today.» This behavior can also be considered negging, which is actually a form of manipulation.
9. Unsolicited opinions or advice
According to Muñoz, unsolicited opinions around personal topics can be passive-aggressive. Similar to patronizing comments, maybe they say something , “I’d focus on losing a few pounds if I were you,» or «You've been looking really tired lately—you should get more sleep.»
10. Contemptuous comments
Vaguely contemptuous comments of all kinds, aka anything that comes off disrespectful, can be passive-aggressive. For example, Muñoz says, maybe you cook someone a nice meal, and they give you faint praise , “Good meal, it was edible.»
11. Negative body language
Last but not least, Cullins notes body language can be passive-aggressive, too. Maybe they're pouting, crossing their arms, or rolling their eyes, instead of saying outright what's bothering them. Really, any behavior that expresses negative feelings without directly stating them is passive-aggressive, she adds.
Where passive-aggression comes from.
So, why are people passive-aggressive? According to somatic psychologist and author of Reclaiming Pleasure Holly Richmond, Ph.D., it can stem from being taught to people-please and avoid conflict, often in childhood. «They learned that conflict wouldn't get them what they wanted so they had to present it in a nice way and be subversive about getting their needs met,» she explains.
As Muñoz adds, it can also result from being touch with your own anger, «because you judge it, dis it, or fear it.
» If you can't accept your own anger—and take responsibility for it—she notes, it leaks out through your actions, words, and body language.
«Often, it develops when people believe they need to control, hide, disguise or deny their anger in order to preserve their relationships with others,» she says.
And sometimes, if a person has experienced rejection after being transparent in previous relationships, Cullins notes, it can discourage them from being direct in the future. «Some people even believe it's a safe way to get what they want without sparking confrontation,» she previously explained to mbg, «while others aren't even aware that their behavior is passive-aggressive.»
How to deal with passive-aggressive people.
If someone is acting passive-aggressive toward you, Muñoz says you'll first want to bring attention to whatever the person said or did that rubbed you the wrong way. «You can do this by asking them a simple question,» she adds, «or by putting the focus on what was done.»
She suggests questions : Can you repeat what you just said? I want to make sure I heard you correctly. Or, Did you just offer me unsolicited advice about my weight/looks/relationship status? «Or you might simply say, 'What exactly do you mean by that?' she notes.
When you do this, you're challenging them to notice their words and actions—and how they affect you. «The point isn't to try to make anyone admit they've been passive-aggressive. It's to make sure you don't lose your voice or your right to boundaries,» Muñoz adds. From there, they have a chance to understand their own motives and feelings, and so will you.
And according to Cullins, it can also be worthwhile to make sure the person knows what passive-aggression looks .
This can lead to an honest and more productive discussion about their feelings and needs, she adds, and you can also make them aware of how their behavior affects you.
«For example,» she suggests, «you might say, 'It's confusing when you tell me you are fine but your face looks angry. It makes me uncomfortable when I suspect that I don't know how you really feel or what you need.'»
It's confusing and frustrating to be on the receiving end of passive-aggression, and at the end of the day, healthy relationships (romantic or not) are all about open and honest communication. When it happens, don't be afraid to call it out. And if it continues with no sign of improvement, they're probably not someone you want in your life.
What are the major signs of passive-aggressive behavior? — Tikvah Lake Florida
Passive-aggressive behavior is something that most people have heard of – and almost everyone will have experienced it as well. Unknowingly many of us will have also displayed some form of this behavior.
It is characterized by passive hostility and the sidestepping of direct communication. Passive-aggressive behavior is where someone shows negative feelings indirectly through their actions.
This means there’s a difference between what they might say (or not say) and what they do. To be on the receiving end of this can be bewildering – and it can also be extremely damaging.
Due to this continual gap between what a passive-aggressive person is saying and what they’re doing, someone living or working with them may suffer from anxiety. It could also be behind some depression.
Passive-aggressive behavior was first defined during the Second World War by psychiatrist William Menninger (1899-1966). He saw that certain soldiers had negative or hostile feelings to what they were being told to do, but they showed this only in their actions.
