Passive Aggressive

A week or so ago I was having an argument with the (now Ex-)hubby and I called him Passive Aggressive. He had not heard of that before and didn't really believe me that it was real or that it made sense, since it is an Oxymoronic term (like bittersweet). So, I decided to do a blog on the term and learn more about it myself, sharing of course :)

Here is what I found thus far, btw, feel free to contribute or comment!


Passive–aggressive behavior, a personality trait, is passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to following through with expectations in interpersonal or occupational situations. It is a personality trait marked by a pervasive pattern of negative attitudes and passive, usually disavowed resistance in interpersonal or occupational situations.

It can manifest itself as learned helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate/repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible
Ambiguity or speaking cryptically: a means of engendering a feeling of insecurity in others

Chronically being late and forgetting things: another way to exert control or to punish.
Fear of competition
Fear of dependency
Fear of intimacy as a means to act out anger: The passive-aggressive often cannot trust. Because of this, they guard themselves against becoming intimately attached to someone.
Making chaotic situations
Making excuses for non-performance in work teams
Victimization response: instead of recognizing one's own weaknesses, tendency to blame others for own failures.

A passive-aggressive person may not have all of these behaviors, and may have other[clarification needed] non-passive-aggressive traits.

Passive-aggressive personality disorder was listed as an Axis II personality disorder in the DSM-III-R, but was moved in the DSM-IV to Appendix B ("Criteria Sets and Axes Provided for Further Study") because of controversy and the need for further research on how to also categorize the behaviors in a future edition. As an alternative, the diagnosis personality disorder not otherwise specified may be used instead.

The DSM-IV Appendix B definition is as follows:[2]

A pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicted by four (or more) of the following:

passively resists fulfilling routine social and occupational tasks
complains of being misunderstood and unappreciated by others
is sullen and argumentative
unreasonably criticizes and scorns authority
expresses envy and resentment toward those apparently more fortunate
voices exaggerated and persistent complaints of personal misfortune
alternates between hostile defiance and contrition

Does not occur exclusively during major depressive episodes and is not better accounted for by dysthymic disorder.

Theodore Millon identified four subtypes of negativist.[3][4] Any individual negativist may exhibit none or one of the following:

circuitous negativist – including dependent features
abrasive negativist – including sadistic features
discontented negativist – including depressive features
vacillating negativist – including borderline features

Passive-aggressive disorder may stem from a specific childhood stimulus[5] (e.g., alcohol/drug addicted parents) in an environment where it was not safe to express frustration or anger. Families in which the honest expression of feelings is forbidden tend to teach children to repress and deny their feelings and to use other channels to express their frustration.

Children who sugarcoat their hostility may fail to ever grow beyond such behavior. Never developing better coping strategies or skills for self-expression, they can become adults who, beneath a seductive veneer, harbor vindictive intent.[6] Martin Kantor suggests three areas that contribute to passive-aggressive anger in individuals: conflicts about dependency, control, and competition.

Kantor suggests a treatment approach using psychodynamic, supportive, cognitive, behavioral and interpersonal therapeutic methods. These methods apply to both the passive aggressive person and their target victim.

See also
Counterproductive work behavior

Malicious compliance
Mind games
Psychological manipulation
Relational aggression
Social undermining
Malicious compliance
Malicious compliance is the behavior of a person who intentionally inflicts harm by strictly following the orders of management or following legal compulsions, knowing that compliance with the orders will cause a loss of some form resulting in damage to the manager's business or reputation, or a loss to an employee or subordinate. In effect, it is a form of sabotage used to harm leadership or used by leadership to harm subordinates.[1]

Work-to-rule is the expression of malicious compliance as an industrial action, in which rules are deliberately followed to the letter in an attempt to reduce employee productivity.

Mind games
The term mind games refers to passive aggressive behavior used specifically to demoralize or empower the thinking subject, often making the aggressor look superior.[citation needed]

The psychological field of transactional analysis, and in particular the Karpman drama triangle, describe and examine mind games from a social and psychological perspective. Broadly, the term can be used for any strategy or tactic where covert mental manipulation or creation of coercive pressure of another person is a goal.[citation needed]

Psychological manipulation
Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics.[1] By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at the other's expense, such methods could be considered exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive.

