Have you ever been confronted by a friend, co-worker or even a romantic partner who regularly engages in passive-aggression?
We have all experienced negative feelings towards someone. While many of us have no hesitation with openly and directly expressing how we really feel, there may be times we may find it difficult to open up about feelings of anger, frustration or disappointment. However, by avoiding expression of these feelings directly to the person involved, we may cause them and ourselves a lot of harm. Behaviours that involve acting aggressive indirectly rather than directly are called passive-aggressive.
Being assertive and emotionally open is not always easy. When standing up for yourself is difficult, passive -aggressive behaviour may seem like the easier option, Passive-aggressive people regularly exhibit resistance to requests or demands. People who are passive-aggressive make others feel uneasy because we are never quite sure about how that person really feels. Someone who engages in passive-aggressive behaviour may appear to agree but then fail to do what they have agreed on. Rather than complying with the request they may for example express anger or resentment by failing to follow through, being late, or missing deadlines.
Some more signs of passive-aggressive behaviour:
- Avoidance of direct and clear communication
- Lack of cooperation, procrastination, or forgetting about things that you’d rather not do
- Cynical, hostile attitude or stubborn attitude
- Avoidance of problems and leaving things undone
- Frequently complaining about feeling underappreciated
- A tendency to pout, sulk or give people the silent-treatment
- Habit of blaming others for problems
- Fear of intimacy and competition
- Hiding anger
- Running late (this behaviour is occasionally deliberate, more commonly unconscious and always infuriating)
Research suggests that there is no one cause for passive-aggressive behaviour, but there is a general view that it is a learned behavioural pattern that begins in childhood. As a young person if you were not allowed to challenge your caregivers, especially if you felt the rules to be harsh or unjust then, passive-aggressive behaviour may have offered the opportunity to obey while still resisting. If there was experience of abuse, neglect or rejection from family members or romantic partners in adulthood you learn the importance of keeping people happy to protect yourself. This can leave you with a habit of accommodating others by going along with whatever they suggest. However, what happens when you disagree with their suggestion and avoid asserting your needs is that you may find yourself expressing your frustrations indirectly such as through negative mood, anger and or irritability.
Passive-aggressive behaviour is destructive and can interfere with relationships and cause difficulties at work. A person may want to avoid conflict but passive aggressive behaviours guarantee to provoke one. Chances are that we all have responded passive- aggressively at some point, and becoming aware of this negative behaviour can improve our relationship with ourself and with others.
If you feel passive -aggressive behaviour is interfering with your relationships, therapy may help you manage emotions positively and productively.
How to Recognize Passive-Aggressive Behaviour, (20 August 2020), https://www.heathline.com>health
Passive-aggressive behaviour: Examples, definition, and more – Medical News Today, (
14 May 2022), https://www.medicalnewstoday.com>…