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Passive Aggressive Behavior: How to recognize it and how to deal with it.

Updated on March 6, 2014

"I love how you've decorated your house. It's incredible what you can do on such a small salary."

"I love how that dress looks on you. It really hides your extra weight."

Have you ever received these kind of backhanded compliments? I'm sure most of us have. These comments usually have the sole intention of making us feel bad, while allowing the other person to walk away unscathed. Ugh! The unfairness of it all! But what kind of twisted, remorseless person could do this? The answer is simple: a passive-aggressive person.

What is passive aggressive behavior?

There are two types of aggression: Active and Passive. Active aggression is the one where you use threats or violence. Passive is when you use more indirect methods, such as sabotage, criticism or inhibition. The passive aggressive person, instead of letting out anger or resentment, keeps it in and attacks at a more opportune time.

What characterizes passive aggressive behavior?

There are several characteristics that identify passive aggressive behavior:

  • Apathy
  • Rejection of established norms
  • Poor organization skills
  • Blaming others for their own shortcomings
  • Arrogant, threatening or defiant behaviors
  • Low self-esteem
  • High need for praise
  • Very little will or discipline
  • Not a team player
  • Always finds something wrong with the ideas of others
  • Never satisfied
  • Complains about everything
  • Constantly making backhanded comments
  • "Forgets" to do things that he was supposed to do
  • Poor sense of duty
  • Uses jokes or sarcasm to hurt others

Passive aggressive people make you feel guilty so that you will give in to their wants.
Passive aggressive people make you feel guilty so that you will give in to their wants. | Source

Best ways to deal with passive aggressive behavior

  • Recognize the behavior
  • Don't give in
  • Don't allow yourself to be manipulated
  • Talk assertively to the passive aggressive person

Profile of a passive aggressive person

A passive aggressive person is often immature and does not know how to handle strong negative emotions such as anger or rejection. This person is always avoiding confrontations and does not know how to assertively express his needs or desires. It is this lack of assertion that causes the person to "attack" in an undercover manner, or without the other person noticing. Backhanded compliments are one of the main tools in the belt of a passive aggressive person.

Are there a lot of passive-aggressive people?

Do you know anyone who is passive-aggressive?

See results

The Passive aggressive person as a victim

The passive aggressive person will constantly feel like they are the victims of any given situation. Instead of saying: "No, I don't want to help you...", they will accept, only to bring it up every time they feel like you've wronged them.

They will say things like:

"I can't believe I spent the whole afternoon helping you. I gave up my cycling class to help you and this is how you pay me? This is the reason I can never do anything for myself, because there is always someone like you who requires help, and you know I can never say no..."

and so on and so forth...

The passive aggressive person has a poor sense of duty, as well as a rejection for authority. This attitude constantly interferes with work or family duties. He doesn't know how to say "no" with words, but will scream it with actions. The passive aggressive person will gladly accept any duties given to him without any complaints, but will sabotage its completion either by "forgetting", delaying the task or doing a mediocre job to discourage the imposition of any future assignments.

If we are not careful, we could end up being the puppets of the passive aggressive person.
If we are not careful, we could end up being the puppets of the passive aggressive person. | Source


Assertiveness is the ability to appropriately express what you feel and need without harming others and without being aggressive or violent. Passive aggressive people lack assertiveness, which is why they resort to more covert tactics such as the ones mentioned in this article.

Manipulation and passive aggressive behavior

If you've dealt with a passive aggressive person, you know the different ways they have of manipulating you. One of their most successful tactics goes like this:

You: "are you mad?"
P.A. person: "No, I'm okay..." (With a clearly mad, annoyed or depressed facial expression.)
You: "Are you sure you want to go the party?"
P.A. person: "Yes, I guess we will go..."

The passive aggressive person will spend the whole time being sad or mad. Even though they agreed to accompany you, you will wish they weren't there. You will keep asking what's wrong, and they will keep denying anything. Next time you will prefer to stay home rather than taking them anywhere they don't want to go. This is a type of manipulation, and it works perfectly for them.

In a sort of way, the passive aggressive person manages to make you feel guilty for something that really is their own problem. And that's another one of their strategies. The passive aggressive person will always blame someone else for their own shortcomings, even if it's clearly their fault.

  • "I couldn't finish the project because you didn't give me enough time."
  • "Your mother made me talk to her that way."
  • "If you weren't so annoying I'd have more respect for you."

