Please note: I did NOT write this page. I compiled the information on this page from various sources, with credit given below each section.
Passive Aggressive Behavior Defined:
Passive Aggressive behavior is a form of covert abuse. When someone hits you or yells at you, you know that you’ve been abused. It is obvious and easily identified. Covert abuse is subtle and veiled or disguised by actions that appear to be normal, at times loving and caring. The passive aggressive person is a master at covert abuse.
Passive aggressive behavior stems from an inability to express anger in a healthy way. A person’s feelings may be so repressed that they don’t even realize they are angry or feeling resentment. A passive aggressive can drive people around him/her crazy and seem sincerely dismayed when confronted with their behavior. Due to their own lack of insight into their feelings the passive aggressive often feels that others misunderstand them or, are holding them to unreasonable standards if they are confronted about their behavior.
Common Passive Aggressive Behaviors:
- Ambiguity: I think of the proverb, “Actions speak louder than words” when it comes to the passive aggressive and how ambiguous they can be. They rarely mean what they say or say what they mean. The best judge of how a passive aggressive feels about an issue is how they act. Normally they don’t act until after they’ve caused some kind of stress by their ambiguous way of communicating.
- Forgetfulness: The passive aggressive avoids responsibility by “forgetting.” How convenient is that? There is no easier way to punish someone than forgetting that lunch date or your birthday or, better yet, an anniversary.
- Blaming: They are never responsible for their actions. If you aren’t to blame then it is something that happened at work, the traffic on the way home or the slow clerk at the convenience store. The passive aggressive has no faults, it is everyone around him/her who has faults and they must be punished for those faults.
- Lack of Anger: He/she may never express anger. There are some who are happy with whatever you want. On the outside anyway! The passive aggressive may have been taught, as a child, that anger is unacceptable. Hence they go through life stuffing their anger, being accommodating and then sticking it to you in an under-handed way.
- Fear of Dependency: From Scott Wetlzer, author of Living With The Passive Aggressive Man. “Unsure of his autonomy and afraid of being alone, he fights his dependency needs, usually by trying to control you. He wants you to think he doesn’t depend on you, but he binds himself closer than he cares to admit. Relationships can become battle grounds, where he can only claim victory if he denies his need for your support.”
- Fear of Intimacy: The passive aggressive often can’t trust. Because of this, they guard themselves against becoming intimately attached to someone. A passive aggressive will have sex with you but they rarely make love to you. If they feel themselves becoming attached, they may punish you by withholding sex.
- Obstructionism: Do you want something from your passive aggressive spouse? If so, get ready to wait for it or maybe even never get it. It is important to him/her that you don,t get your way. He/she will act as if giving you what you want is important to them but, rarely will he/she follow through with giving it. It is very confusing to have someone appear to want to give to you but never follow through. You can begin to feel as if you are asking too much which is exactly what he/she wants to you to feel.
- Victimization: The passive aggressive feels they are treated unfairly. If you get upset because he or she is constantly late, they take offense because; in their mind, it was someone else’s fault that they were late. He/she is always the innocent victim of your unreasonable expectations, an over-bearing boss or that slow clerk at the convenience store.
- Procrastination: The passive aggressive person believes that deadlines are for everyone but them. They do things on their own time schedule and be damned anyone who expects differently from them.
The Passive Aggressive and You:
The passive aggressive needs to have a relationship with someone who can be the object of his or her hostility. They need someone whose expectations and demands he/she can resist. A passive aggressive is usually attracted to co-dependents, people with low self-esteem and those who find it easy to make excuses for other’s bad behaviors.
The biggest frustration in being with a passive aggressive is that they never follow through on agreements and promises. He/she will dodge responsibility for anything in the relationship while at the same time making it look as if he/she is pulling his/her own weight and is a very loving partner. The sad thing is, you can be made to believe that you are loved and adored by a person who is completely unable to form an emotional connection with anyone.
The passive aggressive ignores the problems in the relationship, sees things through their own skewed sense of reality and if forced to deal with the problems will completely withdraw from the relationship and you. They will deny evidence of wrong doing, distort what you know to be real to fit their own agenda, minimize or lie so that their version of what is real seems more logical.
The passive aggressive will say one thing, do another, and then deny ever saying the first thing. They don’t communicate their needs and wishes in a clear manner, expecting their spouse to read their mind and meet their needs. After all, if their spouse truly loved them he/she would just naturally know what they needed or wanted. The passive aggressive withholds information about how he/she feels, their ego is fragile and can’t take the slightest criticism so why let you know what they are thinking or feeling? God forbid they disclose that information and you criticize them.
Inside the Passive Aggressive:
The passive aggressive has a real desire to connect with you emotionally but their fear of such a connection causes them to be obstructive and engage in self-destructive habits. He/she will be covert in their actions and it will only move him/her further from his/her desired relationship with you.
The passive aggressive never looks internally and examines their role in a relationship problem. They have to externalize it and blame others for having shortcomings. To accept that he/she has flaws would be tantamount to emotional self-destruction. They live in denial of their self-destructive behaviors, the consequences of those behaviors and the choices they make that cause others so much pain.
