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Passive Aggressive People

Updated on March 21, 2015

Passive Aggressive People Hide Their Feelings

Passive aggressive people avoid showing their true feelings of anger.
Passive aggressive people avoid showing their true feelings of anger. | Source

How a Person Becomes Passive Aggressive

Passive aggressive people are all around us, in our relationships with friends, family, at work, with neighbors, etc. Learning what passive aggression is, can help you see this behavior in the people you are dealing with. Understanding the reasons for their behavior will not change them, but it can change the way you approach them.

Passive aggressive behavior comes in two forms. One is an occasional reaction where a person chooses to avoid conflict and does not show how they really feel. They may agree in words, but not comply with their actions. They may do something spiteful. They may hide their true feelings instead speaking honestly. We all do this on occasion. The other form of passive aggressive behavior is a pervasive way of being. This person behaves and reacts in a passive aggressive manner in most everything they do. This type of passive aggression is known as passive aggressive personality disorder.

Although anger is a natural and normal human emotion, in some families the expression of anger is unacceptable. In order to conform and not upset their parents, the child learns to squash their self expression. But the anger doesn’t go away, they just hide it. Feelings are powerful and any feeling will come out in one way or another. So the hidden anger, gets let out in disguised ways. Indirect anger breeds hostility and dishonesty in every relationship.

The emotions that cannot be directly expressed are let out in covert and alternative ways that seem more socially acceptable. This is the basis of passive aggressive behaviors. We are not born knowing how to communicate. The best communicators are assertive people.

Difference Between an Assertive Person and a Passive Aggressive Person

Assertive people state what they feel and get what they need by communicating in direct and effective ways that do not insult anyone they are dealing with. Assertiveness takes confidence and is a skill that can be acquired. Passive aggressive people are not taught and were not allowed to be assertive, to state their needs. What they required was ignored, what they wanted was put down, and what they needed was neglected. This causes a child to sulk, to withdraw emotionally, to communicate indirectly, and to handle things immaturely.

Passive Aggression and Anger

Passive aggressive people are angry on the inside, but smile on the outside.
Passive aggressive people are angry on the inside, but smile on the outside. | Source

The Behavior of Passive Aggressive People

Passive aggressive people find ways to procrastinate. They are often obstinate, are late with their tasks, and do what is asked of them poorly. The person or people they target, they view as an authority figure. This creates angry feelings towards this person because the authority figure represents the parent who shut them down as a child.

Revenge and the Passive Aggressive Person

The passive aggressive person plots to get back at the authority figures without them knowing how angry they feel at them. They will look to sabotage their targets to frustrate them, get them angry, and have themselves look like the victim. The passive aggressive person looks to cause indirect problems so nothing can be pinned on them. If they are caught, they deny, or say they are sorry, but in reality they don’t mean it.

Being in a relationship with a passive aggressive person can cause a roller coaster of confusing emotions. For the passive aggressive person, they feel powerful by causing difficulties to the other person. The passive aggressive person gets the other person to show their anger, and this lets the passive aggressive person to feel their anger vicariously.

Passive aggressive people are trying to avoid confrontation. This is the passive part of their behavior. They let their aggressive part out in indirect ways, so that no one knows how angry they really feel. Passive aggressive behavior is very destructive to relationships. Over time nearly all relationships with people who are passive aggressive become dysfunctional, destructive, and frustrating.

At its heart, passive aggressive people are poor communicators. They have an inner frustration that they are unable to express their emotions in a clear, direct, and honest way. They have learned to deal with their feelings with maladaptive behaviors.

Their behavior and way of thinking is so ingrained once they become adults, it becomes ingrained in their personality. It is an emotional coping mechanism that causes negative thinking, discouragement, and an inner frustration that get gets repressed to a point that they are not aware of their own behavior. Yet the anger still needs to come out. They blame, talk behind the other person’s back, get moody, give the other person the silent treatment, and express their angry feelings through sarcastic backhanded comments.


Passive Aggressive People Look to Take Revenge

Passive aggressive people target people they view as authority figures.
Passive aggressive people target people they view as authority figures. | Source

Passive Aggressive People are Abusive People

Many passive aggressive people have a dependent personality and tend to look at things in an all or nothing way.

Passive aggressive people are not necessarily bad people, it makes them difficult people. Most passive aggressive people have low self esteem and poor communication skills.

Passive aggressive people are abusive people. But it is hard to recognize that you have been abused because you have no physical scars. Passive aggressive people disguise their abusive actions. They are usually emotionally abusive, but to the outside world they appear loving and caring.

They do not express their anger in healthy ways. They do not even know they are feeling resentful. They are in denial of their behavior. They have no insight into their own feelings and often feel misunderstood. A passive aggressive person believes they are being held to unreasonable standards when they are confronted about their behavior.

