Have you ever felt like you were being targeted or treated incredibly poorly by someone but without any explicit or obvious evidence of a problem? The chances are that this individual was a passive-aggressive person towards you.
Passive-aggression refers to behavior where an individual expresses their anger or resentment towards others or situations indirectly. It can be a surprisingly harmful and very toxic trait to be around. So how can you spot someone who acts this way? Here are 11 behaviors that reveal a passive-aggressive person.
1. They Give You Compliments That Aren’t Compliments
Compliments are great to receive, but they’re also easy to use as tools because they’re so universally understood and liked. Luckily, it’s usually relatively easy to tell when something’s just a little bit “off” about a specific compliment.
Passive-aggressive people often use back-handed compliments, or non-compliments, to get their message across. You’ll hear what sounds like nice words, but you’ll get the instinctual feeling that they aren’t actually nice.
- Excellent work out there for a woman.
- Great pasta. I barely even tasted all that salt!
- I love your shirt. I had one just like it in high school.
- Your art is… interesting. I’m sure someone will like it.
- It’s pretty good. I think my standards are just higher.
Studies have delved into the world of backhanded compliments and their delivery in the past, with the consensus being that non-compliments are most commonly delivered by those who want to state their case while sounding positive. They may:
- Want to assert their superiority or authority
- Reduce the motivation or ruin the mood of the recipient of the “compliment.”
- Seek to insult you due to their grievances with you
No matter which way you look at it, though, backhanded compliments are always passive-aggressive. If your reaction to a compliment is adverse, you may have to examine the person’s words and determine if they’re kind or cruel.
2. They Always Deny The Actual Problem
Passive-aggressive people are all about hiding true intentions and feelings. They resort to passive-aggression because they don’t know how or don’t want to address actual problems. They shy away from conflict and anger, so they seek to get their message across by vehemently insisting there’s nothing wrong.
Confusing? It certainly is, and that’s why passive-aggressive behavior is so frustrating to deal with. You can directly ask a person like this if something’s wrong, and they’ll always say “no.” You can even get very specific about what you think they’re upset about, and they’ll still deny it!
If someone keeps insisting that they’re fine when they obviously aren’t, don’t bother engaging with them further. It would be best if you didn’t coddle them as this will encourage them to repeat the behavior. Communicate with them that you need their positive honesty and leave the door open for them to be genuine, but don’t give them extra allowances or go the extra mile to read their mind.
3. They Blame Others
Passive-aggressive people are reluctant to take any responsibility for anything negative, even when everyone knows they’re the ones responsible. They essentially seek to blame everyone around them for the actions they performed and may say things like:
- You’re such a perfectionist. You’re never satisfied!
- I would have done it differently if you’d just said something.
- How was I supposed to know about that?
- Everyone always expects the impossible out of me! It’s not fair!
- I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you aren’t good at making jokes.
4. They Leave Things Unfinished
Passive-aggressive people tend to procrastinate or leave things incomplete. This is their indirect way of telling you that they resent having to do this job at all and wish they didn’t need to. It’s a very commonly known passive-aggressive trait, according to studies. For example, they might:
- Wash the dishes but never put them away
- Do the laundry but not fold them or put them away
- Build furniture but leave the last piece unassembled
- Paint the walls but leave one area unpainted
- Please take out the trash but leave it in front of the door instead of in the bin outside
The goal of a passive-aggressive person who does this is to make you so sick of it that you do it yourself. After all, if you were to question them, they’d be able to use the work they have done to prove their kind-heartedness.
5. They Withdraw
A passive-aggressive person, as we’ve covered, doesn’t want to admit how they feel openly. Instead, they withdraw into themselves and sulk, often in pronounced ways, as though inviting others to gain insight into their true feelings.
This seems innocent at first, especially if you worry about them and see them behaving in this brooding way. But it’s actually a quiet manipulation tactic used to elicit a response from you. Passive-aggressive people want you to respond to them in a certain way, trying to gain your sympathy and attention while changing the room’s entire mood to suit their personal whims.
