Characteristics of Passive Aggressive Behavior

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Passive-aggressive behavior is a non-confrontational method of resistance. This behavior may result in response to a demand or requirement that someone is expected or obligated to perform. Instead of outright refusal of a request, a passive-aggressive person will covertly obstruct or sabotage his performance so that it falls short of what is expected. This type of behavior happens mostly in work situations but can occur in social settings as well, according to the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders."


Putting off doing a task is procrastination. For passive-aggressive individuals, it is typically an intentional ploy to irritate or aggravate the person who is expecting it to be done. For example, a passive-aggressive way to get out of driving someone to school or work is to constantly show up late. Although the lateness is intentional, passive-aggressive individuals will not admit it. They may flippantly apologize and say that they are always late. Explanations and excuses are never in short supply among passive-aggressive individuals.


Feigning forgetfulness is characteristic of passive-aggressive. Since everyone is prone to forgetting, it is a valid and acceptable excuse. Also, it is easy to deflect blame because it is viewed as an unintentional action. Purposefully forgetting to do something allows the passive-aggressive person to upset or aggravate someone else without taking responsibility for it. Passive-aggressive individuals may “forget” to send an invitation to someone or insist that it must have been lost in them mail. By doing so, they avoid having someone they dislike show up at a function and hide behind their lie when accused of intentionally excluding someone.


When unwanted demands are unavoidable, passive-aggressive individuals will invest the minimal amount of time and energy to do it. They will expend little thought or effort engaging in an undesirable activity and therefore do a shoddy job. For instance, when covering for a sick co-worker, passive-aggressive workers may provide inaccurate data or incomplete reports hoping their boss will ask someone else to do it. By making an attempt, the worker cannot be accused of insubordination and the worker can deflect fault for the poor quality due to a lack of knowledge and experience to do a task that is normally assigned to someone else.


Signe Whitson, licensed social worker, indicates that hostility towards others manifests itself through hidden but conscious revenge to avoid confrontation. The hostility felt by passive-aggressive individuals is usually toward others in a role of authority such as a boss, teacher, elder family member or mother-in-law. On the surface, they appear to respect authority figures, but they carry an inner resentment towards them. Passive-aggressive people typically have low self-esteem and a fear of confrontation. As such, they retaliate against authority figures through lies and deception.