The passive aggressive personality and its behavior

Passive aggressive people are unable to express feelings in a rational form and opt for passive aggressive behaviors. Find out how to recognize this disorder!

The passive aggressive personality is delineated with behaviors that include indifference or aggression and that arise from an inability to express and communicate negative feelings in a rational way. Very often even those who are close to people who suffer from this disorder, whether it is a partner, a child or a parent, may find themselves unable to manage the relationship and suffer from it attacks of anger or passivity. Passive aggressive behavior can be recognized through different attitudes and contextual causes.

How to recognize a passive aggressive personality

Recognizing a passive aggressive personality is not always easy: in fact, those suffering from this disorder could present themselves in a charismatic, seductive and affable way, with a peculiar sense of irony and sarcasm. It takes time to understand more deeply the dynamics of that personality.

In the 90s, when passive aggressive disorder was still diagnosed as a pathological behavior (as we will see better a little later, passive aggressive behavior no longer falls within the spectrum of pathological disorders, according to the American Psychiatric Association,) many diagnoses were made related to this disorder.

With the years and subsequent studies, it was concluded that passive aggression, resistance or pessimism in themselves were not necessarily pathological, but became so in those people who carried out these behaviors in a repeated form, with dominant and pessimistic attitudes.

But let’s take a closer look at what are the characteristics of passive aggressive behavior and how to recognize it.

Passive-aggressive behavior

Passive aggressive behavior can be recognized through different attitudes such as silence, victimhood or closure : these are just some of the main characteristics of the passive aggressive attitude.

To speak of a real disorder, the person must manifest the following negativist attitudes repeatedly:

  1. He does not perform what has been assigned to him or does it badly, whether in social, work or routine tasks.
  2. Victimism: Complains that he is not appreciated by others, claiming that he is always unfairly criticized and that people do not appreciate his work.
  3. He is angry and argumentative: despite doing what others ask him to do, because he cannot resist, he will be argumentative and resentful while doing so.
  4. He normally blames the authority or the people around him for his failure, thinking that he deserves a reward or restitution for the situation he is in.
  5. He always feels at fault with respect to what is due to him and feels envy and resentment towards others whom he considers more fortunate. (Another aspect of victimhood , together with the next point)
  6. He feels unfortunate and constantly complains about it.
  7. He cannot maintain a decision-making line, and always oscillates between hostile provocation and repentance: if he rebels aggressively against a task, it may be that after a while he retraces his steps and accepts to do it.

All these attitudes serve to keep his negative idea of ​​himself and of people unchanged, thus allowing him to believe that people are taking advantage of him. That is, it rejects positive social messages on purpose, finding negative aspects even when the requests made are adequate.

The passive person is the other side of the coin of the aggressive person .

These attitudes lead in the pathological person to develop further characteristics towards the environment that surrounds him. In particular, it will tend to have poor stability under stress along with poor adaptability. Furthermore, he will always try to repeat the same behavioral and situational patterns that he already knows, without taking advantage of the experiences already lived.

How passive aggression manifests itself

Passive aggression can manifest itself in several ways:

anger (in language and attitude), emotional dependence, hidden hostility and procrastination are some of the main symptoms of this behavior.

Anger and aggression can be a hindrance in social relationships. However, there are people who do not show these feelings directly but engage in passive aggressive behavior . These individuals do not express their anger like others but tend to hide it. Has it ever happened to you, for example, that a colleague stops greeting you overnight or does not give you those documents that you have been asking for some time? It could be a passive aggressive attitude.

But why is this attitude so widespread? There are some social, behavioral and psychological reasons that cause this disorder to grow and take root as pathological:

  1. From an early age, anger is pointed out as a negative feeling that should not be expressed: you have to be good and hide your negative feelings. Anger is not a feeling that can be expressed socially.
  2. Instead, what is socially accepted is hidden hostility, which allows us to implement alternative attitudes to express anger: such as procrastinating or making promises and not keeping them, carrying out victimhood. All these attitudes are palliatives that do not allow you to manage anger well but give rise to passive aggressive behavior .
  3. Passive aggression is easier. Being assertive is difficult, because you have to get involved and learn to fight to grow and defend your positions. Passive aggression is indeed a sign of emotional immaturity.
  4. You can easily rationalize passive aggression, especially through victimization, allowing you to justify your actions and blaming others for the problem. The other becomes the enemy and the passive-aggressive the victim.
  5. The role of revenge . As already mentioned previously, aggression is often implemented to carry out vengeful behaviors towards someone. And even if, normally they are attitudes of omission, that is problems caused by a non-doing of the passive aggressive, the taste for these people has a sweet taste.
  6. The sense of power. All of these mechanisms, from victimization, to aggression, to sabotaging the success of others can make a person feel powerful thanks to the ability to emotionally manage others.

