Passive-aggressive behavior

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Passive-aggressive way of behaviour refers to the way of behaviour in stressful or frustrating situations. It manifests itself through specific (indirect) way of expressing anger towards others. Often, these people seem to agree with desires of others, but when they have to act on it, they procrastinate or, if they complete a specific task, they complete it in a way that the result is completely useless. Therefore, such behaviour leads to many problems in personal and business life.
Passive-aggressive behaviour includes procrastination, resentment, obstruction, ambiguity or vagueness, resistance to suggestions of others, blaming others, avoiding responsibility through an excuse of forgetfulness, constant delay and repetition of forgetfulness, fear of competition, fear of authority and intimacy, encouraging chaos, intentional inefficiency, avoiding open expression of anger, scolding.

As with other personality disorders, causes of this disorder are not exactly known, but  probably they represent a combination of genetic and environmental factors (eg. excessive control from parents, neglect or parental affection to another child can lead to a development of “silent protest” or “protestfull obedience”).


It is assumed that this disorder is expressed by following characteristics:

  • elevated neuroticism (chronic negative emotions – anxiety, tension, fear, anger, irritability, discouragement, guilt and shame, hopelessness),
  • increased extroversion (excessive openness with improper disclosure of details about yourself, the inability to be alone, emphatically expressing emotions, irresponsible search of excitement, attempts to control other people),
  • reduced openness (problems with adjusting to personal and social changes, reduced tolerance and understanding of different views or lifestyles),
  • reduced propensity of getting along (expressed cynicism and paranoid thinking – inability to acquire confidence in others, a tendency to quarrel, manipulation and ruthlessness toward loved ones, which is often expressed with disregard of social conventions, inflated or magnificent experience of themselves with arrogant behaviour) increased sensitivity (these people often stand out with excessive accomplishments at work).

Behaviour of these people in close relationships is ambivalent. Sometimes they are difficult to understand because they find themselves in a gap between expressing hostile defiance and attempts to mitigate their behaviour by seeking forgiveness. Precisely because of this, they are often prone to quarrels, grudges and irritability, with turbulent and explosive behaviour, and on the other hand often feel like victims. People who are with them in close relationship usually have a feeling that a new quarrel, criticism or violent reaction is on the horizon. These people manage to involve others into a situation where everything you do is always wrong.

Passive-aggressive people are unsteady, hesitant, with contradictory emotions and behaviour, unusual and unpredictable. The ambivalence in the relationship is the result of a conflict between their need to depend on others and the desire for affirmation. Therefore, their behaviour changes from expressing anger to promises that they will do better, so that they oscillate between contentiousness and indulgence.
When they encounter negative reactions from others due to their defeatist attitude, they experience it through underestimation or misunderstanding. Because of unresolved feeling of inferiority, they oscillate between feelings of their own superiority and self-loathing. These internal contradictions that are manifested through incomprehensible behaviour changes, frequently have an effect of avoidance by other people. And then their experience derives from their mindset structure – that others are actually the ones that are dominant, demanding and controlling.

For them, the authority is dominant and unjust, but at the same time someone who can provide acceptance and care. When they are confronted with their own behaviour, they do not have the insight into how their actions have led to certain situations, but rather accuse others.

They express their anger with restraint, but the goal is to make another person to answer aggressively since then they have a justification for their “attack”. Behind this is their need to harm others, but all their statements and anger are covered up. They do not want to spare feelings of another person, on the contrary – they want to hurt them more. So, the goal is to subtly lead the other person to respond with anger so that finally this person feels guilty and later resent himself for such reaction. In this way, passive-aggressive people have a constant confirmation that they are in the role of a victim. They will be surprised by reactions of other people and deny that they have led to such reactions or will claim that the other person overreacted.

These people can often develop depression or an anxiety disorder and various kinds of addictions.
When treating this disorder, it is necessary to clarify that anger and demands on others are expressed in an indirect way, and that their resistance makes it impossible for certain things to happen. Only by gaining proper insight, they can understand early experiences in which they felt devalued; understand what impact that has on their fear that their independence will be compromised when another person wants intimacy; and understand that connections will not be lost if someone wants a little time for themselves.

Thus, the goal is to become aware of your anger and constant feelings of frustration, of a need to “punish” people in a hidden and indirect way and that the sense of self-worth does not depend on someone else’s opinion. There is no need to be afraid of your own anger, rather it should be recognized, as well as numerous attempts to avoid responsibility or venting your own bitterness on others.

Passive aggression is in the core of covert sabotage and emotional protest. Passive aggression can almost be observed as a “talent” – the ability to transfer anger to others, so that the person himself is never openly angry and aggressive, but with his behaviour causes the environment to feel irritated and attacked. Its basis is jamming, anger and envy.
Passive-aggressive behaviour is a form of masochism, which is reflected in personal failure, procrastination and self-destructive behaviour that adversely affects the person himself, but also his surroundings.

Standing negative and passive resistance in a person are recorded in:

  • passive refusal of routine tasks, both social and business
  • frequent complaints that other people do not value and understand him
  • conflict, quarrelsome behaviour
  • excessive criticism and contempt of authority
  • presentation of envy and resentment towards those seen as more successful and happier
  • exaggerated and constant appeals to his own misfortune
  • oscillations between hostile defiance and remorse

In addition to the above characteristics, passive-aggressive personalities usually blame and judge those which they depend on the most, but in the same time reject to become independent from them.

When they talk about their own needs and desires, they are not direct, do not ask specific questions about what is expected of them and become anxious when they are forced to succeed or when their usual defence of turning aggression towards themselves is removed.

Passive aggression has various manifestations which many are very prone to, but with this type of personality, it emerges as a permanent pattern of behaviour:

  • Forgetting – forgetting important dates, birthdays, anniversaries, coming late to meetings etc., as a way of avoiding obligations and covert sabotage.
  • Irresponsibility – the responsibility for their actions is avoided, someone else in their environment is always “to blame for what is happening and that someone must pay for their actions”.
  • Disclaimer of anger – in communication they look nice and kind, which is only a mask for other emotions.
  • Fear of intimacy – they have almost no trust in people, which is why they aspire to not get attached emotionally.