Social influence is not necessarily negative. For example, doctors can try to persuade patients to change unhealthy habits. Social influence is generally perceived to be harmless when it respects the right of the influenced to accept or reject it, and is not unduly coercive. Depending on the context and motivations, social influence may constitute underhanded manipulation.

Contents [hide]

1 Requirements for successful manipulation
2 How manipulators control their victims
2.1 According to Braiker
2.2 According to Simon
3 Vulnerabilities exploited by manipulators
4 Motivations of manipulators
5 Psychological conditions of manipulators
6 Basic manipulative strategy of a psychopath
6.1 1. Assessment phase
6.2 2. Manipulation phase
6.3 3. Abandonment phase

[edit] Requirements for successful manipulation
According to Simon, successful psychological manipulation primarily involves:
manipulator concealing aggressive intentions and behaviors.
manipulator knowing the psychological vulnerabilities of the victim to determine what tactics are likely to be the most effective.
manipulator having a sufficient level of ruthlessness to have no qualms about causing harm to the victim if necessary.
Consequently the manipulation is likely to be covert (relational aggressive or passive aggressive).[2]

[edit] How manipulators control their victims[edit]
According to BraikerBraiker[1] identified the following basic ways that manipulators control their victims:

positive reinforcement - includes praise, superficial charm, superficial sympathy (crocodile tears), excessive apologizing; money, approval, gifts; attention, facial expressions such as a forced laugh or smile; public recognition.

negative reinforcement - includes nagging, yelling, the silent treatment, intimidation, threats, swearing, emotional blackmail, the guilt trap, sulking, crying, and playing the victim.

intermittent or partial reinforcement - Partial or intermittent negative reinforcement can create an effective climate of fear and doubt, for example in terrorist attacks. Partial or intermittent positive reinforcement can encourage the victim to persist - for example in most forms of gambling, the gambler is likely to win now and again but still lose money overall.


traumatic one-trial learning - using verbal abuse, explosive anger, or other intimidating behavior to establish dominance or superiority; even one incident of such behavior can condition or train victims to avoid upsetting, confronting or contradicting the manipulator.

[edit] According to Simon

Simon[2] identified the following manipulative techniques:

Lying: It is hard to tell if somebody is lying at the time they do it although often the truth may be apparent later when it is too late. One way to minimize the chances of being lied to is to understand that some personality types (particularly psychopaths) are experts at the art of lying and cheating, doing it frequently, and often in subtle ways.

Lying by omission: This is a very subtle form of lying by withholding a significant amount of the truth. This technique is also used in propaganda.

Denial: Manipulator refuses to admit that he or she has done something wrong.

Rationalization: An excuse made by the manipulator for inappropriate behavior. Rationalization is closely related to spin.

Minimization: This is a type of denial coupled with rationalization. The manipulator asserts that his or her behavior is not as harmful or irresponsible as someone else was suggesting, for example saying that a taunt or insult was only a joke.

Selective inattention or selective attention: Manipulator refuses to pay attention to anything that may distract from his or her agenda, saying things like "I don't want to hear it".

Diversion: Manipulator not giving a straight answer to a straight question and instead being diversionary, steering the conversation onto another topic.

Evasion: Similar to diversion but giving irrelevant, rambling, vague responses, weasel words.

Covert intimidation: Manipulator throwing the victim onto the defensive by using veiled (subtle, indirect or implied) threats.

Guilt tripping: A special kind of intimidation tactic. A manipulator suggests to the conscientious victim that he or she does not care enough, is too selfish or has it easy. This usually results in the victim feeling bad, keeping them in a self-doubting, anxious and submissive position.

Shaming: Manipulator uses sarcasm and put-downs to increase fear and self-doubt in the victim. Manipulators use this tactic to make others feel unworthy and therefore defer to them. Shaming tactics can be very subtle such as a fierce look or glance, unpleasant tone of voice, rhetorical comments, subtle sarcasm. Manipulators can make one feel ashamed for even daring to challenge them. It is an effective way to foster a sense of inadequacy in the victim.