Passive aggressive behavior can seem like a convenient behavior in the short term due to the power it gives over others, the ease with which it allows you to avoid problems, and the feelings of revenge and victimization that make you feel good .

But in reality in the long run this type of behavior leads to the breakdown of all relationships because situations become confused, feelings unexpressed and relationships dysfunctional. 

The Passive Aggressive Disorder

In psychology, passive-aggressive disorder has been reconsidered, in the diagnostic manual of mental disorders or dsm 5, in recent years as an aspect of several mental illnesses and not a real pathology in itself, but which can still cause problems in relationships or at work.

Although there are conflicting opinions on this point and it would be interesting to deepen and encourage further empirical studies on the characteristics of passive aggression, we can say that the passive aggressive is recognized for his way of managing conflicts, relationships and problems without really addressing them. Or rather, “passive aggressive behavior is a deliberate and disguised way of expressing hidden feelings of anger (Long, Long & Whitson, 2008)”.

In this sense, the passive aggressive presents itself with an ambivalent personality and with two faces. In fact, at first passive aggressive people present themselves as pleasant and affable: not being able to express their disagreement, they tend to repress negative emotions.

Over time, however, this frustration and repressed anger can lead these personalities to “explode” by acting aggressively, sometimes even coming to thoughts of revenge or violence towards the other person, thus undermining all relationships and relationships. The meaning of passive aggressive lies precisely in this ambivalence and in this inability to communicate, and express uncomfortable feelings: it is much easier to be passive than to learn to be assertive.

Aggression in psychology must be followed, finding the way and the ability to deal with conflicts. Let’s take a closer look at the behaviors and characteristics of a passive aggressive person and how you can learn to relate to people who suffer from this disorder.

Symptoms of passive-aggressive behavior

Some of the symptoms of passive aggressive behavior are: stopping talking, “pouting”, postponing assigned tasks, covertly insulting or giving ambiguous compliments. Usually, when trying to deal with the situation, he usually repeats phrases like “I’m not angry” or “I was just kidding”. Passive -aggressive behavior is more common than you might think and can involve friends, family, colleagues, or even your partner. This way of doing, when it occurs frequently enough to become a habit, turns into a real disorder . The main characteristic of passive aggressive behavior is undoubtedly silence.

Silence as a weapon

The passive aggressive uses silence as a weapon: not being able to verbalize his anger, he closes and stops speaking to the other person. Out of fear and pride he will pretend that this conflict does not exist and he will try to deny it if it is pointed out to him.

This silence does not mean that these people do not need others. On the contrary, they are usually quite dependent and are looking for affection but, at the same time, they show less empathy towards other people and may show impatience with their requests. There is no confrontation or conflict. They avoid listening to others and withdraw. The lack of self-criticism of the passive aggressive personality , in fact, leads her to think that she is always in the right while others are the culprits. This causes her to think only of her own feelings.

The language of passive aggressive behavior

The language of the passive aggressive always oscillates between passive forms of communication that try to close the conversation to other forms of verbal aggression that are always on the verge of hidden hostility.

This type of language, which catches the interlocutor by surprise, always tends to hurt or bewildered.

Sarcasm, irony or the confused and contradictory sense of the message always try to mask what lies behind the true meaning: for example, if a certain job has not been done, the fault must not lie with the person in question but with the person in question. ‘other through phrases that serve to close a speech in order not to enter into a real communication.

What are examples of language that hides passive aggressive behavior ? Normally they are phrases that want to mask other things, such as procrastination, hostility, emotional dependence. But let’s see some examples of sentences!

Aggressive phrases and verbal aggression

Verbal aggression , as well as aggressive phrases , are an important part of passive aggressive behavior , although very often aggression is hidden and replaced by veiled hostility or sarcasm. Some of these phrases, if reiterated, can help us recognize a person suffering from this disorder.

From responses like “Good. Ok. ” Either “I’m not angry” or “I’m very happy to be of help”, just think to end the conversation, however, leaving a glimpse of a certain hostility, up to the sentences to justify one’s behavior or procrastination , placing the blame on the other:

“I didn’t understand you meant the delivery was for today …”

“I thought you knew …”

“You always want everything to be perfect!”

“Why are you always so nervous?”

Other phrases can instead represent hostility quite well , even if not openly declared:

“You answered very well for your socio-cultural level”.

And when he is about to be exposed, an aggressive passive could throw his behavior on indifference:

“I was always joking.”

These phrases are just some of the aggressive phrases that can hide some passive aggressive attitudes.

How to deal with a person who behaves in a passive-aggressive way?

So how can we deal with a person who behaves in a passive aggressive manner whether at work, in love or in the family?

