- Passive aggression is a way of expressing negative emotions in indirect ways.
- Passive aggression involves a series of verbal, non-verbal, and evasive techniques that indicate discontent without ever saying it.
- Passive aggression can include denial, distortion, cruelty, and silence.
Passive aggression is a way of expressing negative feelings in indirect rather than direct ways. Instead of having open, honest conversations about how they feel wronged, the individual may use hints, silence, denial, and other subtle tactics to communicate their discontent. Here are 18 of the most common signs of passive aggression:
1. Denies anger while enacting it indirectly
A passive-aggressive person may deny that they feel angry to avoid a direct confrontation and uncomfortable feelings.
2. Hints instead of stating need or complaint directly
A passive-aggressive person is a master of hinting at their feelings without expressing them directly. They may reference an earlier incident without stating their feelings about it or speak about a similar situation and how they feel about that incident instead.
3. Sulks, sighs, and pouts
A passive-aggressive person will sometimes verbally and visually express their discontent in ways that clearly indicate their unhappiness, as with sighing, pouting, or sulking, but fail to actually address it in meaningful ways.
4. Has a sullen attitude
A passive-aggressive person may act sullenly in place of direct confrontation. This tactic typically co-occurs with denial that anything is wrong.
5. Fails to follow through or uses intentional inefficiency
A passive-aggressive person may express their discontent by procrastinating and failing to follow through with requested tasks as a form of silent resistance against something they feel unhappy about. Again, this is often paired with denial that the behavior is taking place.
6. Complains about feeling wronged and underappreciated
A passive-aggressive person, while struggling to address a particular situation directly, may express that they frequently feel wronged, underappreciated, and undervalued. When pushed for examples, they will likely turn to other tactics so as not to get into direct confrontation about a particular incident.
7. Scorekeeps silently
A passive-aggressive person may never address their issues, but they will likely tally and keep track of times that they have felt wronged by others. This silent scorekeeping justifies the subtle, passive behaviors that they enact.
8. Gives backhanded compliments
A passive-aggressive person may give backhanded compliments as a way to hurt the other person under the guise of maintaining an amicable connection.
9. Acts out aggression physically
A passive-aggressive person may slam doors, move things around loudly, or use other physical means of getting their point across without words.
10. Uses the silent treatment
A passive-aggressive person may decide to punish another person by shutting down all communication instead of addressing the issue directly.
11. Insists the conflict is resolved without letting it go
A passive-aggressive person will struggle to move through conflict maturely because it is never actually addressed. Nevertheless, they may claim that everything is fine while harboring resentment and frustration.
12. Feels they are doing everybody a favor
Some passive-aggressive people see their behavior as a mature approach to conflict resolution. In their eyes, conflict is to be avoided at all costs and they are taking one for the team by avoiding it, even if their discontent emerges in other ways.
13. Resents those who want to have a direct conversation
A passive-aggressive person may resent those who want to have a direct conversation when they themselves are willing to “let things go.” They may have learned growing up that conflict is scary, unpredictable, or immature and that emotions are meant to be swallowed.
14. Sabotages others
A passive-aggressive person may act out by sabotaging a loved one, by doing things like inviting a budget-conscious friend out for an expensive meal or planning an event at a time that is knowingly difficult for the other person.
15. Insists that others are simply misunderstanding them
A passive-aggressive person may deflect possible direct conflict by insisting that the other person is simply misunderstanding their words and that that is their responsibility.
16. Distances from the person without saying why
A passive-aggressive person may decide to move away emotionally from a person without ever addressing the underlying reasons that led to their unhappiness. Their silence may baffle or hurt their friend. Attempts to directly repair the relationship may be met with deflection or denial that they are distancing at all.
17. Talks to uninvolved parties about what’s wrong
A passive-aggressive person may find comfort in addressing their concerns with a third party whom they can vent to as a means of letting off steam without ever having to address the issue directly.
18. Create an eggshell situation
A passive-aggressive person often makes others feel the need to walk on eggshells around them for fear of setting them off. This fear may be compounded by helplessness to get out of the cycle and resentment toward the passive-aggressive person who is unwilling to speak directly.
Cycles of passive aggression in families, with couples, or between friends can be difficult to break. Why? A passive-aggressive person may see no issue with it, may not be aware of it, or may feel ill-equipped to address the issues they continue to circumvent. They may feel overwhelmed with the idea of direct conversation. But even just knowing what is happening, seeing the signs, can decrease the disorientation that passive aggression can create, giving a person more space to have that difficult, direct conversation.
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