Everyone has wishes, but passive-aggressive people will openly wish for everything. This is a form of hinting for them. They state their desires, often for ordinary things, instead of directly asking you for what they want.
Worse still, they always end on a dramatic note, saying they’re sure it won’t happen as they desire or that it’s just wishful thinking. For example:
- “How I wish someone would help me finish all this! Too bad everyone’s so busy, they could never spare a moment to help someone like me.”
- “I’m so hungry. I wish I’d bought lunch as nice as yours. Oh well, it’s too late for me to go back and change the past now, so it’s all wishful thinking…”
- “It’d be excellent if you could finish it by two o’clock, but I guess I just don’t have any choice but to wait for the end of the day.”
- “All I want is to be able to have someone cover my shift this weekend! But I guess that’s way too much to ask for.”
- “I wish someone would donate their old computer to me! But that’d never happened, I suppose. Not to me.”
It can be very frustrating to hear these things, and you might even fall into the trap of giving in to their stated wishes. Hold your ground, and don’t engage! You want a passive-aggressive person to be forced to resort to proper, positive communication, not get what they want by dropping hints.
7. They’re Always Late
Passive-aggressive people don’t usually respect anyone else’s time. They’re late to anything and everything and don’t care that they are. They’ll often even act surprised when they turn out to be the last one to arrive. But why do they do it? It may be because:
- They have resentment for the people they’re meeting with
- They don’t want to go to whatever plans they’ve made
- They want to get some attention for something
8. They Make Countless Excuses
Passive-aggressive people have to do all sorts of questionable things to get their messages across without saying their statements. Over time, someone will inevitably question their motives. When that time comes around, excuses spill forth from their mouths!
A passive-aggressive person will make a wide range of different excuses, sometimes clearly false, mostly meant to elicit sympathy. They may cite an ill relative, try to get sympathy by discussing poor mental health, or even blame others. Typically, their excuses will be difficult to question or contradict without coming across as mean, which is exactly why they use them.
9. They Insult You Covertly
We’ve talked about backhanded compliments – but what about covert insults? These are commonly used by passive-aggressive people who have a bone to pick with you but aren’t brave enough to address their issues directly. They will disguise insults as something less malicious, often by pretending to be kind. For example, they might say:
- “No offense, but…”
- “I don’t want to sound judgemental, but…”
- “This may come across as mean, but…”
- “I hope this isn’t too insensitive, but…”
- “I’m mostly joking, so…”
- “You’re going to hate me saying this, but…”
- “I mean no disrespect, but…”
These disclaimers added to the front of their insults are just meant to be easy escape clauses from them. You can stop this from progressing further by telling them you don’t want to hear it before they get past the “but” part of the statement or by asking them to speak freely and with more positive methods.
10. The Masquerade As Cooperative
When passive-aggressive people are resentful or don’t want to do something, they will try to act as if they are cooperative, even when they’re not. This allows them to pretend to be part of the team while they take out their annoyance on you indirectly. They might:
- Outright say that they will comply with something, only never to do it.
- Cite their inexperience as a reason for them to sit out to avoid getting in your way.
- Do bad jobs for their tasks, forcing others to redo them.
- Claiming to be trying to help but secretly sabotaging efforts left and right.
- Creating false evidence of their work.
- Feign ignorance when called out for not doing what they should be doing.
11. They Use The Silent Treatment
The silent treatment is a very harmful and toxic thing. It can quickly erode positive thinking, often dropping self-esteem and isolating victims of such treatment. This is probably why passive-aggressive people love using it so much. They can avoid addressing actual problems while making sure the people they’re angry at discerning their message, loud and clear.
When a passive-aggressive person feels resentful of you, they may give you the cold shoulder, ignoring your words, calls, and texts and refusing to speak to you directly. If called out, they’ll cite tiredness or some other excuse, as it’s quite difficult to blame someone for simply being quiet.
Passive-aggressive people are frustrating to deal with, and their lack of communication can damage relationships in the long-run. If you know someone who often behaves in a passive-aggressive way, try to communicate your desire for an open dialogue. Don’t be afraid to cut passive-aggressive people out of your life. You don’t need the drain on your positive thinking!