What Is Passive-Aggressive Behavior?
People with passive-aggressive behavior express their
negative feelings subtly through their actions instead of handling them
directly. This creates a separation between what they say and what they do.
For example, say someone proposes a plan at work. A person
with passive-aggressive behavior may oppose the plan, but instead of voicing
their opinion, they say that they agree with it. Since they’re actually against
the plan, however, they resist following it. They may purposely miss deadlines,
turn up late to meetings, and undermine the plan in other ways.
Here’s another example: A woman is studying with her
boyfriend in the same room. She is upset with him, but instead of telling him
that she is mad at him, she blasts the music on their laptop to bother him.
Some common signs of passive-aggressive behavior include:
- bitterness and hostility toward
other peoples’ requests
- intentionally delaying or making
mistakes when dealing with other peoples’ requests
- having a cynical, pessimistic, or
- frequently complaining about
feeling underappreciated or deceived
Passive-aggressive behavior can be a symptom of several
mental disorders, but it’s not considered to be a distinct mental health
condition. This type of behavior can affect a person’s ability to create and
maintain healthy relationships, and can cause problems at work. However, there
are ways to manage passive-aggressive behavior so that it doesn’t have a
negative impact on someone’s quality of life.
Signs of Passive-Aggressive
There is usually some disconnect between what a person with
passive-aggressive behavior says and what they do. Their behavior often angers
family members, friends, and co-workers. However, the person may not be aware
of their passive-aggressive behavior.
Signs of this type of behavior include:
- frequently criticizing or
- being disagreeable or irritable
- procrastinating or being
- performing tasks inefficiently
- acting hostile or cynical
- acting stubborn
- blaming others
- complaining about being
- displaying resentment over the
demands of others
Causes of Passive-Aggressive
The exact cause of passive-aggressive behavior isn’t known.
However, both biological and environmental factors may contribute to the
development of passive-aggressive behavior.
Researchers believe people who exhibit passive-aggressive
behaviors begin doing so in childhood. Parenting style, family dynamics, and
other childhood influences may be contributing factors. Child abuse, neglect,
and harsh punishment can also cause a person to develop passive-aggressive
behaviors. Substance abuse and low self-esteem are also thought to lead to this
type of behavior.
Underlying health conditions may result in behaviors that
appear similar to passive-aggressive behavior. Some conditions associated with
passive-aggressive behavior include:
- attention deficit hyperactivity
- anxiety disorders
- conduct disorder
- oppositional defiant disorder
- bipolar disorder
- schizotypal personality disorder
- alcohol abuse
- cocaine withdrawal
Passive-aggressive behavior isn’t a medical disorder, so a
doctor can’t diagnose it. However, a trained mental health professional can
help you identify a behavioral problem that requires treatment. They will ask
questions about your symptoms and behaviors, including when they began and the effects
they have on your life, work, and relationships.
If you suspect that you may be exhibiting passive-aggressive
behavior, you should schedule an appointment with a psychologist. The
psychologist will ask you to complete several questionnaires about your
symptoms, thoughts, and personal history. The psychologist will also ask you
questions about your childhood and the experiences that evoke symptoms. Once
they identify possible environmental triggers for your passive-aggressive
behaviors, they can help you work through them.
However, if the psychologist doesn’t find any potential
environmental triggers for your passive-aggressive behavior, they may refer you
to a doctor. The behavior may be the result of an underlying health problem. A doctor
will perform a physical examination and may order neurological tests to determine
whether a medical condition is contributing to your passive-aggressive
behavior. Diagnostic testing may consist of blood tests, a neurological
examination, and imaging tests.
If you notice passive-aggressive behavior in a spouse or
family member, you may want to suggest that they see a psychologist. It can be
difficult to be in a relationship with a person who acts passive aggressively,
so it’s important to address any behavioral issues that arise.
Treatment for Passive-Aggressive Behavior
If an underlying health condition is causing your
passive-aggressive behavior, then that condition will be treated first. Your
behaviors should improve with treatment.
You may also be referred to a therapist or other mental
health professional for counseling. A therapist can help you identify
passive-aggressive behavior and teach you how to change your behavior. They can
also help you work through anger, resentment, or low self-esteem issues that may
be contributing to your passive-aggressive behavior. They may even teach you
effective coping strategies, including how to look at a situation objectively and
how to solve problems in a healthy way.
Assertiveness training can also help you manage
passive-aggressive behavior. These courses teach you how to express your
thoughts and concerns effectively. This can help to reduce negative behaviors
caused by underlying anger and frustration.
There are also some easy things you can do every day to eliminate
your passive-aggressive behavior. These include:
- being aware of your behavior
- identifying possible reasons for
your passive-aggressive behavior
- thinking clearly before you act
- calming yourself down before
reacting to situations that make you upset
- staying optimistic
- being honest with others and
expressing your feelings in a healthy way instead of acting
Dealing with Passive-Aggressive
While it can be challenging to eliminate passive-aggressive
behavior, especially if you developed the behaviors in childhood, you can work
through it. Seeing a therapist for counseling can be very helpful, as can
changing the way you think every day. Remember that you are in charge of your
behavior and you can change it at any time.