Playing the victim role ("poor me"): Manipulator portrays him- or herself as a victim of circumstance or of someone else's behavior in order to gain pity, sympathy or evoke compassion and thereby get something from another. Caring and conscientious people cannot stand to see anyone suffering and the manipulator often finds it easy to play on sympathy to get cooperation.

Vilifying the victim: More than any other, this tactic is a powerful means of putting the victim on the defensive while simultaneously masking the aggressive intent of the manipulator.

Playing the servant role: Cloaking a self-serving agenda in guise of a service to a more noble cause, for example saying he is acting in a certain way for "obedience" and "service" to God or a similar authority figure.

Seduction: Manipulator uses charm, praise, flattery or overtly supporting others in order to get them to lower their defenses and give their trust and loyalty to him or her.

Projecting the blame (blaming others): Manipulator scapegoats in often subtle, hard to detect ways.

Feigning innocence: Manipulator tries to suggest that any harm done was unintentional or did not do something that they were accused of. Manipulator may put on a look of surprise or indignation. This tactic makes the victim question his or her own judgment and possibly his own sanity.

Feigning confusion: Manipulator tries to play dumb by pretending he or she does not know what you are talking about or is confused about an important issue brought to his attention.

Brandishing anger: Manipulator uses anger to brandish sufficient emotional intensity and rage to shock the victim into submission. The manipulator is not actually angry, he or she just puts on an act. He just wants what he wants and gets "angry" when denied.

[edit] Vulnerabilities exploited by manipulators
According to Braiker[1], manipulators exploit the following vulnerabilities (buttons) that may exist in victims:

the "disease to please"

addiction to earning the approval and acceptance of others

Emotophobia (fear of negative emotion)

lack of assertiveness and ability to say no

blurry sense of identity (with soft personal boundaries)

low self-reliance

external locus of control

According to Simon[2], manipulators exploit the following vulnerabilities that may exist in victims:

naïveté - victim finds it too hard to accept the idea that some people are cunning, devious and ruthless or is "in denial" if he is being victimized

over-conscientiousness - victim is too willing to give manipulator the benefit of the doubt and see their side of things in which they blame the victim

low self-confidence - victim is self-doubting, lacking in confidence and assertiveness, likely to go on the defensive too easily.

over-intellectualization - victim tries too hard to understand and believes the manipulator has some understandable reason to be hurtful.

emotional dependency - victim has a submissive or dependent personality. The more emotionally dependent the victim is, the more vulnerable he is to being exploited and manipulated.

Manipulators generally take the time to scope out the characteristics and vulnerabilities of their victim.

According to Kantor[3], the following are vulnerable to psychopathic manipulators:

too trusting - people who are honest often assume that everyone else is honest. They commit themselves to people they hardly know without checking credentials, etc. They rarely question so-called experts.

too altruistic - the opposite of psychopathic; too honest, too fair, too empathetic

too impressionable - overly seduced by charmers. For example, they might vote for the phony politician who kisses babies.

too naïve - cannot believe there are dishonest people in the world or if there were they would not be allowed to operate.

too masochistic - lack of self-respect and unconsciously let psychopaths take advantage of them. They think they deserve it out of a sense of guilt.

too narcissistic - narcissists are prone to falling for unmerited flattery.

too greedy - the greedy and dishonest may fall prey to a psychopath who can easily entice them to act in an immoral way.

too immature - has impaired judgment and believes the exaggerated advertising claims.

too materialistic - easy prey for loan sharks or get-rich-quick schemes

too dependent - dependent people need to be loved and are therefore gullible and liable to say yes to something to which they should say no.

too lonely - lonely people may accept any offer of human contact. A psychopathic stranger may offer human companionship for a price.

too impulsive - make snap decisions about, for example, what to buy or who to marry without consulting others.

too frugal - cannot say no to a bargain even if they know the reason why it is so cheap

being elderly - the elderly can become fatigued and less capable of multi-tasking. When hearing a sales pitch they are less likely to consider that it could be a con. They are prone to giving money to someone with a hard-luck story. See elder abuse.

