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What Is Passive Aggressive Behavior [explained]

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Passive Aggressive Behavior Explained

Passive aggressiveness is a type of behavior that we often come across in our daily lives. We can often hear someone saying, “that person was acting very passive aggressive”.

Passive aggressive behavior is often a sign of some sort of mental illness but on its own, it is not considered to be a mental disease. But that does not mean it can not interfere with friendships and relationships. In case you are confused whether or someone you know might have passive aggressive behavior, read our guide to the peculiar trait to know more about it:

What is Passive Aggressive Meaning?

Passive-aggressive behavior can be defined as the pattern characterized by the indirect expression of negative feelings instead of choosing to address them openly. In a passive aggressive person, you can notice a disconnection between his or her behavior and what he or she does.

Passive Aggressive Examples

Let’s study some examples of this trait to understand it better:

Passive-aggressive behavior can manifest in several ways such as someone might keep making excuses every time to avoid some people showing them they are angry with them or do not like them.

Another surprising thing is that a passive aggressive person will repeatedly make the claim that he or she is not angry and is rather fine when they are actually mad at you and you can see it quite well. When such a person denies what is going on in their mind and refuses to be emotionally open to others, they shut down any chances of further communication and refuse to communicate their issue.

Another example of passive aggressive behavior is intentionally procrastinating. And when they are confronted about the tasks they start showing passive aggressiveness.

What Are Some Causes of Passive Aggressive Behavior?

Psychological experts often say that passive aggressiveness is something that you learn and the learning process often begins during childhood. However, experts have not found a specific cause for such behavior yet, here are some factors that can contribute to people behaving passive aggressively:

1. Family Dynamic and Parenting Method

People who are not allowed to question their parents as kids or say no to them, often end up learning other ways of challenging commands that they think are unjust or unfair. How does this help them? Being passive aggressive allows them to come up with a way that lets them obey others while still being able to resist them.

2. Fear of Rejection

People who have gone through rejection, hatred, neglect, or abuse from people close to them during their childhood or romantic companionship try to keep everyone satisfied and happy with them to protect themselves. This engraves the habit of accommodating others by agreeing to them in their minds. And when they want to disagree with them, they let out their frustration indirectly because they are afraid of rejection if they express their emotions directly.

3. An Uncontrollable Need to Be in Control

Every person has to do something in his or her life that he or she does not necessarily agree to. These situations can feel very frustrating and can put people in unwanted situations. When passive aggressive people cannot avoid unpleasant situations at work, home, or school, they try to regain control over their lives by acting out weirdly.

4. Scared of Conflict

You will meet plenty of people in your life who find it overwhelming to deal with stressful situations like some sort of fight, conflict, and tension in their personal, social, and professional relationships and friendships. Such people are often frightened that talking about their feelings openly might damage or negatively impact their relationships and friendships. To stay away from any such criticism, they prefer to keep their opinions to themselves.

5. Difficulty Showing True Emotions

No person is equal as some can express their thoughts without any difficulty while others have a hard time recognizing and expressing their emotions ( the unwanted and unpleasant ones in particular). Such individuals might want to push back their feelings just because they find it hard to share and identify them or if they think that doing so can change the perception others have of them. However, what they fail to understand is that even if they avoid expressing their irritation, sadness, or anger directly, these emotions still become quite visible in their behavior and mood.

What Are Some Signs Of Passive Aggressive Behavior That Can Be Used For Its Identification?

One thing that needs to be established is that passive aggressive behavior can sometimes also be unintentional or unconscious. A majority of people behave a bit passive-aggressively from time to time as it offers them a way to say no to someone indirectly.

  • Some of the ways that people in a relationship may use to show passive aggressive include snapping at their significant others for very insignificant things such as leaving the toilet seat up, canceling important get-togethers by showing up late or not showing up at all, ignoring their phone when they get a call or text from their partner, or pulling away from them when they try to show any form of affection.
  • In other words, passive-aggressive people cannot connect their words with their actions and that frustrates others around them who like to accept works at face value.
  • Another way to understand is to consider the example of someone who is asked by their colleague to help them with an urgent task that they need to deliver by the end of the day. Even though that person does not want to agree to it, they also do not feel like they are capable of saying no to their colleague.
  • As they go back to their seat, they start getting frustrated and they show their anger by loudly huffing, roughly shoving papers around, seething under their breath, and giving glares to everyone.
  • Some other signs of their behavior are showing hostility or acting with bitterness when someone requests you to do something, intentionally making mistakes or delaying tasks, showing a stubborn attitude or being cynical when you disagree with something or working less-than-efficiently at work when you are not in the mood.
  • Other signs include blaming other people for problems you caused for yourself, frequently complaining about being deceived or feeling unappreciated, forgetting about things that you do not want to do, vaguely passing negative remarks even though they are not directed at anyone in particular, or indirectly posting stories and posts on social media to taunt someone who has hurt you instead of having a talk to them in-person.

How to Cope with Passive Aggressive Behavior?

The very step to cope with passive aggressive behavior if you are the one who is experiencing it is to recognize the signs that you are showing are of the said behavior. For example, some signs are withdrawal, refusal, sulking, procrastination, and backhanded compliments.

You can cope by working on your anger and trying to control it. If you really want to confront someone, try to point out their behavior in a non-judgmental and respectful way. Or if it is someone else who is being passive aggressive and you want to tell them that they should not behave like that, try to be very nice and factual, at the same time. Such people usually stay in denial of their anger. When they reach this point, we suggest you take a step back and let them work through their feelings themselves.

How To Recognize Your Behavior If You Think You Are Passive Aggressive?

It can be easy to tell when someone else you know is being passive aggressive, but what to do when it is you who is engaging in such behavior. How do you recognize passive-aggressiveness in yourself? Ask yourself the following questions:

Do you frequently sulk when you do not feel happy with someone you know? Do you often avoid the person who has made you angry or sad or upset? Do you stop talking to that person then? Do you put off your tasks in an attempt to punish someone else? Do you find yourself resorting to sarcastic language and tone to avoid a meaningful discussion?

If the answer to the above-asked questions is yes, you do not need to freak out about it. Here are some amazing ways to solve it:

  • Improve your sense of self-awareness because normally passive-aggressive behavior is caused mainly because of not having a good relationship with oneself. If you do not have a good understanding of your own thoughts and what makes you upset and why you are feeling what you are going through, then it becomes difficult to solve your passive aggressiveness. You can work on this by paying attention to what goes on in your mind when you react to stressful or unwanted circumstances.
  • Being patient with yourself is another thing that you need to work on. Humans are always learning and sometimes it takes them longer to learn some things. Therefore, give yourself time to change and make changes. Being self-aware and recognizing that you are showing passive aggressive traits is an amazing feat, however, actually taking action to alter that behavior can take you a considerable amount of time. In such a scenario remember to not be hard on yourself by being demeaning to your mind. Be patient, calm, and be nice to yourself.
  • Try working on the way you express your feelings whether they are emotions of happiness, delight, and excitement or they are feelings of anger, sadness, hurt, frustration, or overwhelm. Understanding your emotions and why you feel them under stress is a great start. Then move on to the learning phase of how to express them in a healthy way. When you start expressing your feelings in a positive way, your passive aggressive behavior will start to fade and it will end, eventually.


Passive aggressive behavior can hurt the person who expresses it as well as others present around a passive aggressive person. However, if you think it is getting out of hand, try getting in touch with an expert of psychology and get help.

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Austin has 10+ years of experience in teaching. He has researched on thousands of students-related topics, issues, and concerns. You will often find him writing about the common concerns of students, their nutrition, and what is beneficial for their academics and health both.