"Oh If I only had someone to take me to the game!"  Passive aggressive people will never ask you directly for anything.
"Oh If I only had someone to take me to the game!" Passive aggressive people will never ask you directly for anything. | Source

Jokes and the passive aggressive person

The passive aggressive person will do anything to avoid confrontation. They will never come up to you and directly tell you that you did something they didn't like. Instead, they will take vengeance by heavily and cruelly joking with you.

P.A. person: "Come here so I can use your widening bald spot as a mirror."
You: "...."
P.A. person: "Aw c'mon. Don't get mad. You know I'm just kidding!"

How to deal with passive aggressive behavior

Your first line of defense against this kind of behavior is learning how to recognize it. Now you know that the passive aggressive person will avoid confrontation and will try to manipulate you by making you feel bad about yourself or making you feel guilty. Here are a few things to remember:

The passive aggressive person has a great deal of power over you but only if you allow it.
You have seen how easy it could be for a passive aggressive person to manipulate you, but now also know how they're manipulating you. Don't give in. Most of the time we find ourselves trying to please this person because we feel guilty, or we feel like they're victims of some kind, so we may even go out of our way to find ways that keeps them happy. Don't! That's exactly what they're expecting of you. Instead, talk to them assertively. Tell them how you feel and why you think their behavior is unacceptable. They may hate you for it, but don't give in. If you assertively explain yourself every time they try to play the victim or every time they try to make you feel guilty, they will know that their tricks don't work with you and eventually give up.

Don't reward their behavior
Every time someone gives in to their tactics, their behavior is reinforced. The passive aggressive person will continue to use these tricks because they keep working.

Don't respond to indirect requests
The passive aggressive person lacks assertiveness and doesn't know how to communicate his needs and desires. When your passive aggressive friend says something like:

"Oh how I wish I could go to the party, but I don't have a ride..."

Don't say:

"Oh, I could give you a ride."

Simply ignore the request and only offer to help if he asks you directly.
Don't feel bad about ignoring the indirect request. If the passive aggressive behavior isn't fixed, it could end up hurting his career and even his family life. Help him learn that they are different ways of expressing what they need.

Life is difficult enough without having to deal with this kind of behavior. Don't reward people for their bad behavior. Instead, help them outgrow this immature behavior so that they can live richer, fuller lives.

Happy living!


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    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      5 years ago

      Hi Mitchell,

      Thank you so very much for your kind words!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Great article!! I really enjoyed how you organized the chapters as you did and even the added pictures, but the time you took to write it , for all of us , who had been confused and lost !! And how you give hope on how to handle the PA.,I handled most situations as you mention , not know at the time of PA OR What it even meant ! But your wrote and express the situation , im i and im sure many others perfect ! I had tried every tactic possible with my girlfriend of 7 years ( dad was an alcoholic) im one of those very organized type of men and very concrete. Fun passionate and wear my heart on my forehead !! lol but not a pushover , like a detective Colombo:) anyway This detective could not figure this out! Once I did , it wasn't any easier ,very hurtful , but we are in councling and she is trying ! Of course first 10 sessions ,manipulation blaming lying ..ECt , but trying to give her a safe place, im pulling out her anger !!! You can count on thst . But I still don't know how to push her buttons , how much can I pay you for that information!!! My counclor wouldn't tell me either ! Lol just joking . But there was a time ... I still fall short on the , don't tske it personal and end up at a high volume . So frustrating, !! I also try to let her know , if your praying as she says she is , then why do I see no change , are you saying God is powerful enough to put others words or actions in your heart or mind .... I let you know how that goes , but she is crying a lot more then ever , I know , no matter what a person try to change , esp a lifetime of chsnce ,drugs ,PA , racial ... The beginning is very very hard for anyone , so it just takes trust and understanding the spiritual side of it too!! But still very hard , you always fell like your at a crossroads , but sometimes when you see the effort and will , it helps you to go on and ESP articles like this to remind us , we are not crazy , we just don't understand . It will tske time ,but not smoking or drinking or learning a new subject does too!! Love will prevail !! And truth will set us free ! To sum it up silver ... Thank You and keep pressing on and pray for one another and for the PA , esp when it's hard to ! But just in case it doesn't cone out like im hoping .... Buttons :)

    • Ozzie Gorrell profile image

      Ozzie Gorrell 

      5 years ago from Shingle Springs, California

      Thanks for all the information about passive aggressive behaviors. I really thought I was going crazy. I am in the process of divorcing my husband of 30 years who exhibits extreme passive aggressive behavior, depression, and is a heavy drinker (alcoholic). Leaving my marriage was incredibly difficult, but I just knew I needed to walk away.

