Passive Aggressive behavior (A complete guide)

In this article, we will discuss what passive aggressive behavior is and how to deal with someone who is being passive aggressive toward you. 

What is Passive Aggressive behavior? 

Passive-aggressive is a term that dates back in World War II, the time when some soldiers would indirectly act aggressive and reluctant to follow orders.

It’s still a relevant term today when describing a person with an indirect expression of anger or negativity towards you or someone else.

In this case, there will be a contrast between what the person does versus what they say. 

For instance, a person with aggressive behavior will agree to something they oppose rather than stating it out clearly.

But since, they don’t support the idea; they will tend to resist it during implementation.

In this case, they will always undermine the whole idea, miss the deadline intentionally, and even come late or miss meetings. 

There are 3 types of aggression, all of which are experienced by someone who has passive aggressive behavior.

What are the signs of passive aggressive behavior?

One thing that is common among people with this behavior is the contrast between what they do versus what they say.

This is a sort of behavior that often angers the people around them like family members, colleagues at work, and even friends. 

But the person at times may be unaware that they are suffering from this condition.

Thus, the following are signs you can use to determine if you or another person is suffering from this behavior:

·      Objecting or resenting other people opinions or demands

·      Often complains over being unappreciated

·      Likes to blame other people for their faults

·      Stubborn behavior 

·      Cynical or hostile behavior towards people

·      Inefficient performance of a task and never meets the deadline

·      Forgetfulness and procrastination when assigned a task

·      Often disagrees with almost everything or gets irritated easily

·      Frequent protests and criticism over other people ideas

What are the causes of passive aggressive behavior?

The precise cause of this behavior is still unknown; however, there is a consideration of environmental and biological factors as the major contributors.

According to researchers normal emotions such as displeasure, frustration, and anger is common among people as they grow up. 

However, people who have been diagnosed with passive aggression rarely express these emotions directly.

And this might be due to the environment they grew-up in, which might have not allowed them to freely express these emotions.

But that doesn’t mean all patients with this condition might have got it from childhood.

You can get this behavior in adulthood. Some people opt for this behavior since it enables them to get away with everything.

Also, they can adapt it to avoid confrontation. In some cases, the patients may have partial passive-aggressiveness, for instance at work but normal in other areas.

To cut the story short, some of the causes of passive aggression are as a result of

·      Influence from childhood

·      Family dynamics

·      Parenting style

·      Harsh punishment

·      Neglect

·      Child abuse

·      Oppositional defiant disorder

·      Alcohol abuse

·      Schizophrenia

·      Conduct disorder

·      Schizotypal personality disorder

·      Bipolar disorder

·      Depression

·      Stress

·      ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

·      Anxiety disorders

Can passive aggression be diagnosed? 

Since this behavior is not categorized as a medical condition, medical diagnosis is not possible. However, all hope is not lost.

You can still seek professional assistance from a mental health practitioner.

They will assist you in identifying the underlying health condition behind your behavior and the possible treatment. 

Some of the questions you may expect from the diagnosis include the state of your behavior, symptoms when it began, and possibly the impact this condition has on your relationships, life, or at work.

Therefore, if you feel that you are exhibiting some symptoms of this behavior, you need to seek professional assistance. 

In case the psychologist finds no environmental link to your passive-aggressive behavior, you may now be referred to a medical practitioner for a diagnosis.

In this case, the trigger for your behavior may be an underlying medical problem that requires treatment. 

Lastly, if you notice any of your work colleagues, family members, or spouse with symptoms of this behavior, you need to encourage them to seek professional assistance.

It’s quite hard to work or leave in harmony with a person exhibiting symptoms of this behavior.

The faster the behavioral issues are addressed the better for both of you. 

Is there a treatment for passive aggression?

Treatment of this behavior relies on whether it’s as a result of environmental challenges or an underlying medical issue.

If it’s caused by an underlying health complication, then medical treatment by a doctor is advised.

In this case, the treatment of the underlying health problems is the means to cure this behavior.

However, if the causative agent is environmental factors, then seeking a professional therapist or mental health practitioner assistance is advised.

The therapist will enable you to identify this behavior and possible means to change and get better. 

They will assist you with how to deal with your emotions such as low self-esteem, resentment, or anger issues that are generating this behavior in you.

They can also teach you the best means of dealing with this behavior including a healthy means of solving problems. 

Another means of addressing this behavior is through assertiveness training.

This technique involves the use of teaching courses for effective expression of your emotions, concern, and thought.

Through this, you will be able to reduce any form of frustration and anger promoting negative behaviors. 

In addition to the above, the following tips will assist you in getting rid of this behavior. They include:

·      Honesty and direct expressions of thoughts and emotions rather than acting negatively towards others. 