[edit] Motivations of manipulators

Manipulators have three possible motivations:[1]

The need to advance their own purposes and their own gain at virtually any cost to others

The manipulator has strong needs to attain feelings of power and superiority in relationships with others

Manipulators want and need to feel in control - control freakery

[edit] Psychological conditions of manipulatorsManipulators may have any of the following psychological conditions:[1]

Machiavellian personality
narcissistic personality disorder
borderline personality disorder
avoidant personality disorder
dependent personality disorder
histrionic personality disorder
passive-aggressive behavior
type A angry personalities
antisocial personality disorder
addictive personalities.

[edit] Basic manipulative strategy of a psychopath
According to Hare and Babiak[4], psychopaths are always on the lookout for individuals to scam or swindle. The psychopathic approach includes three phases:

[edit] 1. Assessment phase
Some psychopaths are opportunistic, aggressive predators who will take advantage of almost anyone they meet, while others are more patient, waiting for the perfect, innocent victim to cross their path. In each case, the psychopath is constantly sizing up the potential usefulness of an individual as a source of money, power, sex or influence. Some psychopaths enjoy a challenge while others prey on people who are vulnerable. During the assessment phase, the psychopath is able to determine a potential victim’s weak points and will use those weak points to seduce.

[edit] 2. Manipulation phase
Once the psychopath has identified a victim, the manipulation phase begins. During the manipulation phase, a psychopath may create a persona or mask, specifically designed to ‘work’ for his or her target. A psychopath will lie to gain the trust of their victim. Psychopaths' lack of empathy and guilt allows them to lie with impunity; they do not see the value of telling the truth unless it will help get them what they want.

As interaction with the victim proceeds, the psychopath carefully assesses the victim's persona. The victim's persona gives the psychopath a picture of the traits and characteristics valued in the victim. The victim's persona may also reveal, to an astute observer, insecurities or weaknesses the victim wishes to minimize or hide from view. As an ardent student of human behavior, the psychopath will then gently test the inner strengths and needs that are part of the victim's private self and eventually build a personal relationship with the victim.

The persona of the psychopath - the “personality” the victim is bonding with - does not really exist. It is built on lies, carefully woven together to entrap the victim. It is a mask, one of many, custom-made by the psychopath to fit the victim's particular psychological needs and expectations. The victimization is predatory in nature; it often leads to severe financial, physical or emotional harm for the individual. Healthy, real relationships are built on mutual respect and trust; they are based on sharing honest thoughts and feelings. The victim's mistaken belief that the psychopathic bond has any of these characteristics is the reason it is so successful.

[edit] 3. Abandonment phase
The abandonment phase begins when the psychopath decides that his or her victim is no longer useful. The psychopath abandons his or her victim and moves on to someone else. In the case of romantic relationships, a psychopath will usually seal a relationship with their next target before abandoning his or her current victim. Sometimes, the psychopath has three individuals on whom he or she is running game: the one who has been recently abandoned, who is being toyed with and kept in the picture in case the other two do not work out; the one who is currently being played and is about to be abandoned; and the third, who is being groomed by the psychopath, in anticipation of abandoning the current "mark". Abandonment can happen quickly and can occur without the current victim knowing that the psychopath was looking for someone new. There will be no apologies, or at least no sincere apologies, for the hurt and pain the psychopath causes, because psychopaths do not appreciate these emotions.

Another article on Passive Aggressive:

Passive Aggressive behavior is a form of covert abuse. When someone hits you or yells at you, you know that you've been abused. It is obvious and easily identified. Covert abuse is subtle and veiled or disguised by actions that appear to be normal, at times loving and caring. The passive aggressive person is a master at covert abuse.

Passive aggressive behavior stems from an inability to express anger in a healthy way. A person's feelings may be so repressed that they don't even realize they are angry or feeling resentment. A passive aggressive can drive people around him/her crazy and seem sincerely dismayed when confronted with their behavior. Due to their own lack of insight into their feelings the passive aggressive often feels that others misunderstand them or, are holding them to unreasonable standards if they are confronted about their behavior.

