Signs of Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Passive-aggressive behavior is an unhealthy manner in expressing anger and resentment. In essence, it is aggressive behavior masked by passivity. This type of behavior can be very detrimental to and can very seriously damage a relationship. For this reason, it is crucial that partners recognize the signs and symptoms of passive-aggressive behavior and then intervene immediately to repair the unhealthy manner in which anger is expressed in the relationship.

Here are some common signs of passive-aggressive behaviors. 1) Vagueness and Generalities– A passive-aggressive partner rarely says what they feel or believe and rarely means what they verbally communicate. It is difficult to understand what they are thinking or feeling because they speak very ambiguously and in generalities. However, their actions do “speak louder than words”. To know how a passive-aggressive person actually feels about a situation or an issue, watch to see how they behave instead of relying on their words.

2) Forgetfulness/Memory-lapses – Passive-aggressive people conveniently “forget” important events or details as a means to maintain control and express their anger or hostility toward you.

When confronted by you about a situation that upset you in the past, passive-aggressive people will also conveniently “forget” those details leaving you unable to resolve the situation. For example, Akbar overheard Maya being rude to his friend at a party last week. He approached Maya a few days later saying he heard her saying these comments and wished she would stop. Maya, who tends to respond passive-aggressively, responded, “I don’t remember saying anything rude.” Even after Akbar gave specific examples of what she said, she continued to say that she didn’t remember that conversation occurring and if it did, must have forgotten all about it.

This type of behavior leaves Akbar in a helpless position where he can no longer be upset with her. How can you be upset with someone who “simply forgot”?

3) Blaming and Refusal to Take Responsibility – Blaming others for things that go wrong and not accepting any responsibility for one’s role in any situation  are common signs of a passive-aggressive partner. They present themselves are having little to no faults but find faults in everyone around them.

4) Always playing the victim – A passive-aggressive partner often feels that they are treated unfairly. They often feel confused, hurt, and attacked when you express that you are upset with them. This is because they believe you have unreasonable expectations of them and for that you are at fault for the situation that upset you.

On the flip side, passive-aggressive people can become sarcastic and say, “Yes you’re right this is all my fault. I’m a terrible person” without ever believing that they are at fault or have any responsibility for the situation they are in.

5) Lack of Anger – Passive-aggression is simply aggressive behavior hidden behind a mask of passive behaviors. So although passive-aggressive people do not often show their anger, that does not mean they are not angry. Instead, they use their lack of anger as a way to exhibit their control. To your face they might say that they are happy to do what you ask but that anger finds a way out in inappropriate ways.

6) Sulking – Because they don’t express their dissatisfaction directly and openly to their partners, passive-aggressive people tend to sulk in situations they don’t like. When asked directly if they are unhappy or if something is wrong they will often deny but still continue sulking. It puts them in a position of power because their mood often dictates how the situation goes. In a way, it is an example of sabotaging or purposely negatively affecting a situation they are unhappy with.

Passive-aggressive behavior is equally exhibited by men and women, especially in the South Asian culture. Not only does passive aggressive behavior have serious consequences for the marital relationship, but it can significantly negatively affect the ability to parent effectively and be detrimental to the child’s mental health and overall wellbeing.

To ensure a healthy marital relationship and family atmosphere, it is crucial that partners and parents be conscious of any passive-aggressive behaviors existing in the family and address them appropriately as soon as they are identified.

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  1. Interesting

  2. How does one deal with passive -aggressive behavior? How does one get around it?

  3. I find your description of Sulking very helpful in identifying a behavior a friend who was jealous of my relocation of a business I have opened up. I have asked her if she was having a bad day and she replied by saying no, but continued show sadness with a faraway look.

  4. Thank you for the article! It is very helpful. I’ve such people in my family. I wonder what can I do about it? Can it be cured through therapy? Is it a sign of low EQ?

  5. how does a person deal with this behavior. It is getting worse. I do not know how to respond to the constant anger, self loathing, blaming everyone of doing something not quite right and hurting family’s feelings constantly by their sarcastic remarks.

  6. Please publish an article with tips for dealing with it.
    In a marriage you take vows to work on things together, but if one person thinks he is “perfect,” it seems to me there is no hope. This is after trying for 25 years.

  7. I just found out the term for the behaviour my BF has lately been putting up, passive aggression. We live in different cities, one weekend he was supposed to visit, only to fail at the last minute , pleading a business engagement. Thereafter, he sounded a bit distant on the phone and when I asked for more attention , through phone calls,he asked if I meant he was insensitive, unaware of what was coming , I said yes. That was it, it’s been two weeks now, he doesn’t call, when I do, he hardly answers, when he does, he gives lame excuses for not answering the phone earlier. Two days ago he travelled abroad without telling me, I only found out from the language recording after trying to call him repeatedly. I realise he is trying to punish me, but I have been calm and patient. I don’t want to confront him on the phone . The whole thing is astonishing , is this my very sweet and funny BF ? I love this guy, and we are so good together ,but this aggression has violated our relationship I feel I should just let him go sooner than later. I wonder what to do.

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