They might not have shown it by appearing neutral or even pleasantly agreeable. But they would then find indirect ways to show their real feelings of frustration, anger or resentment, such as by being stubborn, using delaying tactics and/or being purposely inefficient at tasks.
Is passive-aggressive behavior a mental health illness?
It isn’t presently classified as a mental health illness. But some people with mental health problems will show passive-aggressive behavior.
The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) – the diagnostic “guidebook” used by most mental health professionals in America – dropped it from the list of personality disorders in the 1990s. It stated it was too limited and insufficiently supported by scientific evidence.
It is now classified under “Other Specified Personality Disorder”. This means that although there is not enough criteria to name it as a specific personality disorder, there is ample evidence that it causes clinically significant distress or impairment.
However, earlier editions of the DSM in the 1960s termed it “passive-aggressive personality”. This was a behavior pattern characterized by aggressiveness expressed passively.
Signs of passive passive-aggressive behavior
Many behaviors associated with passive-aggressive behavior are used as an underhand or indirect way to manipulate, abuse or punish another person. They can be very subtle and extremely difficult to spot.
For example, a passive-aggressive person doesn’t a work project. They don’t say anything against it though.
Instead they turn up late to meetings or find reasons why they have to leave early. They may also do things such as purposely miss deadlines or have a loud phone conversation next to someone they know needs to concentrate on a task for the project.
Major signs of passive-aggressive behavior include:
- Always arriving late.
- Intentional inefficiency.
- “Forgetting” to do something.
- Avoiding people when they’re upset with them.
- Stopping talking to people when they are resentful towards them.
- Using sarcasm instead of having a meaningful conversation.
- Continually complaining during a task.
- Being critical towards other people.
- Remaining silent when a response is expected.
- Deliberate repeated failure to finish a requested task.
- Avoiding direct and clear communication.
- Purposely making mistakes.
- Being disagreeable or argumentative.
- Being cynical.
- Blaming others.
- Complaining about being undervalued.
What causes passive-aggressive behavior?
Frequently passive-aggressive behavior is something that was passed down during childhood. This is because unknowingly we imitate our parents.
Or when someone was a child, normal emotions such as frustration or disapproval might not have been directly expressed because it felt unsafe to do so. This could be if, for instance, a parent was prone to angry outbursts any time their rule by iron fist was challenged or not obeyed.
It can mean that a person has trouble dealing with negative emotions. They were never shown how to do this as they grew up – many households discourage any show of emotions.
Child abuse, severe punishments and/or neglect can also cause someone to use passive-aggressive behaviors. With low self-esteem caused by such as these it is difficult to be assertive as an adult.
Some people also learn passive-aggressive behavior as adults. They discover it is a manipulative way to get what they want, avoiding confrontation.
Some conditions that have been associated with passive-aggressive behavior include:
- Drug and/or alcohol abuse.
- ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
- Anxiety disorders.
- Bipolar disorder.
How to deal with passive-aggressive behavior
If you recognize someone is behaving in a passive-aggressive manner, using “I” statements can help. For instance, say something such as “When you make those loud phone calls next to me I cannot concentrate. In future I’d be grateful if you make them in the other room so that I can finish the project to meet the deadline.”
This might be a process that needs repeating. It can take a long time for someone to change passive-aggressive behavior, particularly if it was something they learned while growing up.
If the behavior doesn’t change, seeing a therapist can help with communication skills to improve the relationship with a passive-aggressive person. Or it might become clear it’s time to move away from that relationship.
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Passive-Aggressive Behavior In Your Relationship
While aggressive behavior is quite obvious and easily noticed, passive-aggressive behavior can be hard to spot. Passive-aggression is a manipulative form of aggression that is not direct and is easily denied.
It’s an indirect way of dealing with anger that often leads to a lot of trouble in your partnership.
If passive-aggressive behavior becomes a pattern, it can have a negative impact on your ability to maintain a healthy relationship.
What Is Passive-Aggressive Behavior
Passive-aggressive behavior is an indirect way of expressing negative emotions where you do not communicate them directly. Instead of being overt about your anger or needs, you express them in a very passive manner. There is definitely hostility in this type of behavior, although it is often covert.
