What IS passive-aggressive behaviour?

Irritable? Cynical? Argumentative? Hostile? Could be passive-aggression.

Angry man portrait grabbing his head - isolated over white

You’ll recognize it by a few consistent telltale signs and symptoms:

  • Habitual procrastination
  • Reluctant participation, Sullenness or pouting
  • Habitual poor performance, especially on tasks well within their capabilities
  • Seeming forgetfulness
  • Unfocused general irritation or anger with you that they cannot, or will not, really pinpoint
  • Habitual fault-finding or setting you up to fail

Sound familiar? Passive-aggressive behavior is the result of indirect, unexpressed anger. Instead of discussing it openly, s/he secretly sabotages situations, events or relationships. It’s a game of pretend: “Who, me? Angry?

The passive-aggressive person pretends s/he is in agreement with your plans, ideas or requests, but is actually hostile. In an intimate relationship, this is a short journey to what turns into emotional abuse. Without professional help, the engrained pattern is established and the person continuously sabotages intimate relationships, friendship, work relationships and family ties.

Procrastination: A classic passive-aggressive behavior

The person knows what time the dinner reservations are and has agreed that that is the perfect time. However, they do not get ready on time, or simply “have” to make “just one quick stop on the way” which all leads to arriving at the restaurant an hour late. Then, the passive-aggressive person, knowing all along how upsetting this is to you, either becomes defensive making it your fault in some strange, back-handed way, or gives a weak apology, really looking for sympathy for their pathetic indiscretions. Sound familiar? You may be dealing with passive-aggressive behavior.

Reluctant Participation, Sullenness or Pouting

“I’m going to get attention by being unable to be pleased…even, and often especially, when I agreed to what we’re doing.”

The passive-aggressive person seems to take a perverse pleasure in ruining occasions for all concerned by refusing to participate, or to be pleased by anything. There is always something wrong, usually something vague or general, and the ploy of the passive-aggressive person is to say nothing outright but to let body language, facial expressions and the all too frequent sighs to do the talking for him or her. Sound familiar? You may be dealing with passive-aggressive behavior.

Habitual Poor Performance

Passive-aggressive people often make their indirect statements of anger by doing tasks well below their capacities and abilities.  If you have a passive-aggressive husband, for example, he’ll reluctantly go to the grocery store for you while reminding you that he is unreliable in that department but he says he doesn’t mind going at all.

Of course, he returns minus a few key ingredients that were on the list you gave him. Then, you hear “If you want groceries, plan better and get them yourself. It’s not my job I was just trying to help you out. Sound familiar? You may be dealing with passive-aggressive behavior.

Mature Woman Body Language Expressions - Don't know don't care

Seeming Forgetfulness

Yes, we all forget things occasionally. The passive-aggressive person makes an art form of it. You ask your spouse to pick up the dry cleaning on a Saturday afternoon. You clearly communicate that you need those clothes items to pack for the trip you are both taking on Sunday. Your spouse agrees and says s/he is happy to oblige. You return Saturday evening and look for the dry cleaning. You hear: “Oh, I forgot. I was busy myself and I had important things to do to get ready, too. It’s not my fault you didn’t manage your time well enough to get what you wanted done. You expect too much!”

Or, you have an event coming up that is really important to you. You make sure your partner knows about it in plenty of time and has committed to coming along. S/he knows how very much this means to you. S/he doesn’t show up. “Where were you?”  “I have a life, too, you know, and I completely forgot because I was engrossed in what I was doing.”  It is annoying and often hurtful. It is an indirect way of expressing anger, once again.

Unfocused, generalized irritation

Your partner or colleague has that look of disapproval, upset and irritation.  You ask “Is there something wrong?” The passive-aggressive person usually answers:“Of course not. Why do you ask me that all the time?” It just seems like something is not pleasing them that should, that someone’s not doing what they could but should. Generalized, unspecific irritation and displeasure. Sound familiar? You may be dealing with passive-aggressive behavior.

Habitual fault-finding or set up to fail

Passive-aggressive people often commit the sin of omission: they can see that you’re going down the wrong path and they let you. Why? So they can tell you that they knew you were messing it up. They want to be superior and they often love to gloat.

You go to a friend–I use the term loosely–to discuss a problem you’re having with your partner. She encourages you to focus on his faults. You leave him. You’re miserable. She’s almost pleased. She tells you that she knew you were making a mistake, but it’s not her place to interfere. Sound familiar? You may be dealing with passive-aggressive behavior.

AND here are a few more considerations for you:

  • Resisting doing or completing routine social or occupational tasks
  • Complaining about being misunderstood, unappreciated or hard done by others frequently
  • Seems argumentative over totally benign and insignificant matters often
  • Continuously and unreasonably criticizes, belittles, scorns, or minimizes authority
  • Usually expresses envy or resentment over those who seem more fortunate, lucky or successful
  • Often expresses exaggerated complaints of personal misfortune and lack of opportunity
  • Runs hot and cold, between hostile defiance and ingratiating contrition
  • Seems to have a desire to defeat others, get back at them or just annoy them much of the time
  • Seems to purposefully fail in order to get back at others
  • Seems to enjoy creating a sense of chaos emotionally
  • Fears intimacy and actively pushes people away
  • Makes excuses and lies easily and often

Sound familiar? You may be dealing with passive-aggressive behavior.

Still not sure if you’re in a relationship with someone who is passive-aggressive?