According to Dr. Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, “Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them.” Their feelings may be so repressed that the person doesn’t realize they are angry or feeling resentment. When confronted with their behavior, they may appear surprised or disappointed that anyone would think that about them, as if they are misunderstood or held to unreasonable standards. They have a real desire to connect with others emotionally, but their fear of such a connection causes them to engage in self-destructive habits.
Common Passive Aggressive Behaviors
- Ambiguity/Lies: Take the proverb: “Actions speak louder than words.” A passive aggressive person is known for being deceptive in their word. The best way to judge how they feel about an issue is to watch their actions.
- Blaming/Victimization: They have difficulty taking responsibility for their actions and will find many excuses to avoid doing so. This includes when they shirk deadlines and ignore agreed-upon itineraries and timelines. Victimization is a related symptom of passive aggression; since nothing is their fault, they are always the victim.
- Lack of Anger: Passive aggression is marked by misplaced anger. The passive aggressive person may have been taught, as a child, that anger is unacceptable. They may appear indecisive or “down for whatever”; however, by not expressing their personal ideas and preferences, a passive aggressive person may build resentment for others through their own repression.
- Fear of Dependency/Intimacy: According to 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.” With that, it would be difficult to create an enduring, intimate connection with them.
- Obstructionism/Power Grab: Passive aggressive behavior shifts power in a relationship to make the perpetrator feel bigger and more entitled to affection or other gestures, while the victim will feel undeserving of their partner’s love. Similar to their willful deception mentioned above, a passive aggressive person is also prone to emotional manipulation.