·      Being optimistic

·      Staying calm and avoid situations that can make you upset

·      Avoid acting before thorough assessment of the situation

·      Try to figure out the possible source of passive-aggressive you are exhibiting

·      Active awareness of your emotions, thoughts, and behavior.

How to deal with this condition

Technically you need more effort to eliminate this behavior especially if it began in childhood.

A good therapist and special tips to work through it is an effective means to get better soon.

Furthermore, you should always keep in mind that you are the master of your behavior. Therefore, you can change it as you please. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about passive aggressive behavior: 

Why do people express passive-aggressive behavior?

Many people express this behavior due to the indirect expression of emotions such as displeasure, frustration, and anger.

This occurs mainly due to environmental factors during their childhood. In this case, they never felt safe to express their emotions.

As a result, they opt for this behavior as a means of expressing their emotions. 

In other cases, people express this behavior due to an underlying medical condition that promotes this behavior.

Some of these health conditions include Schizotypal personality disorder, Bipolar disorder, Depression, Stress, and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

How can you address passive aggressive behavior?

It’s hard for some of the people with this condition to realize the magnitude of damage this condition can cost them.

Therefore, they often find many ways to justify their actions.

At first, they may feel as if the behavior is normal and a good means to prevent hurting someone or a bad thing from occurring. But it’s not the case. 

With this condition, getting into disagreements and trouble is guaranteed.

Therefore, the best means is to seek professional assistance such as counseling, mental health practitioner, or even a doctor if your condition is linked to underlying sickness. 

What are the common characteristics of a passive-aggressive individual?

This is a common question amongst many individuals with this condition as well as those without.

The following are some of the signs which are handy in identifying such a person. They include:

·      Frequent complaints about being unappreciated

·      Hostility fused with bitterness to people around them

·      Intentional mistakes when it comes to other people requests

·      Aggressive  pessimistic and cynical behavior

I have a passive-aggressive husband, what should I do?

Don’t be alarmed if you find out your husband or wife is suffering from this behavior.

It’s a condition that is easily treatable when discovered.

When you notice this condition in your spouse, you should exercise more love and care as well as understanding.

Encourage them to seek professional assistance or you may as well accompany them as they go to get treatment.

Am I passive aggressive at work?

This is a common question among many workers. If you have read the common signs of this behavior, they are closely related to work.

Therefore, if you find yourself submitting proposals, projects, or even work assignments late without any other symptoms, it might not be this condition.

However, if these habits are accompanied by aggression and resentment towards your colleagues and their ideas, then you should consider professional assistance. 

How can you prevent passive aggressive behavior from ruining your relationship?

Conflicts are one of the major factors that ruin many relationships.

Having passive-aggressive behavior or a partner with it guarantees conflicts in your relationship.

Therefore, not addressing this condition may result in breakups. But how can you prevent this behavior from ruining your relationship? Let’s find out. 

When this behavior emerges during a conflict, you can apply the following techniques:

·      Clam down since both of you can’t resolve the cause of conflicts with negativity and anger
·      Try and talk it out together. You should both share your opinions concerning the situation instead of challenging each other aggressively
·      Brainstorming solutions, success occurs in a relationship when you both sit down and come up with a solution together.
·      Evaluate the possible solutions you’ve gathered. In this case, you should sit down and come up with the merits and demerits of each idea before opting for a possible solution among them. 
·      Win-win solution. Ensure the solution you choose satisfies both of you
·      Implement your solution and both of you will be contented and at peace finally.

How can you avoid passive aggressive behavior in a relationship?

To ensure you have healthy and conflict-free relationships, the following three points are exactly what you need. 

·      Create a list

Both you and your partner should sit down and make a list of issues you may have had recently.

Also mention things or situations that often anger any of you. and lastly, mention some of the changes that each one of you believes is necessary for a healthy relationship

·      Boundaries

Crossing each other boundaries is a common thing in a relationship.

Unfortunately, it often results in anger and piled up negative emotions that often knock up in the middle of a small conflict making the situation worse.

Therefore be specific about your boundaries and don’t live anything out.

·      Implementation of your lists and requests

For this to work out, let it be a group solution, not one of you creating an environment or situation that is better for both of you.

Get to share your list, and know each other’s boundaries. Also, some minor compromises should be allowed for flexibility and a loving relationship.

Once you’ve implemented the possible solutions you have come up with as partners, take several weeks before sitting down again and check out if it worked. 


Signs of Passive-aggressive personality. Healthline. March 2016

Overview of the Mental Health Passive Aggressive Behavior. WebMD. August 2019

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