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7 Ways to Identify a Passive-Aggressive Narcissist

These narcissists "even the score" in underhanded ways.

Key points

  • Some narcissists utilize passive-aggressive tactics as a primary way of fulfilling their selfish needs.
  • Passive-aggressive narcissists are inclined to become covertly hostile when they don’t get their way, no matter how unreasonable.
  • Blaming others for one’s own irresponsibility, negligence, or failures may be a sign of a passive-aggressive narcissist.
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“Whenever my husband feels he isn’t being catered to, he would make everything difficult, while saying there’s nothing’s wrong.” —Anonymous

“My colleague’s favorite tactic when she doesn’t get her way is to take twice as long to get anything done.” —Anonymous

“My partner deals with our relationship issues through avoidance, neglect, and blame.” —Anonymous

The Mayo Clinic research group defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

Passive aggression can be defined as anger, hostility, and/or learned helplessness in disguise, expressed in covert ways to "even the score" and gain an underhanded advantage.

While many narcissists come across as openly grandiose and outwardly intrusive, some narcissists utilize passive-aggressive tactics as a primary way of fulfilling their selfish needs or to exact “punishment” on those who fail to cater to their whims.

It’s important to note that not all passive-aggressive individuals are narcissistic. What characterizes the passive-aggressive narcissist is their barely disguised sense of superiority, conceit, and entitlement. They are inclined to become covertly hostile when they don’t get their way, no matter how unreasonable. If the world doesn’t revolve around them (like they think they deserve), they will devise many subversive schemes to make the lives of those around them miserable.

How do you know when you might be dealing with a passive-aggressive narcissist? Below are seven telltale signs, with references from my books, How to Successfully Handle Narcissists and How to Successfully Handle Passive-Aggressive People. When a passive-aggressive narcissist doesn’t get their way, they are likely to instigate one or more of the following offenses, while remaining unaware of (or unconcerned with) how their behavior impacts others.

1. Disguised Verbal Hostility

Examples: Negative gossip. Negative orientation. Habitual criticism of ideas, conditions, and expectations. Addressing an adult like a child. Invalidation of others’ experiences and feelings.

Possible Intention(s): Putting others down to feel dominant and superior. Causing others to feel inadequate and insecure to relieve one’s own sense of deficiency. Seeking a false sense of importance by being persistently critical. Consciously or unconsciously spreading one’s own unhappiness (misery loves company). Competing for power and control in a relationship.

2. Disguised Hostile Humor

Examples: Sarcasm. Veiled hostile joking — often followed by "just kidding." Repetitive teasing. Subtle “digs” at one’s appearance, gender, socio-cultural background, credentials, behavior, decisions, social relations, etc.

Possible Intention(s): Expressing hidden anger, disapproval, or rejection towards an individual. Showing disdain towards an individual for what she or he represents. Using humor as a weapon in an attempt to marginalize another's humanity, dignity, and credibility.

3. Disguised Relational Hostility

Examples: The silent treatment. The invisible treatment. Social exclusion. Neglect. Sullen resentment. Indirectly hurting something or someone of importance to the targeted person.

Possible Intention(s): Expressing anger or resentment. Enacting covert punishment. Purposely creating a negative and disconcerting environment. Putting the targeted recipient off balance. Attempting to create insecurity.

4. Blaming

It’s your fault that I forgot because you didn’t remind me.” —Anonymous

Examples: Blaming others for one’s own irresponsibility, negligence, or failures. Blaming others for one’s own unwillingness to follow reasonable rules, social norms, or professional conduct.

Possible Intention(s): Distortion and deception of the truth. Avoiding responsibility. Manipulating the facts of the issue. Distorting perception for easier persuasion and control. Guilt-baiting. Gaslighting. Misdirecting to take the focus off of the real issue.

5. Stalling

Examples: Procrastination. Forgetting. Stonewalling. Withholding resources or information. Unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape. Excuse making. Broken agreements. Lack of follow through.

Possible Intention(s): Avoiding responsibility, duty, and obligations. Maintaining power and control by imposing many hoops to jump through. Making life more difficult for others through passive competitiveness. Purposely blocking others’ success. Being jealous of others’ success.

6. Covert Resistance

Examples: Stubbornness. Rigidity. Inefficiency, complication, incompletion, or ruination of a task.

Possible Intention(s): Power struggle. Passive combativeness. “Victory” is gained from the frustrated efforts and negative emotions of the recipient.

7. Underhanded Sabotage

Examples: Purposely undermining tasks, projects, activities, deadlines, or agreements. Causing harm or loss materially. Overspending. Wrecking positive chemistry interpersonally, socially, or professionally. Deliberately disclosing harmful information. Deliberately obstructing communication and endeavors.

Possible Intention(s): Covertly expressing anger, hostility, and resentment towards an individual, group, or organization. Channeling unspoken gripes or unresolved past issues. Personal, social, or professional jealousy. Subtly administering punishment or revenge.

Can a passive-aggressive narcissist change for the better? Perhaps. But only if he or she is highly aware and willing to go through the courageous process of self-discovery. For passive-aggressive narcissists no longer willing to play the charade at the cost of genuine relationships and credibility, there are ways to liberate from falsehood, and progressively move toward one’s Higher Self. For those who live or work with passive-aggressive narcissists, perceptive awareness and assertive communication are musts for establishing healthy and mutually respectful relationships. See references below.

Facebook Image Credit: Garetsworkshop/Shutterstock

© 2018 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.


Ni, Preston. How to Successfully Handle Narcissists. PNCC. (2014)

Ni, Preston. A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self. PNCC. (2015)

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)

Bursten, Ben. The Manipulative Personality. Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol 26 No 4. (1972)

Buss DM, Gomes M, Higgins DS, Lauterback K. Tactics of Manipulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 52 No 6 (1987)

Johnson, S. Humanizing the Narcissistic Style. W. W. Norton & Company. (1987)

Mayo Clinic Staff. Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Symptoms. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2016)

Ornstein, Paul (ed). The Search for the Self. Selected Writings of Heinz Kohut: 1950-1978. Volume 2. International University Press. (1978)

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