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What is passive aggressive Behaviour?

shutterstock_90896342Put simply passive aggressive behaviour can be described as a silent form of aggression. It is where you are angry with someone but do not or cannot tell them. It may involve, shutting off verbally, it may involve angry looks, obvious changes in behaviour, being obstructive, sulky or stonewalling. It is characterized by an indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, evading, pouting, or deliberately creating confusion.

A passive aggressive individual doesn’t always exhibit outward anger or appear malicious. At first glance, the behaviour might appears unassuming, gracious and benevolent; underneath there may be manipulation – hence the term “Passive-Aggressive”.

Passive aggression is a destructive pattern of behaviour that can be seen as a form of emotional abuse in relationships that bites away at trust between people.

It is a creation of negative energy in the atmosphere which is clear to those involved and can create immense hurt and pain to those on the receiving end.

It is a manifestation of emotions and feelings that are being repressed on a self-imposed need for either dependence, acceptance or further avoidance of conflict and is marked by a persistent pattern of negative attitudes and passive resistance in interpersonal or work situations.

It can either be covert (concealed and hidden) or overt (blatant and obvious).

Some examples of passive aggression might be:

Procrastination intentionally putting off important tasks for less important ones

Obstructing deliberately delaying or preventing an event or process of change

Fear of Competition Avoiding situations where one party may be seen as the winner

Ambiguity Being unclear, cryptic, not engaging wholeheartedly or honestly

Sulking Being silent, sullen and resentful because of a perceived wrongdoing in order to gain sympathy.

Chronic Lateness A way to exert control over situations and others

Chronic Forgetting Shows a blatant disregard for others and is a form of punishment

Fear of Intimacy Often passive aggressive people have issues of trust in others and guard against becoming too intimately attached

Making Excuses Always coming up with reasons for non-performance

Victimisation Unable to look at their own part in a situation will turn the tables to become the victim and will behave like one

Blaming Blaming others for situations rather than being able to take responsibility for their actions or being able to take an objective view of the situation as a whole.

Withholding usual behaviours or roles for example stopping cooking and cleaning or making cups of tea, running a bath etc. all to reinforce an already unclear message to the other party

Learned Helplessness where a person continually acts like they can’t help themselves which can include deliberate and repeated failures to accomplish requested tasks for which they are often explicitly responsible

Passive aggression is a defence mechanism that people use to protect themselves. This behaviour might be automatic and stem from early experiences. What they are protecting themselves from will be unique and individual to each person; although might include underlying feelings of rejection, low self-worth, fear and insecurity.

Patterns of unassertive and passive behavior are learnt in childhoodas a coping strategy possibly as a response to parents who exercised complete control and did not let their child express themselves. To cope, a child will adopt a passive-aggressive behavior pattern.

For example if a child was punished for openly expressing their feelings or disagreeing with their parents the child would learn to substitute open expression for passive resistance. If there was a consistent pattern within the family of punishment or rejection for asserting themselves the child would learn to become highly skilled at passively rebelling.

It has however also been listed as a personality disorder not otherwise specified in the DSM-IV (Appendix B) although there is controversy around it and need for further research on categorization of behaviours.

Please read my other articles on passive aggressive behaviour for more information

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4 thoughts on “What is passive aggressive Behaviour?

  1. Kerry Harris

    This has really helped me understand my ex-partner. Whenever he was angry with me, even for, in my view, small things he would go silent, refuse to talk and withdraw from me, often for days and weeks. He always said he preferred not to argue but after several episodes of this and not seeing how he had behaved, the relationship became one I didn’t want to go back to. This was just over three years in. I suspect he behaved like this in his previous relationships. He is 53 and I saw no willingness to change. I am now six weeks out of the relationship and doing all I can to get over a rollercoaster relationship, full of highs but very low lows. It has caused me great confusion and eroded confidence in my view of who I am and my own ability to express anger in a helpful way.

    1. Andrea Harrn Post author

      Hardly surprising that you are affected by this experience. Try and focus on yourself now in moving forward. Some people will never change, or if they do it will be by their own choice. Thanks for your comments

  2. Julia

    This article has given me great insight into my own PA behaviour, it’s origins and how/why I’ve made some very bad decisions over relationships. I am now in a much more appropriate relationship and perhaps will begin to feel more secure in being able to overcome this behaviour. My PA behaviour has also led me to experience some extremely destructive emotions that make the whole thing cyclical. Because all forms of expression were controlled and suppressed as a child this has led to me being overwhelmed with envy and jealousy of other peoples lives and in particular relationships. Because I am ashamed and confused by these emotions I revert to my passive aggressive behaviour and so the cycle continues. I hope this insight and new relationship will help me break this cycle for good.

    1. Andrea Harrn Post author

      Dear Julia, thanks for your honesty which is the first step to owning yourself, your behaviours and your reactions. Its such a complicated area and the more I can offer to help people the better. I am in the process of developing an online course which really gets to the root of the problem and although it is focused more on the partners of PA’s it may still be of interest to you. I will have a course to help people stop being passive aggressive but that will come in a while. Its taking time because I’m going into a lot of depth. Best wishes for now and stay connected via my newsletters for more on this subject. Andrea

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