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hi Carrie Lee Night:

      Thank you for writing such an encouraging comment! I love knowing that this hub was able to help somebody. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • carrie Lee Night profile image

      Carrie Lee Night 

      6 years ago from Northeast United States

      Thank you for taking the time for writing this hub :) Passive aggressive behavior bothers me, but I don't lose sleep over it. Its the bullies that bother me and once you stand up to them...they turn it back on you saying your the one being rude or unprofessional, but worst of all ones of authority actually enables their behavior by not giving corrective action . I could write a hub about that one !!! :) Anyway...I'm complaining (don't want to be pass aggressive :) HA HA). Just kidding. No really seriously thank you for taking the time to write such an interesting hub with thoughtful soultions. Have a wonderful week.

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hi DDE:

      Thank you. I'm glad this article as of some help!

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hi ninapaints:

      You are so right!! It can be hard to stop using these tactics because they work so well. And yes, we are all a little passive aggressive at times. The trick is to recognize it and stop as soon as possible. :) thank you for reading and commenting!

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hey FlourishAnyway:

      Those compliments, huh? Wow! I'm sorry to hear that. Sadly, passive aggressive behavior is everywhere, even in our family as you mentioned. The good thing is that we know their tricks and that makes us somewhat powerful. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hi suraj punjabi:

      Thank you very much for your kind words! It's always nice to know that the articles are somewhat enjoyable. :)

    • suraj punjabi profile image

      suraj punjabi 

      6 years ago from jakarta

      Yet another beautiful hub! I really enjoy reading your hubs, you put in such a simple and rather entertaining manner. Keep up the good work! Looking forward to reading more hubs from you. Good luck! :)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      Congratulations on your HubPot win. Well deserved! I like your explanations and examples as well as some of the examples that others have provided in their comments. I've worked with passive aggressive people and have some relatives that fit the bill. If they weren't so mean the lines would make you chuckle. One of my favorites is, "You're not quite the bitch I thought you'd be (or used to be)." What?!? Where are the social skills? Never let these people get under your skin. I have directly told someone that I am confused by their compliment and why.

    • ninapaints profile image


      6 years ago

      This was an interesting hub! I've met many people like that, and can identify with this type of manipulation myself, since I'm not entirely innocent either. I think it's because it's natural to use it when it works so well! Parent's probably use it very effectively on their children, spouses on each other, siblings, friends, business associates etc! I guess the only way to avoid being hurt by it, or hurting others is to apply the 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you' rule whenever. Your hub gives some great practical ways to help and love that passive aggressive person!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A very interesting insight to passive aggressive behavior I now fully understand how one is affected. The many facts explained in detail allowed me to know more. Voted up!

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hi Jestone:

      Yes, sometimes ignoring is the only way to go. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hi Unknown Ink:

      I'm glad this hub was of some help. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • jestone profile image


      6 years ago from America!

      Great article, most of one side of my family seems to behave this way. I've been trying to point it out but now just resort to ignoring the behavior.

    • pan1974 profile image

      April Seldon 

      6 years ago from New Orleans

      Thank you for writing this hub, I have two people in my family that acts passive aggressive, and this hub help me to better understand why they act this way, again thanks.

    • Unknown Ink profile image

      Unknown Ink 

      6 years ago

      This hub brought me a little closer to understanding passive aggressive people. Thank you :)

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hi denise.w.anderson:

      I'm glad this article was of some help to you. It's always hard to deal with people who are passive aggressive, but once we recognize the symptoms, at least it will be harder for them to manipulate us. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      6 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I have relatives that are like this. They try to guilt trip me into doing things for them. When I don't respond, they go to other family members until they find someone who will do it. Now that I am able to recognize when it is happening, I don't fall for it, and I feel a lot better about myself. Excellent article!

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      HI StoneCircle:

      You're right. We don't even realize it sometimes and that makes it even easier for them to manipulate us. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Thanks jtrader!

    • StoneCircle profile image

      Susan McLeish 

      6 years ago from Rindge, NH

      Very nice hub that lists many the signs of when you are dealing with a passive aggressive. Most people probably do not even realise that they are dealing with someone with this condition. Thumbs up and congratulations.

    • jtrader profile image


      6 years ago

      Good points. Voted up and useful.

