What is Passive Aggressive and how to Identify it

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How to Identify Passive Aggressive Behaviour

Passive aggressive refers to a person who does not show outward anger or does not seem to be malicious. The passive aggressive individual often comes across as nice, gracious and unassuming at first glance. However, interacting with a passive aggressive individual can leave you feeling as if you did something wrong. Here are a few tips to identify a passive aggressive personality in yourself or others:




Traits of a Passive Aggressive Person

1) Frequently make sarcastic comments.

2) Opinions are often condescending

3) Blame others for their errors or poor performance

4) Resists requests to improve performance and finds excuses for unacceptable outcomes(payback)

5) Needs to be validated by others but also fears this validation.

6) Low self-esteem. They feel that everyone else is in a position of authority over them.

7) Have difficulty saying no to requests

8) Critical of the person or persons they depend on

9) Manipulate others to get what they want since they don't believe they will get it if they simply ask.

10) Respects authority while at he same time feeling resentment, frustration and anger at persons in a position of authority.

Passive Aggressive - A Case Study

Do you recognize any of these characteristics in your own behaviour or in the behaviour of family members and friends? I am sure any number of us can identify with a few of these characteristics, however, that does not necessarily mean that you are passive aggressive. I actually do know a few people with all of these characteristics. Here is one example of a passive aggressive co-worker.

Bonnie is an overweight, blond hair employee worked with me at the same office for a few years. In conversations with her she never appeared to like anyone and was always critical of someone in a sort of indirect, sarcastic way. At the same time, she always spoke in a very low pitch and was always outwardly pleasant to the same people she critized. She even confided in me once that she had the ability to dislike someone yet greet them as if she loved them. I asked her if that applied to me also.

She was not an attractive woman but could have been if she paid any attention to herself. Her hair was short cut and never styled. She wore clothing to work that made her look like she was working in the garden or cleaning her house. She also rotated among 4 outfits and never wore anything new during the time I knew her. She expressed selfbout her body and her looks.

Bonnie was at the same time a smart woman with degrees coming out of her ears, even thoughto hear her speak or explain anything you wouldn't know. She couldn’t understand why she never got a promotion. I certainly thought she was capable even though I thought her outward appearance worked against her. She always seemed willing to help and I never heard her say no to anyone. She appeared to always befriend her superiors who all seemed to like her very much. At the same time she always expressed resentment by saying they weren’t doing their jobs and that they were expecting too much of her.

You got the impression that she always felt that she could do her supervisors and her co-workers jobs better. This resentment was often expressed when she recounted in detail the disagreements she had with her supervisors decisions, in a very emotional state. Yet she kept a very low profile at staff meetings, avoiding any kind of confrontation. She avoided questions and comments and even though she would have opinions, they were mot espressed in the boardroom.

Bonnie’s main skill however, was in the manipulation of people. She would decide to take a day off without advising anyone even her supervisors. They would have to call her and she would related to them some sob story. They would then become so entangled in her web of pity that they spoke constantly about what Bonnie was going through. At one time when she didn’t come in and couldn’t be reached, the supervisor was thinking of visiting her at home to see if she was OK and looked visibly out of sorts at not being able to reach her. The same concern was never shown to other employees and they always wondered what they were doing wrong and what Bonnie was doing right.

Another way of manipulation was through making her supervisors believe that she was the best and everyone else was incompetent. She would do so with carefully placed remarks about a person’s performance on a project and before you knew what hit you, she was assuming control of the project even though she didn't have a clue.This type of manipulation worked well with one supervisor but it didn’t work with the other.

I can probably write a few more pages recounting Bonnie’s passive aggressive behaviour however, this is just an example of what passive aggressive behaviour is. A passive aggressive person avoids confrontation but harbours resentment. The passive aggressive person often has low self esteem and needs to be validated constantly. To this end they use manipulation to gain sympathy, attention and to influence outcomes. Do you know a passive aggressive person at work, school or in your home?

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Jayleenblogs profile image

Jayleenblogs 5 years ago from Every day is a new beginning

A former boyfriend of mine, Chuck, is passive aggressive. It took a while for me to understand his behavior. I only did so after some self evaluation because I was repeatedly being critized for my assertiveness (sometimes perceived as aggressiveness). Through my reserach I learned the traits and characteristics of a passive aggressive personality. Although I was able to identify the behavior, I found that I never fully learned to deal with it. Chuck's modus operendi was to agree to something that he did not want to do then make everyone involved miserable because he did not want to participate. It was difficult for me to understand. I'm assertive. I will just tell you "yes" or "no" and move on. He felt the need to please by saying what he thought you wanted to hear instead of being honest. And, in some cases, I think he deliberately agreed to things he did not want to do because he wanted conflict. Conflict after all is a form of attention. Additionally, Chuck would allow me to make decisions without providing any input. It was the avenue of least resistance for him and it provided him an out when if later things did not go as planned. Needless to say the relationship failed.


Joan King profile image

Joan King 4 years ago Author

He does sound like he has all the signs of passive aggressive. I started doing research on passive aggressive after I met a few people who exhibited behaviours I couldn't understand and it was such a relevation to finally be able to understand the behaviour and put it in a category.


katyzzz profile image

katyzzz 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Not a nice type of person at all, Joan, I guess they are everywhere


Babaloo 2 years ago

Oh crap! Am I Bonnie? I have been drowning with relationship issues in my life the last 2 years. I started reading the article & thinking about how PA my work partner is & how verbally abusive my spouse is & how they make me a dysfunctional person. But reading the article I think that manipulative backstabbing bitch is me! Have I always been Bonnie? I don't think so. Who the hell am I? I don't want to be Bonnie! How do I fix this? I still think my work partner is PA & I recognize interacting with him brings out the worst in me. But I don't care about that turd. I just don't want my marriage to be ruined b/c interacting with me brings out the worst if my spouse. I love my husband dearly. Anyone have a magic wand?

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