Passive aggressive people tend to be ambiguous. The often say one thing, but will do another. You are best to judge a passive aggressive person by their actions more than their words. They will agree to do something, but purposely forget. They will not take responsibility for their actions. If they can’t be blamed, then they must be the victim. They believe they are faultless and everyone else around them is flawed. They will never express their anger. On the outside they appear agreeable. This is the way they were taught to behave as children.

Passive Aggressive People feel Misunderstood

They stuff their anger while looking like they are accommodating. At the same time they plot their revenge at their targets. They fear being dependent on their mates. They want to be autonomous, they don’t want to be alone. They battle inwardly between their needs of dependency and their need to have no one make requirements of them. They fight this need by controlling the other person. They want you to think they depend on you, and they will make sure you can’t depend on them. The passive aggressive person has trust issues. They are afraid of becoming intimately attached to someone else.They punish the other person in some way to give themselves distance. They will withhold, they will do things to create distance. If you ask a passive aggressive person to do something for you, they will create ways to not do it. They will make sure you don’t get things your way. They will act as if it is important to give it to you, but they rarely follow through with giving it to you. They want to make you feel like it is too much to ask them for things. The passive aggressive person makes themselves the victim. They feel like people don’t understand them and are treating them unfairly. They also feel a sense of entitlement. They will take offense at your requests or statements as though they are unreasonable expectations. They will procrastinate and cause other people to feel frustrated.

In the long term, passive aggressive people cause relationships to become destructive, dysfunctional, and difficult. They are hard people to deal with and because they have no insight into their behavior, it is hard to get them help or to get the relationship to be better than it is.

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    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 2 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      dashingscorpio, you're right about the passive-aggressive person not plotting or calculating how to punish or hurt the other person. It is so deeply embedded in their personalities that they generally don't realize they are doing it--kind of like a deeply ingrained defense mechanism.

    • dashingscorpio profile image

      dashingscorpio 2 years ago

      Voted up and interesting!

      From what articles I've read with regard to relationships it is usually women who complain about men being "passive aggressive".

      As a young man most have heard of the pome "If'— by Rudyard Kipling

      "If you can keep your head when all about you

      Are losing theirs and blaming it on you....—you’ll be a Man, my son!"

      Being calm, cool, and collected is seen as an admirable trait.

      Blowing a gasket, exploding, or being demanding comes off as emotional, unstable, or arrogant in the eyes of many people.

      Many of the traits often associated with "passive aggressive" people are complaints many women have about their male mates. Below are some things you sited in your article which are often attributed towards men.

      ".....tend to look at things in an all or nothing way"

      "They fear being dependent on their mates"

      "They want you to think they depend on you, and they will make sure you can’t depend on them."

      "They are afraid of becoming intimately attached to someone else. They punish the other person in some way to give themselves distance. They will withhold, they will do things to create distance."

      Rarely if ever are women described as having the above traits. Maybe this is one of those "gender differences" that angers some people.

      You also said: "They will look to sabotage their targets to frustrate them, get them angry, and have themselves look like the victim. The passive aggressive person looks to cause indirect problems so nothing can be pinned on them."

      Somehow I doubt most of these people are so "calculating". I think we often give people too much credit for being intentionally diabolical just because they won't give us what (we) won't or go along with our plans.

      If someone is non-confrontational or rather avoid conflict that's who they are. It doesn't mean they're secretly plotting someone's destruction or they love to watch people "wig out". Odds are they'd rather have peace.

      Oftentimes if there is any kind of "rebellion" it most likely has to do with (how) they were asked or rather "told" to do something other person. Most people dislike being bossed, pushed around, or taken for granted.

      In other instances some people are simply lazy and procrastinate about things that they claim they want for themselves!

      In fact most people sabotage their own lives!

      Lastly I imagine some of these people who come off as "passive aggressive" are avoiding conflict because for them it could lead to an act of violence or near violent explosions if they unleased their anger in the moment. Most cultures for instance tell me to "walk away" from a heated exchange with women in particular rather than risk going too far.

      Maybe passive aggressive people are practicing "The Art of War by Sun Tzu."

      “Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.” “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” "He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight." “who wishes to fight must first count the cost”

      Each of us gets to (choose) our own friends, lovers, and spouse.

      We get to choose who we spend our time with.

      There are generally two reasons why someone will not give you what you've asked for. 1. They don't have it to give. (It's not who they are). 2. They don't feel (you) or (it) is worth the effort.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 2 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      So very, very true! I think you hit it when you said:

      "They stuff their anger while looking like they are accommodating" and

      "If you ask a passive aggressive person to do something for you, they will create ways to not do it. They will make sure you don’t get things your way." (in other words, they'll screw it up)

      In the business, we also have called passive-aggressive personality disorders self-defeating personality disorders. That's because while screwing things up for they other guy, they really end up screwing themselves.

      I've also noticed that chronic depression often coexists with this disorder.

      Good post.