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Passive, Aggressive or Passive-Aggressive – what’s the difference?

what's the difference between passive aggressive and plain passive or plain aggressive

passive aggressive behaviour


How does passive aggressive behaviour differ from simple passive or plain aggressive behaviour.  What’s worse, better or are they all as bad as each other.

Passive Behaviour

Suzie has been married to Gavin for 4 years.  Gavin works in the City, is quite dominating, controlling and enjoys going out for a drink (or two) with his work colleagues at the end of the week.  She is a qualified teacher but for now on maternity leave, with 2 small children.  Feeling under pressure from Gavin to keep the house clean and tidy is hard on her.  Therefore at weekends she likes to make plans to go out as a family and have some fun.  Gavin is invariably suffering with a hangover on Saturday morning which lasts most of the day.  Although Suzie feels upset by his behaviour she:

  • continues to run around him
  • she does not express her needs or feelings
  • she does not respond to the hurtful situation she finds herself in
  • she allows herself to be taken advantage of
  • she does not stick up for herself
  • she finds it hard to discuss
  • she avoids conflict at all costs

Aggressive Behaviour

Gavin also feels annoyed at himself on the Saturday morning because his head hurts, his wallet has suffered and his children are jumping all over the bed.  His wife looks sad.  He feels guilty, angry and ashamed, all at the same time.

  • He shouts at the kids to get off the bed
  • Complains about the mess upstairs
  • He stomps into the bathroom and moans that the toothpaste has run out
  • He bangs around in the kitchen and starts swearing because the kettle is taking too long to boil
  • He rummages around for paracetamol
  • Tells Suzie she looks a mess and needs to get her act together
  • He laughs at his little boy when he falls over

Gavin is bullying Suzie, criticising her and generally being loud and aggressive.  He is also bullying his son.

Passive Aggressive Behaviour

Lets look at what would happen if Suzie was passive aggressive instead of plain passive:

She would still act like the adoring wife but inside:

  • She can’t bear to look him in the face any more
  • She lets his dinner burn at the edges
  • She arrives late for an important family event at Gavin’s house
  • She spits in his coffee
  • She withholds sex or has sex for her own pleasure
  • She hides his door keys and then accuses him of losing them
  • she denies there is a problem
  • she re-writes history about events to confuse

All three behaviours are unhelpful and if you had to say which was worse I wonder what that would be.

Welcome to the world of dysfunctional relationships.

I will be writing a whole lot more on this topic over the next few weeks so please sign up for my emails/newsletters or connect with me on social media to find out more.

In the meantime to learn more about yourself and your partner take a look at the The Mood Cards.  Particularly at the anger and resentful cards

Find out if you are in a passive aggressive relationship by filling out my FREE QUESTIONNAIRE

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4 thoughts on “Passive, Aggressive or Passive-Aggressive – what’s the difference?

  1. Jane Bering

    Thank you for the wonderful examples of these behaviors. I met you online when I was searching for such examples after being called passive aggressive and our communications gave truly helped me. I look forward to more of your information-sharing. I also have your Mood Cards.

    1. Andrea Harrn Post author

      Thank you Jane. So many people have viewed that article that I originally wrote in May 2011, over 2 million in fact!! I appreciate your comments and connection and for buying The Mood Cards and reviewing them online at Amazon. Best wishes. By the way I’m writing a whole series of articles on passive aggressive behaviour which will eventually form part of a book/online course.

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