In fact, passive aggressive behavior in adults is characterized by inaction, victimhood, combined with a certain sense of arrogance that can lead to attacks of violent anger over time .

Behind these behaviors may be more complex traumas such as depression, low self-esteem, traumatic childhood and anxiety disorders.

First of all, it is essential to know how to recognize this behavior in others and in oneself. For people who are close to passive aggressive individuals , it can be very painful to be victims of this type of attitude.

It is useless to face the person when he is engaging in this type of behavior because he will tend to withdraw even more or play the victim. He tries to take these attitudes distantly without thinking it is a personal attack. When the situation relaxes he tries to talk about it. However, if you are unable to resolve this way, this person will likely need the help of a psychologist or psychotherapist. The therapist, in fact, will have the task of helping the patient to learn to express their emotions and anger and to bring out, and then to overcome, the repressed anger.

Passive Aggressive in love and relationships

Passive aggressive behavior in love can wreck even the best of couples.

Expressing yourself is essential to achieve a stable and peaceful relationship, while closure, silence in love, frustration or sudden outbursts of anger towards the partner can lead to a difficult relationship management.

Passive-aggressive behavior can hide some types of more deep-seated and deep-seated disorders, so if some clues of this type arise, the main recommendation is to seek help or advice from a professional.

In any case, to try to relate to a person who shows some passive-aggressive behaviors, we can try to consider some aspects that bring us closer to him: try not to feel directly attacked or that the coldness directly concerns the relationship.

As mentioned, this type of behavior can hide other deeper issues.

Some advice for dealing with a partner with passive aggressive problems could be:

  • Be patient.
  • Don’t be authoritarian: it will only make the other angry even more.
  • Talking instead of arguing, trying to be open and honest with what’s going on.
  • Think for yourself: It can be difficult to be involved in a relationship with a person who exhibits passive-aggressive behavior . In some cases, it may be better to get out of a relationship that you can’t cope with.

Being in a relationship or in a couple with an aggressive passive can lead to several communication problems: don’t hesitate to ask for help from a professional in case you need it.

How to defend yourself and manage a passive aggressive personality

It is possible to manage and defend against a passive aggressive personality, but certainly good advice is to turn to a trusted doctor or therapist for a consultation.

As already mentioned in other points of this article, passive aggressive personalities can hide very complex problems, since this type of disorder can be a symptom of deeper pathologies such as depression or anxiety disorder, or the consequence of trauma. infantile. The best way to try and defend against this type of behavior is indifference.

Passive-aggressive people usually suffer from low self-esteem and low emotional assertiveness: noticing that their behavior is not generating any kind of effect will probably lead them to reevaluate their attitude.

Feeling less strong and confident, they will likely loosen their grip and psychological impact on those around them. After this first phase of defense against a passive aggressive person , try to convince the person in question, whether it is a family member, partner or friend, to contact a psychologist.

My Son is aggressive: what to do?

In the family environment, on the other hand, if we were to find that our child is aggressive and wonder what to do, the first step to take would certainly be to understand if we are facing a passive aggressive disorder.

For clinical psychology, the causes of passive-aggressive disorder lie in severe and contradictory upbringing. People suffering from this disorder may have received a type of education that could include:

  • Contradictory messages: for example in some circumstances some attitudes were rewarded and in others criticized, thus leaving the child in confusion. The child internalizes inconsistencies in attitudes and teachings and fails to define sufficient self-confidence.
  • One parent who controls excessively and the other who remains absent or passive: the child’s behavior will tend to synthesize the two behaviors ( aggressive and passive ) to find a form of protest and communication between these two opposites (which will probably be an indirect and manipulative ).
  • Over-protection: Even in the case of over-protective parents it can happen that the child develops a form of passive aggression. Excessive dependence on parents, in fact, could cause a lack of confidence in one’s autonomy.
  • The “good” family: those who grow up in a family where there is never an open face, or anger is not admitted nor the defense of their rights, may not learn to express their emotions in a constructive way, and without personal belief or autonomy.

A child who is aggressive or who expresses anger in an indirect form is not necessarily a child who suffers from this disorder.

Many passive aggressive behaviors in children are a socially acceptable way of avoiding homework and frustrating others. In this sense, assertive and direct communication towards children can help them to express their emotions.

In the case of an aggressive adult child or a child who continuously engages in passive-aggressive behaviors, an expert opinion can be requested to investigate the topic.

Many passive aggressive children’s phrases or attitudes can relate to situations such as:

  • procrastination, postponement and stalemate (“I’ll do it later”, “I’m coming”,…).
  • Pretend not to hear (“I didn’t hear you”).
  • Telling the adult that he is a perfectionist (“I did the job, you always ask too much”) in order to redeem the role of victim.

If you would like more information on the subject, you can consult our list of professionals experienced in aggression.

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