The NYU Medical Center defines a passive-aggressive individual as someone who ‘may appear to comply or act appropriately, but actually behaves negatively and passively resists.’ A passive-aggressive relationship can occur in a romantic partnership, family, social circles, or at the workplace. – Preston Ni, Psychology Today
Mr. Ni goes on to explain that most passive-aggressive individuals share four common traits: “they’re unreasonable to deal with, uncomfortable to experience, they rarely express their hostility directly, and they repeat their (deceitful) behavior over time.”
Passive-aggressive people are not comfortable with being outwardly aggressive; they choose instead to display their inner aggression in a more deliberate, roundabout fashion.
Interestingly, passive-aggressiveness is considered a personality disorder and is a common behavior of narcissists: “A narcissist can have mild or occasional passive-aggressive traits, or they can be a narcissist with a full-blown passive aggressive personality.”
Below, we’ll discuss nine signs of someone passive-aggressive. Most individuals with a passive-aggressive personality disorder will exhibit a few, if not all, of these traits.
9 Signs Someone Is Passive Aggressive
1. The Silent Treatment
Passive-aggressive people will use the silent treatment to express anger or resentment. At an extreme level, silent treatment may be considered a form of emotional abuse or neglect. For example, the spouse who doesn’t say anything for days to punish their partner for some “offense.”
2. Underhanded Sabotage
Since passive-aggressive people are often unable to solve a problem maturely, they’ll resort to backhanded tactics to inflict harm. An example of this behavior is the disgruntled employee who deliberately seeks to squash team chemistry. They’ll forgo any semblance of professionalism and obstruct productivity out of resentment.
3. Playing victim
Victimhood is a typical passive-aggressive behavior employed to satisfy their selfish motives. To accomplish this sense of victimhood, the P-A will exaggerate or make up some personal issue designed to evoke sympathy. The most disturbing aspect of this behavior may be that the victim card is – in many cases – used for one purpose: to inflict emotional harm.
Hand-in-hand with playing victim, a P-A will intentionally hurt someone else by inflicting harm on themselves. Perhaps, the P-A seeks to escalate drama or desperately wants or needs attention. To achieve these ends, the P-A (in many cases) will inflict self-harm; often by becoming addicted, or intentionally evoking worry about their personal condition.
(This sign warrants caution, as the individual may be experiencing serious issues that require help.)
5. Pretending not to hear or understand
P-A’s take the quote “Ignorance is bliss” to a whole new stratosphere. Pretending not to hear or understand a request, set of instructions, or directive is a convenient excuse – and, though frustrating, is often tolerated by the other person. Until, of course, the behavior becomes pathological and seen for what it is.
P-A’s often possess the misguided belief that they’re right in most circumstances. When this view is challenged, it is not uncommon for the P-A to resort to passive combativeness by initiating a type of “power struggle.” The P-A will display rigidity, stubbornness, and lackadaisical behaviors; all aimed to thwart the efforts of the recipient and attempt to gain some type of “win.”
7. Masked verbal hostility
P-As are not outwardly aggressive and are often insecure in most situations. Thus, to compensate for these self-perceived deficiencies, they must seek a sense of self-importance using underhanded tactics. This sense of importance and feeling of dominance is achieved by being overly critical and pessimistic towards other “ideas, conditions, and expectations.”
8. Masked hostility using humor
To express hidden anger, rejection, or disapproval of an individual; or to show contempt for what an individual represents, a P-A will frequently use veiled humor. This type of humor, as described by Mr. Ni involves “Sarcasm. Veiled hostile joking – often followed by ‘just kidding.’ Repetitive teasing. Subtle “digs” at one’s appearance, gender socio-cultural background, credentials, behavior, decisions, social relations, etc.” P-A’s use humor as a weapon to attack another’s authority, credibility, dignity and humanity.
If the P-A fails to achieve whatever it is they’ve worked towards, they’ll complain to anyone willing (or unwilling) to listen. Of course, they will never confront the individual “responsible” for their current “predicament.” P-As often have a desire to seek some kind of revenge, and will often complain about someone in a way that aims to undermine their status.