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hi ChristinS:

      Yes, I've had to deal with PA people and sometimes with myself (lol), but I believe little by little, and with good guidance we can all change for the better. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hi Phyllis Doyle:

      Thank you for the congratulations! I'm glad you found this hub helpful. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hi oceansnsunsets:

      Thank you for your kind words. Yes, you're right. Even though at the beginning we may feel kind of bad not falling for their tricks, we need to remember that this is for their own good. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 

      6 years ago from Midwest

      Excellent hub, I've dealt with PA people in my life and I agree, if we're honest, all of us have probably had these tendencies at some point. Recognizing it is key to fixing it and you've done a great job of giving examples and techniques in your hub. Congrats on your win :)

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      6 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Silver Q, this is really a very helpful hub. It is so hard to deal with a PA person, but, you give some very good tips and information to deal with this type personality. Well done !

      A BIG congratulations for this hub being chosen top winner of the day. Awesome !

    • oceansnsunsets profile image


      6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Silver Q, this is an informative hub on something we have all likely dealt wit at one point or another. Passive aggressive people can be so annoying, but at the end of your hub you make a great point. To help them learn to become better people is actually helping them. At the very least, it is good to not let them work their manipulation onto you, thus reinforcing the bad behavior. At a time in our world where responsibility is often shunned, I appreciate your hub.

      Also, congratulations on you win for the day! Way to go!

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hi raymondphilippe:

      Thank you very much! It always comes in handy to know how PA's act so we know how to respond and so that we can put a stop to their manipulation. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hi Zainab Tarawal :

      Yes, I know I've caught myself a few times using some of these bad, bad tricks. I'm ashamed to accept it but accepting it is always the first step to recovery. LOL. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • Zainab Tarawali profile image

      Musu Bangura 

      6 years ago from Nation's Capital

      Great Hub! I think people are a lot more passive aggressive than they care to realize. It pays to be honest with yourself and try to balance everything out about your personality. Thanks for sharing this info (the pics are hilarious, by the way). Voted up and sharing!

    • raymondphilippe profile image

      Raymond Philippe 

      6 years ago from The Netherlands

      What a very, very interesting read. And some very handy tips to respond to a pa person.

    • mecheshier profile image


      6 years ago

      You are most welcome. :-)

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hi mecheshier:

      Thank you for your kind words! Yes, I think we are all a little crazy at heart. :) Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • mecheshier profile image


      6 years ago

      As you said, "We all have a little of passive aggressiveness inside us."

      What a great Hub! A post that I think everyone should read. Thanks for the fabulous post. Voted up!

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hi THarman7:

      I completely agree with you. We all have a little of passive aggressiveness inside us. When I catch myself acting this way, I mentally slap myself and try really hard to look and act normal, or at least average. ha ha! Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      6 years ago

      Hi Mary McShane:

      You made me smile. :) Interacting with PA's can be hard and very emotionally draining! But I'm happy you seem to be doing it in a very graceful way. Thank you for commenting and reading!

    • THarman7 profile image

      Terry Harman 

      6 years ago from Lacey Washington

      In my opinion most people have a little bit of passive aggressive behavior in then just some more then others. It seems to me that if you caught yourself in the act, and feel bad for the behavior, and correct it then once in a while a slip or two could be normal but beyond that, ugg! There must be a deeper root to the behavior. Great hub voted up! Thank you for sharing!

    • Mary McShane profile image

      Mary McShane 

      6 years ago from Fort Lauderdale, Florida

      #Poor organization skills

      #Blaming others for their own shortcomings

      #Always finds something wrong with the ideas of others

      #Never satisfied

      #Complains about everything

      What the heck are you doing in my house! LOL.

      I live with a passive aggressive personality and OMG! I can identify with everything you said. At 70 years old, he isn't likely to outgrow this behavior, but it doesn't get nurtured by me either. He blames others for his poor time management, the chores he doesn't want to do, missing favorite TV shows. Every time the house needs a repair, he blames me for talking him into buying it.

      He gets constant redirection and it is very hard work. LOL. My coping mechanism is for me to rephrase what he is saying to turn it back to himself. OMG! I could write a hub just on this, but I'd embarrass myself more than I am here. :(

      P.A.: "Mary, I can't finish my work because you always call me to do something for you."

      Me: "Sorry, well when you are done, save me some time in your schedule."

      P.A: "Mary, your honey-do list has 3 things on it and doesn't leave me enough time to watch Survivor."

      Me: "You have two choices, Rob. Either DVR Survivor to watch later and do the chores now, or when Survivor is over, you'll have plenty of time for chores before you go to bed."

      P.A.: "I should never have let you talk me into buying this house. It's a money pit."

      Me: "If you don't like it, there's the door!"


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