We’re all guilty of being a little passive-aggressive sometimes. It’s hard for many of us to be upfront about what’s bothering us! And so, we resort to other, sneakier ways of getting back at the people who we feel wronged us. Passive-aggression can be tricky. It is shrouded in politeness; it’s also intentionally ambiguous.

Sometimes its hard for even one’s self to know that we are being passive-aggressive. But are our actions a little meaner than we might make them out to be? Do you know anyone that isn’t outright insulting to you, but rubs you the wrong way at times? Psych2Go readers, this is the article for you.

Here are 5 signs of passive-aggression, and the ways you can overcome them.

Silent Treatment

This is perhaps the most infamous hallmark of passive-aggression. Instead of confronting their grievances head-on, passive-aggressive people would rather let you feel their anger by way of neglect.

Do you know anyone who won’t respond to texts or return phone calls even though they’re generally pretty diligent otherwise? Does it take you a couple of attempts to get a response from them when you’re asking them questions? You’re probably dealing with someone who has a problem with you. Passive-aggressive people also tend to respond to questions and statements with blunt, brief answers. “How was your day?” … Fine.

My suggestion? Fight fire with fire! Often times, just asking a passive-aggressive person what their problem is just leads to denial on their part. Get the message across that you understand that they are frustrated with you. Let them know you won’t go out of your way to bother them, and that you’re ready to talk when they are.

Subtle Insults

Passive-aggressive people don’t call you names to your face. They’re too afraid of immediate conflict to do so. It’s much easier to backtrack on their words when the insults are a little more underhanded.

Passive-aggressive people are more inclined to say things like “Your hair actually looks good for once”, or “wow, don’t you have some interesting opinions”. Comments like this aren’t as obviously offensive, but they can still pack a punch to your feelings, leaving you unsure as to whether or not they meant any offense.

Insults like this are easily deniable, so the best way to handle subtle jabs is to ignore them. Passive-aggressive people seek emotional reactions for their satisfaction; so don’t give it to them. Ignore their attempts to bring you down. The more you remain unaffected, the sooner they’ll explode and tell you what’s really bugging them.

Procrastinating on Purpose

I know all of you at one time or another have asked someone you knew for a favor, only to have them respond with “in a minute”. What are they doing? Sitting around doing nothing. It’s not that helping you with the dishes is taking up their oh-so-valuable time. The real need to procrastinate is to get under your skin.

This is a power move that passive-aggressive people use to show you that you need them and that you must adhere to their schedules. Holding off on helping you is a sign that they see your time as invaluable or lesser.

Are they not getting off their butts after telling you they’d drive you to the mall? Take the bus! Let them know that healthy relationships aren’t based on power imbalances, and you are your own person.

Sabotage

This might sound a little more sinister than it seems. But let me tell you a little story to illustrate what I mean. I spent a day shopping with a friend of mine. We had initially planned to have a sleepover at my place when we were done. Unfortunately, her and I got into a little argument. I thought we had moved past it, so I drove us back home. As soon as I park in my driveway, she turns to me and says: “I actually want to go home. I have to work early tomorrow.” I asked her why she didn’t just tell me that before I drove all the way back to my place… she only shrugged. I drove her home.

Isn’t it a little suspicious that your study partner chose the night before your quiz to remind you about it? Or that your roommate dug into your ice cream even though you clearly put a label on the tub? Yes, we get the message loud and clear. You’re mad. But it doesn’t make actions like these immature.

This one’s a little harder to deal with. It’s hard to pretend that these things aren’t a bother. Don’t accuse them or try to give evidence that what they did was malicious; you’re only giving them fuel to deny their aggression. Besides, they know what they did. Let them know how the situation made you feel, and what you feel could have been done to make the situation a better one for everyone.

Keeping Score

A healthy relationship does not consist of keeping count of mistakes and wrongdoings. But a passive-aggressive person might just use the day you couldn’t attend their house-warming party as an excuse to skip out on your birthday. Passive-aggressive people may even decide to stop sending future invites your way after you had to call in sick from your R.S.V.P.

