Passive Aggressive Diaries

Understanding passive aggressive behavior in families, schools, and workplaces

The Five Levels of Passive Aggressive Behavior

Procrastinator? Excuse maker? What kind of passive aggressive are you?

In The Angry Smile, we define five distinct and increasingly pathological levels of passive aggression:

Level 1: Temporary Compliance, in which the passive aggressive person verbally complies with a request, but behaviorally delays acting on it. Temporary compliance is the most common form of passive aggressive behavior and sounds something like, "I'm cooooooming!"

Level 2: Intentional Inefficiency, in which the passive aggressive person complies with a request, but carries it out in an unacceptable manner. Intentional Inefficiency looks something like my husband unloading the dishwaser by putting everything out on the counter and claiming, "I wasn't sure where these went!"

Level 3: Letting a Problem Escalate, in which the passive aggressive person uses inaction to allow a forseeable problem to escalate and takes pleasure in the resulting anguish. Passive aggressive kids are at this level when they return a car with an empty gas tank, even when they know their parent will be late for work if they have to stop for gas.

Level 4: Hidden but Conscious Revenge, in which the passive aggressive person makes a deliberate decision--and takes hidden action--to get back at someone. This more serious level could involve stealing field trip money from the purse of a teacher who they feel has mistreated them, sabotaging the presentation of a colleague who they feel was unfairly promoted over them, or slashing the tires of a resented step-father's car.

Level 5: Self-depreciation, in which a passive aggressive person goes to self-destructive lengths to seek vengeance. From the teenager who dyes his hair blue before a college interview to the girl who starves herself to get back at her demanding father, this level is the most pathological...and usually not great fodder for "funny" stories.


In The Angry Smile, we document passive aggressive behaviors at each level, across home, school, relationship & workplace settings.

What examples do you have of passive aggression at these levels?   We welcome your stories below in the Comments section.

 

Signe Whitson is a licensed social worker and co-author of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, 2nd ed.

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