Passive Aggressive behaviour can be described as a pattern of behaviour where negative feelings such as anger, frustration and hostility are expressed indirectly instead of being openly addressed. Passive aggression is also known as negativistic personality disorder. However, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual no longer uses this label. This type of behaviour is not a mental health condition in itself but is commonly practised by people who have particular mental health conditions such as narcissistic personality disorder, anxiety disorders, and ADHD. It should be noted that not all people who practice this behaviour are narcissistic.

Someone who acts in a passive aggressive manner may be resentful, their anger bubbling below the surface but instead of being direct about their feelings, they act agreeably and friendly to your face but show you in other ways how they are really feeling. It’s certainly not a healthy form of communication and may be quite difficult to deal with. It tends to be a rather insidious, manipulative type of behaviour designed to get the target of their aggression to act or behave in a certain way.

Examples of passive aggressive behaviour…

  • A back handed compliment
  • Huffing
  • Slamming doors
  • Indirectly refusing to do what you have asked
  • Deliberately being inefficient
  • Withholding important information in the workplace

If you ask someone who is acting passive aggressively what is wrong, they will likely deny that there is anything wrong with them when it is quite obvious that there is. For some reason or another they will refuse to discuss their concerns frankly and honestly. It is perhaps best not to react to this type of behaviour. They will be looking for a reaction from you and it’s best not to give them the reaction that they are looking for.

Passive aggressive behaviour undoubtedly sabotages relationships, both personal and professional.
When things don’t go their way, some toxic individuals will resort to the silent treatment in order to express their displeasure or contempt. Passive aggressive behaviour may go unnoticed by those not directly targeted. Ignoring their target, avoiding eye contact with them, not speaking to them but speaking to everyone else is common practice. Don’t think that because an individual hasn’t treated you in a passive aggressive manner, they won’t do it to someone else.

Passive aggression is considered to be a controlling behaviour practised by people who are trying to avoid direct conflict. Some may think that people who display this type of behaviour have not felt safe in expressing their feelings in the past or have learned these patterns from care givers. Some believe it stems from insecurity, underlying rage or depression. Whatever the cause of this unacceptable behaviour, confronting them or showing your own anger rarely results in a positive change, but is more likely to result in them continuing to behave in the same way. However, if you don’t consider the perpetrator to be a toxic individual but insecure, then letting them know that you value their views, can be helpful to all sides.

If the person practicing this behaviour is toxic, hold them accountable and call them out on their bad behaviour. If you haven’t done anything to warrant this sulky, childlike behaviour, don’t apologise. Don’t fall into the trap of acting like them or giving them their desired result of you losing your temper. Practice the pause. Keep calm before you respond if you respond at all. In some cases, the best response may be none at all and limiting the amount of time you spend with this individual. If the relationship is a personal one and this behaviour has become the norm, it may be best to cut this person out of your life completely, not to cause them harm but to limit the harm directed towards you and protect yourself.

Written by
Anne McCrea

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