Common Passive Aggressive Behaviors:

Ambiguity: I think of the proverb, "Actions speak louder than words" when it comes to the passive aggressive and how ambiguous they can be. They rarely mean what they say or say what they mean. The best judge of how a passive aggressive feels about an issue is how they act. Normally they don't act until after they've caused some kind of stress by their ambiguous way of communicating.

Forgetfulness: The passive aggressive avoids responsibility by "forgetting." How convenient is that? There is no easier way to punish someone than forgetting that lunch date or your birthday or, better yet, an anniversary.

Blaming: They are never responsible for their actions. If you aren't to blame then it is something that happened at work, the traffic on the way home or the slow clerk at the convenience store. The passive aggressive has no faults, it is everyone around him/her who has faults and they must be punished for those faults.

Lack of Anger: He/she may never express anger. There are some who are happy with whatever you want. On the outside anyway! The passive aggressive may have been taught, as a child, that anger is unacceptable. Hence they go through life stuffing their anger, being accommodating and then sticking it to you in an under-handed way.

Fear of Dependency: From 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."

Fear of Intimacy: The passive aggressive often can't trust. Because of this, they guard themselves against becoming intimately attached to someone. A passive aggressive will have sex with you but they rarely make love to you. If they feel themselves becoming attached, they may punish you by withholding sex.

Obstructionism: Do you want something from your passive aggressive spouse? If so, get ready to wait for it or maybe even never get it. It is important to him/her that you don,t get your way. He/she will act as if giving you what you want is important to them but, rarely will he/she follow through with giving it. It is very confusing to have someone appear to want to give to you but never follow through. You can begin to feel as if you are asking too much which is exactly what he/she wants to you to feel.

Victimization: The passive aggressive feels they are treated unfairly. If you get upset because he or she is constantly late, they take offense because; in their mind, it was someone else's fault that they were late. He/she is always the innocent victim of your unreasonable expectations, an over-bearing boss or that slow clerk at the convenience store.

Procrastination: The passive aggressive person believes that deadlines are for everyone but them. They do things on their own time schedule and be damned anyone who expects differently from them.

The Passive Aggressive and You:

The passive aggressive needs to have a relationship with someone who can be the object of his or her hostility. They need someone whose expectations and demands he/she can resist. A passive aggressive is usually attracted to co-dependents, people with low self-esteem and those who find it easy to make excuses for other's bad behaviors.

The biggest frustration in being with a passive aggressive is that they never follow through on agreements and promises. He/she will dodge responsibility for anything in the relationship while at the same time making it look as if he/she is pulling his/her own weight and is a very loving partner. The sad thing is, you can be made to believe that you are loved and adored by a person who is completely unable to form an emotional connection with anyone.

The passive aggressive ignores problems in the relationship, sees things through their own skewed sense of reality and if forced to deal with the problems will completely withdraw from the relationship and you. They will deny evidence of wrong doing, distort what you know to be real to fit their own agenda, minimize or lie so that their version of what is real seems more logical.

The passive aggressive will say one thing, do another, and then deny ever saying the first thing. They don't communicate their needs and wishes in a clear manner, expecting their spouse to read their mind and meet their needs. After all, if their spouse truly loved them he/she would just naturally know what they needed or wanted. The passive aggressive withholds information about how he/she feels, their ego is fragile and can't take the slightest criticism so why let you know what they are thinking or feeling? God forbid they disclose that information and you criticize them.

Confronting the Passive Aggressive:

Beware, if you confront the passive aggressive he/she will most likely sulk, give you the silent treatment or completely walk away leaving you standing there to deal with the problem alone. There are two reasons for confronting the passive aggressive. One, if done correctly you may be able to help him/her gain insight into the negative consequences of their behaviors. Two, even if that doesn't happen, it will at least give you the opportunity to talk to him/her in a frank way about how his/her behavior affects you. If nothing else you can get a few things "off your chest." Below are some ways you might approach your passive aggressive:

Make your feelings the subject of the conversation and not his/her bad behaviors.

Don't attack his/her character.

Make sure you have privacy.

Confront him/her about one behavior at a time, don't bring up everything at once.

