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6 Traits of the Passive-Aggressive Man

What causes male passive-aggressiveness?

Key points

  • Passive-aggression can be characterized as covert anger, hostility, or learned helplessness.
  • Passive-aggressive men are often expected to fulfill supposed traditional male roles, but unable or unwilling to do so.
  • Chronic passive-aggression can exact a heavy price on creditably and relationships.
Phovoir/Shutterstock
Source: Phovoir/Shutterstock

The Mayo Clinic defines passive-aggressive behavior as "a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. There's a disconnect between what a passive-aggressive person says and what he or she does.” Passive-aggression can also be characterized as anger, hostility, and/or learned helplessness in disguise, expressed in a covert, underhanded way to "even the score," and with the hope of "getting away with it."

According to a recent research published in the Journal of Physics: Conference Series:

  • 30.19 percent of men and 31.92 percent of women surveyed answered “agree” to the question “I would rather keep my anger to myself than confront a person about an issue.”
  • 20.75 percent of men and 14.89 percent of women surveyed answered “agree” to the question “I use a lot of sarcasm.”

Although every research has limitations, the study above serves as a jumping-off point for exploration. This article will focus on the characteristics of passive-aggressive males.

Passive-aggressive men are often (but not always) distinguished by the fact that they are expected to fulfill the supposedly traditional roles of males (i.e. powerful, successful, independent, aggressive, in control) on the one hand, but unable or unwilling to do so in relation to strong social systems in their lives (i.e. parent, partner, work) on the other. Inhibited to express themselves fully and yet needing to validate perceived male gender expectations, some men resort to passive-aggressiveness in an attempt to gain power and control.

Of course, there may be other reasons for passive-aggressiveness, and women can certainly be passive-aggressive as well, but what often characterizes male passive-aggression is the covert dimension of fulfilling supposed male gender roles. It is ironic, therefore, that chronic passive-aggressiveness actually indicates a sense of powerlessness at being able to speak up effectively and solve problems capably.

What are some of the most common traits of passive-aggressive men? Here are six key signs, with references from my books How to Successfully Handle Passive-Aggressive People and A Practical Guide for Passive-Aggressives to Change Towards the Higher Self. While some people may exhibit the characteristics below on occasion, which might not be a major issue, a pathologically passive-aggressive individual will regularly resort to one or more of the following machinations, without awareness of (or concern for) the negative impact passive-aggression has on relationships.

Brooding Silence / Simmering Resentment

One of the most common forms of male passive-aggression is what may be termed “brooding silence” and “simmering resentment”. The passive-aggressive individual is averse to what he perceives as another person’s attempt to “tell him what to do” or “control his life,” but feels unable to directly respond. Instead of verbalizing dissatisfaction, the passive-aggressive man stews in resentment and resorts to covert means of leveraging aggression, resistance, and control. Keeping silent also falsely enables (no matter how ineffectively) the passive-aggressor to dodge conflicts and avoid responsibility.

False Promises / Procrastination

An easy way to act passive-aggressively (from the perspective of the passive-aggressor) is to say one thing but do another, or simply not follow through. By falsely agreeing to a task, the passive-aggressor gets the immediate pressure off his back, and through deliberate procrastination and delays hopes the issue will be overlooked (and he will not be asked again). Time is leveraged as a form of manipulation and control. The passive-aggressor also experiences twisted covert power by frustrating and exasperating others with his lack of accountability.

Excuse-Making

In order to justify the lack of responsibility and follow-through, the passive-aggressor will frequently come up with any number of excuses (real or invented) to explain away his failures. By doing so, he shifts the focus of the issue away from himself. Significantly, excuses are made without the passive-aggressor proposing solutions to resolve the problem.

Blame-Shifting / Victimhood

Related to excuse-making, another passive-aggressive tactic is to blame others for one’s own shortcomings—it’s always someone else’s fault. Blame can also be combined with victimhood with statements such as “there’s nothing I can do” or “it’s beyond my control.” Responsibility is conveniently dismissed with a shrug.

Negative Humor / Cutting Sarcasm

Men often joke and tease as means of interacting, which can be positive if conveyed constructively. Passive-aggressive men, however, may use negative humor as a means of putting others down to gain psychological advantage. Sarcasm, in particular, may be utilized as an insidious way of expressing judgement, contempt, condemnation, or belittlement. When confronted about the negative humor, the passive-aggressor can easily backtrack, claim innocence, and say “I’m just kidding” or “can’t you take a joke?” Such is the underhandedness of passive-aggression.

When repeated regularly in a relationship, negative humor and cutting sarcasm constitute a form of bullying and abuse.

Deliberate Obstruction / Hidden Sabotage

One of the most destructive forms of passive-aggression is outwardly agreeing to cooperate, but surreptitiously sabotage a joint effort. Possible reasons for deliberate obstruction are many, inducing bitterness, revenge, jealousy, wanting someone to look bad, desiring individual or group failure, delivering poor performance to lower expectation, instigating a malevolent power play, or keeping others off-balance and in despair. Regardless of the reason, deliberate obstruction and sabotage is one of the most toxic means of passive-aggression—it is a form of betrayal. As with any chronic acts of passive-aggressiveness, it is a character issue which often exacts a heavy price on the passive-aggressor’s creditably and relationships.

For tips on how to handle passive-aggressive people, and how passive-aggressive individuals can change for the better, see references below.

© 2021 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.

References

Ni, Preston. How to Successfully Handle Passive-Aggressive People. PNCC. (2014)

Ni, Preston. A Practical Guide for Passive-Aggressives to Change Towards the Higher Self. PNCC. (2016)

Ni, Preston. How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People — 2nd Edition. PNCC. (2006)

DiGiuseppe, R., & Tafrate, R. C. Anger Disorders Scale: Manual. Multi Health Systems. (2003).

Dittmann, Melissa. Anger Across the Gender Divide. American Psychological Association. (2003)

The Mayo Clinic. What is passive-aggressive behavior?

mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/passive-aggressive-behavior/faq-20057901

Ramachandiran, Chandra Reka and Mahmud, Malissa Maria. Theorizing Communicative Styles on Social Media: An Etymological Shift. Journal of Physics: Conference Series. (2019)

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