The passive aggressive objectifies the object of their desire. You are to be used as a means to an end. Your only value is to feed his/her own emotional needs. You are not seen as a person with feelings and needs but as an extension of him/her. They care for you the way they care for a favorite chair. You are there for their comfort and pleasure and are of use as long as you fill their needs.
The passive aggressive wants the attention and attachment that comes with loving someone but fears losing his/her independence and sense of self to his/her spouse. They want love and attention but avoid it out of fear of it destroying them. You have to be kept at arms length and if there is an emotional attachment it is tenuous at best.
The only hope for change in the way they deal with relationship issues is if they are able to acknowledge their shortcomings and contributions to the marital problems. Facing childhood wounds, looking internally instead of externally to find the cause of problems in their life will help them form deeper emotional attachments with a higher sense of emotional safety.
Passive Aggression Abuses Your Rights
There are many ways in which people use power to control and abuse others. This is especially true of passive aggressive behavior, which is often about making the PA look his best, while taking power from others and making them look or feel bad. Which of these ways is your passive aggressive husband using to control you?
There are four main things a passive aggressive person will try to control or violate, in order to protect themselves from rejection and/or confrontation.
- The Right to Know
- The Right to Feel
- The Right to Have Impact
- The Right to Space
When he violates your right to know, he gives you unclear information, withholds information that you don’t “need” (like the finances), or gives you too little or too much information. With too little, you are left shaky and uncertain, realizing after he leaves that he didn’t really answer your question, or in fact made the situation look worse than you thought. This is where you may feel as if you’re expected to draw your own conclusions or “mind read.” With no information (“the silent treatment”) you feel like you’re walking on eggshells – or a mine field. When you are given too much information (anger attacks or blaming), you are not given time to speak, defend yourself, ask for clearer information, or set boundaries.
Your right to feel is violated when he tells you what you’re feeling, what you’re about to do or how you’re going to react. He may make claims about how you “always overreact” or how you’re just being “emotional.” He’ll make emotional demands about what not to feel (“Don’t cry”) or what you shouldn’t feel.
Crazy-making situations really start to show when your right to impact is violated. This is when he denies (by ignoring you, by overriding your needs with his own, by refusing to meet your needs) that you have an impact on his life. We measure our existence by how much impact we have on others, both physically and emotionally. If you feel like you don’t matter to him (don’t have an impact), it’s like being told you don’t exist at all! He can make this worse by “thinging” or objectifying you. He may treat you like a piece of furniture, coming to you only when he has certain physical needs. He may also deny your impact on him by denying contact – in other words, anything you say about his faults will bounce off and come back as something to use against you.
The last way he may violate your rights is to deny your right to space. In many ways, this is your right to individual power – the thing he wants you to have very little or none of. He may violate your right to emotional, physical, time, or mental space by saying that you doing x violates his right to do y (thus painting you out to be the bad guy, every time). For example, your right to be alone in your office violates his right to come visit you. Your right to have friends and family over violates his right to privacy and quiet. And so on, and so on.
These are the four main ways a passive aggressive husband exerts his crazy-making control over his partner and other people. Looking at them as your rights helps to understand this behavior as abusive – a denial of your personal rights to sanity and respect.
Passive Aggressive behavior is the expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive, passive way (such as through procrastination and stubbornness).
Whenever resentment and contempt lurk beneath the surface of a dysfunctional relationship, passive-aggressive behavior is the foam that rises to the top. Passive-aggressive behavior is a mechanism to express anger without openly admitting you are angry or confronting the source of your anger directly.
It is common for a person to express passive-aggressive behavior when they are in a position of low influence or control over a person with whom they are angry. People who feel powerless, inferior or afraid of a person with whom they are angry will frequently resort to a passive-aggressive style. This person may be a figure of authority such as a parent, an older sibling, a boss or a teacher. They may also be a peer such as a spouse, partner, sibling or friend over whom a person has little authority or who dominates or assumes the lead position in the relationship.
Passive-aggressive behavior is also common between Personality-Disordered Individuals (PDI’s) and their family members, spouses and partners of personality disordered individuals (Non-PD’s):
Personality-Disordered Individuals or PDI’s often feel a great deal of pain over their own situation. Because of the way their emotions can overwhelm their rational thinking, they are prone to destructive behaviors, emotional outbursts, making poor choices and having feelings of self-loathing, powerlessness and discontent at the state of their own affairs. Faced with this, it is common for PDI’s to look for a person who is willing to share the burden, help clean up the mess and help them feel better about themselves. Family members, spouses, partners and friends are prime candidates for this role – a role which they sometimes accept willingly, hoping to make a positive difference in their loved-one’s life but may unwittingly create over-optimistic expectations for what they can accomplish. When they inevitably fail to solve all the problems and fill all the voids, it is common for the PDI to feel disappointment, disillusionment and even resentment towards them. Filled with anger towards those who have disappointed them, yet consumed by fear that they will be abandoned by those who have loved them the most, the PDI may develop a pattern of passive-aggressive behavior towards the Non-PD.