For example, if your normally punctual spouse is late whenever you pick the movie, they might be acting passive-aggressively. When you confront them, they deny doing this on purpose and offer plausible reasons as to why they were late. While it seems they’re doing this on purpose, it can be difficult to tell as it is very subtle.
Passive-aggressive behavior can have a very negative impact on your relationship.
How To Recognize Passive-Aggressive Behavior
Passive-aggressivion can be difficult to recognize at times. The main way to recognize this behavior is by the uneasy feeling you get when someone is being passive-aggressive. The underlying hostility is pretty obvious and is easy to feel. Common passive-aggressive behaviors include biting sarcasm, backhanded compliments, and sulking.
Giving the silent treatment and pretending everything is fine when it clearly isn’t are passive-aggressive behaviors. Procrastinating, or failing to appropriately finish agreed upon tasks are other ways that passive-aggressiveness can occur in your relationship.
Those who avoid conflict, have people-pleasing tendencies, and have difficulty expressing their needs, can use passive-aggressive behavior.
Why Engage In Passive-Aggressive Behavior
While everyone uses passive-aggressive behavior at times, it’s harmful to your relationship when this type of behavior occurs often. This is a learned behavior that can be traced back to prior relationships or even childhood. If as a child you witnessed others using passive-aggressive tactics, you may be more ly to use them yourself.
If normal expressions of anger aren’t tolerated by an abusive parent, it feels safer to express this emotion indirectly. wise, if as a child you witnessed your caregiver’s explosive anger, you may fear anger in others and avoid conflict. If you are afraid of anger, or believe it isn’t appropriate, you may not express it in a healthy way.
Passive-aggressive behavior is also associated with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and ADHD.
How Passive-Aggressive Behavior Can Harm Your Relationship
Passive-aggressive behavior can have a negative impact on your relationship. Since this behavior is subtle, it can be difficult to know when there are serious issues in your relationship. When you do not share your concerns openly, you can’t find a resolution. If you act in covert ways instead of openly expressing your needs and disappointments, it’s confusing to your partner.
When anger is expressed in a healthy way, you can find a resolution and get closure. If instead, you use passive-aggressive tactics, the anger is there and often felt, but it’s just under the surface. This keeps it from being openly discussed and worked through and creates a lot of tension in your relationship. It’s hard to feel close to your partner when they aren’t opening up.
What You Can Do If You Are Being Passive-Aggressive
Once you recognize passive-aggressive behavior in yourself, there are things you can do to stop it. First, you will want to notice how you are feeling when you start acting in passive-aggressive ways. Allow yourself to feel these feelings along with your fear of confrontation.
Figure out what your passive-aggressiveness is trying to accomplish, and share this with your partner. For instance, tell your partner you don’t romantic comedies so you procrastinate when they choose this type of movie and this is why you are late.
Instead of using passive-aggressive behavior, establish clear boundaries. Practice being assertive and sharing your feelings and needs with your partner. You can start slow and share unimportant things at first.
As you become comfortable opening up to your partner and being direct, you can start discussing important issues as well.
What You Can Do If Your Partner Is Being Passive-Aggressive
If your partner has a pattern of acting in passive-aggressive ways, there are things you can try that might help. Don’t give in to these tactics, take on their responsibilities, or use passive-aggressive behavior yourself.
Calling your partner out on their behavior could backfire and create a parent/child relationship dynamic and increase this behavior. However, sharing your own experience can help. Use “I” statements to share what it’s for you when your partner is using passive-aggressive behavior.
Explain how it impacts your relationship, and what you would instead. Establish clear boundaries in your relationship. Create a safe environment where you can each state your feelings and concerns directly. Respond to your partner’s directness with empathy and compassion, not judgment and criticism.
Work together to come up with effective solutions. When directness is expected and accepted, passive-aggressive behavior patterns can change.
Passive-aggressive behavior can cause a lot of problems in your relationship. When you don’t address your needs and feelings of anger directly, it’s hard to find a resolution.
If passive-aggressive behavior is an ongoing problem in your relationship, therapy can help.
Learning to be more assertive and directly share your needs can help you create and sustain a healthy fulfilling relationship.