If he/she needs to retreat from the conversation allow them to do it with dignity.

Have a time limit, confrontation should not stretch on indefinitely.

If he/she tries to turn the table on you, do not defend your need to have an adult conversation about your feelings.

Be sure he/she understands that you care about what happens to them, that you love them and that you are not trying to control them. You are only trying to get to the bottom of your disagreements and make the relationship better.

Inside the Passive Aggressive:

The passive aggressive has a real desire to connect with you emotionally but their fear of such a connection causes them to be obstructive and engage in self-destructive habits. He/she will be covert in their actions and it will only move him/her further from his/her desired relationship with you.

The passive aggressive never looks internally and examines their role in a relationship problem. They have to externalize it and blame others for having shortcomings. To accept that he/she has flaws would be tantamount to emotional self-destruction. They live in denial of their self-destructive behaviors, the consequences of those behaviors and the choices they make that cause others so much pain.

The passive aggressive objectifies the object of their desire. You are to be used as a means to an end. Your only value is to feed his/her own emotional needs. You are not seen as a person with feelings and needs but as an extension of him/her. They care for you the way they care for a favorite chair. You are there for their comfort and pleasure and are of use as long as you fill their needs.

The passive aggressive wants the attention and attachment that comes with loving someone but fears losing his/her independence and sense of self to his/her spouse. They want love and attention but avoid it out of fear of it destroying them. You have to be kept at arms length and if there is an emotional attachment it is tenuous at best.

The only hope for change in the way they deal with relationship issues is if they are able to acknowledge their shortcomings and contributions to the marital problems. Facing childhood wounds, looking internally instead of externally to find the cause of problems in their life will help them form deeper emotional attachments with a higher sense of emotional safety.

From the Mayo Clinic:

Passive-aggressive behavior: How can I recognize it?What are the signs and symptoms of passive-aggressive behavior?


from Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D.

Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of expressing your negative feelings in an indirect way — instead of openly addressing them.

People who are passive-aggressive appear to agree with the requests of others. They may even seem enthusiastic about them. But they don't perform a requested action on time or in a useful way, and may even work against it. In other words, they use nonverbal behavior to express anger or resentment that they can't express verbally. An example is showing up very late to a meeting that you didn't really want to attend and then making up excuses for your lateness that deflect attention from the real reason you were late.

Signs and symptoms of passive-aggressive behavior include:

Resentment and opposition to the demands of others

Complaining about feeling underappreciated or cheated




Memory lapses



Cynical attitude

Although passive-aggressive behavior can be a feature of some psychiatric disorders, it isn't considered a mental illness. Researchers are studying how to classify habitual and problematic behaviors such as passive-aggressiveness. If such behavior is troublesome or interferes with your relationships or daily activities, consult a therapist who can help you identify and change the behavior.

Side note!! I was looking at other articles and was reading one about Anger Managerment (since I do get pretty damn Angry sometimes!! and the the hubby has said I have anger issues, but here is a paragraph that is relating the anger to Passive Aggressive)

"Suppression. This is an attempt to hold in or ignore your anger. You may think you shouldn't be angry or that you'll lose control if you let yourself feel any anger. The danger in this passive approach is that you may not protect yourself when the need arises. You may also become passive-aggressive, where you don't express your anger assertively or directly but scheme to retaliate because you haven't learned how to express anger constructively. "

"Can anger harm your health?

There is some evidence that inappropriately expressing anger can be harmful to your health. Whether you're overly passive and keep your anger pent up, whether you're prone to violent outbursts, or whether you're quietly seething with rage, you may have headaches, sleep difficulties, high blood pressure or digestive problems. There's even some evidence that stress and hostility related to anger can lead to heart attacks. "

So, yeah - WOW - I learned more than I thought I would! I mean, its kinda freaky and I think I need to read it a few more times to really get that deeper understanding...just because it is so broad of a subject and how it can be related to other issues or a stand alone.


  1. augh.. I had no idea how passive aggressive I am. :( Boo, depressing.

  2. Yeah, well it could be worse!!

    I'm not sure if you remember the G.I. Joe cartoons - but they used to always say "Knowing is half the battle"