Non-Personality-Disordered Individuals or Non-PD’s are often confused about the erratic state of mind of the personality disordered individuals (PDI’s) in their lives. They may feel anger and hurt towards the PDI because of the way they have been treated by them, while at the same time they may be afraid of future outbursts. The Non-PD may be fatigued from taking the “high ground” over contentious issues while at the same time angry with the PDI whom they deem to be taking the “low road” or taking advantage of them. Non-PD’s may develop a pattern of passive-aggressive behavior towards PDI’s as a way of registering their disapproval while trying to maintain the “high ground” and trying not to provoke further aggressive behaviors from the PDI.
Some Examples of Passive-Aggressive Behavior:
- Withdrawal - of material support, contribution to shared goals, Re prioritizing alternate activities and goals, “go-slow’s”, procrastination or targeted incompetence are all manifestations of passive-aggressive behavior.
- Silent Treatment, inappropriate “one-word” answers, inattention, making yourself generally “unavailable”.
- Off-line Criticism – propagating gossip or criticism to a third party in an attempt to negatively influence the third party’s opinion of a person.
- Sarcasm, Critical and “Off-Color” Jokes – Humor which targets a specific individual is a form of passive-aggressive communication.
- Indirect Violence or shows-of-strength such as destruction of property, slamming doors, cruelty to animals in the sight of another is passive-aggressive.
Despite being a common result among both groups, passive-aggressive behaviors and communication styles are rarely effective in getting people what they want. Passive-aggressive behaviors are more likely to add fuel to the fires already burning. An assertive approach to managing conflict is far more likely to get both parties in a relationship what they want.
Passive–aggressive behavior a personality trait, is passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to following through with expectations in interpersonalor occupational situations. It is a personality trait marked by a pervasive pattern of negative attitudes and passive, usually disavowed resistance in interpersonal or occupational situations.
It can manifest itself as learned helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate/repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.
Signs and Symptoms:
The book Living with the Passive–Aggressive Man lists 11 responses that may help identify passive–aggressive behavior:
- Ambiguity or speaking cryptically: a means of creating a feeling of insecurity in others or of disguising one’s own insecurities.
- Chronically being late and forgetting things: another way to exert control or to punish.
- Fear of competition
- Fear of dependency
- Fear of intimacy as a means to act out anger: The passive–aggressive often cannot trust. Because of this, they guard themselves against becoming intimately attached to someone.
- Making chaotic situations.
- Making excusesfor non-performance in work teams
- Victimization response: instead of recognizing one’s own weaknesses, tendency to blame others for own failures.
Passive–aggressive personality disorderwas listed as an Axis II personality disorder in the DSM-III-R, but was moved in the DSM-IV to Appendix B (“Criteria Sets and Axes Provided for Further Study”) because of controversy and the need for further research on how to also categorize the behaviors in a future edition. As an alternative, the diagnosis personality disorder not otherwise specifiedmay be used instead.
The DSM-IV Appendix B definition is as follows:
A pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicted by four (or more) of the following:
- passively resists fulfilling routine social and occupational tasks
- complains of being misunderstood and unappreciated by others
- is sullen and argumentative
- unreasonably criticizes and scorns authority
- expresses envy and resentment toward those apparently more fortunate
- voices exaggerated and persistent complaints of personal misfortune
When asked to respond to the needs and desires of others in work and social situations, individuals with passive-aggressive personality disorder appear to comply or act appropriately, but actually behave negatively and passively resist. This personality disorder is a chronic condition, meaning that it lasts throughout life.
A personality disorder is a set pattern or persistent way of behaving and acting that is usually rigid and inflexible. Individuals with personality disorders have a tendency to have a difficult time getting along with others. They are not able to respond properly when circumstances or situations change. This behavior is so persistent that it affects day-to-day functioning.
- Contradictory and inconsistent behavior—An individual with passive-aggressive personality disorder may appear enthusiastic to carry out others requests, but he purposely performs in a manner that is not useful and sometimes even damaging.
- Intentional avoidance of responsibility. Some behaviors that may be used to avoid responsibility include:
- Procrastination—to delay or postpone needlessly and intentionally
- Deliberate inefficiency—purposefully performing in an incompetent manner
- Feelings of resentfulness towards others
- Argumentative, sulky, and hostile, especially toward authority figures
- Easily offended
- Resentful of useful suggestions from others
- Blames others
- Chronically impatient
- Unexpressed anger or hostility
“The passive-aggressive man may pretend to be sweet or compliant, but beneath his superficial demeanor lies a different core. He’s angry, petty, envious, and selfish.” (Living With the Passive-Aggressive Man, by Scott Wetzler)
“Bullying is not limited to physical violence. It is a prolonged pattern of negative and repeated behaviors that overwhelm the target, degrading him or her to the point of powerlessness. It is an imbalance of power that, over time, wears down the victim.” (“In the Bully’s-eye” – vision.org)