Stuck in a situation like this with a passive-aggressive friend? Take the time to remind them that they are not perfect, and you have not been tallying their mistakes. Healthy relationships come from understanding and forgiveness.

What Can You Do?

Do any of these points sound like strong descriptions of you, dear reader? It’s hard to admit that we can be a little petty at times. But the real culprit of passive-aggression is directness, or a lack thereof. It is important to take the time to realize why it is so difficult for you to be more direct. Seeking help from a therapist or counselor is always a good start, but if you don’t have access to one, here’s an exercise for you.

Feeling angry or upset at the end of your day? Keep a journal. Take out a notebook and a pen, and jot down all the reasons you are feeling animosity towards the person you may have been not so nice to. Then ask yourself these questions:

– Are these important enough reasons for me to be mad?

– If I don’t say something about these reasons, will I continue to be upset/be upset again under similar circumstances?

If the answers are yes, take some time to write about how you feel. Call the person you’re cross with, and

– Apologize for your passive-aggressive behavior

– Tell them why you were upset.

Trust me, it takes up much less emotional energy than the silent treatment.

 

What did you think of the article? Do you know anyone who might be a little passive-aggressive? Are any of these points habits you might have? Let Psych2Go know in the comments section below!

 

 

 

 

 

12 Comments

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      • Always love your articles, Alex! The mini personal stories add so much more relatability and gives me a reminder that we aren’t the first or least people to ever experience certain things!
        Thank you!

      • Always love your articles, Alex! The mini personal stories add so much more relatability and gives me a reminder that we aren’t the first or last people to ever experience certain things!
        Thank you!

  1. The term passive-aggressive is one of the most overused defensive insults against those who are simply being passive-assertive. This is a big problem for introverts who simply want to assert their position but who find openly rocking the boat too stressful. Rather than say or do nothing, the introvert will find a passive way to make their stand without any aggressive intent. The problem lies with the accuser, who, finding no way to answer back, immediately adopts an aggrieved position to elicit sympathy. The more common passive-assertivism has rarely been discussed or written about. Is this because we find accusing someone of being aggressive more self-satisfying than accepting that they are merely being rightfully assertive?

    • Hi Alan,

      This article was not meant as an insult or an attack toward introverted people who prefer not to be openly assertive. But, there is a difference between being passive-aggressive and passive-assertive. In this article, I discuss the problems with the former. Passive-assertive people state their opinions and problems while being respectful. Passive-aggressive people attack or ignore others’ opinions in favor of their own, while not stating their opinions at all.
      If this something you feel Psych2Go should dive into deeper, let us know, and we can see about getting an article name that explains these differences further.

  2. Yes Please. Just in what I read just now helped a lot. Except, I will only use what is best for me and my relationship. Im not yoir average girl. I do things differently and after 17 years Im sure its undrrstandable. And I’m not talking negative implications here. Profound Positivity.

  3. Great article
    It helped me by realizing i wasnt imagining that my ex husband iwas passive aggressive…..but that indeed he is

  4. It is really easy for people to make broad assertions about one’s actions or behavior and then label someone. But there are problems with broadly labeling people. These personality traits you list can be placed on anyone. I fear the damage you inflict on your audience and followers as they over analyze people. Many people exhibit these behaviors as survival mechanisms, learned from years of abuse. We live with PSD. We get by however we can. Labeling us does harm. Creating armchair psychiatrists can harm relationships beyond repair. I can only hope your audience takes a thoughtful approach to your writing.

    • If you’re not a fan of “armchair” anything, maybe you should find a web space where there isn’t backed and research-based writing anywhere, and spend your time there. This is an article written to inspire its reader to take a look at their own behaviour and the effects they have on others. Trauma and PTSD are not excuses for people to treat others poorly. I’d ask you to elaborate the “damage” that introspection truly inflicts, but quite honestly, given what is understood about introspective psychology, I’m not sure I’d be able to trust you. Keep your negative shit off my pages. Thanks.

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Written by Alex Nunez

I'm a content writer here at Psych2Go. I've studied psychology and criminology at the University of Toronto. My goal is to write content that educates, entertains, and inspires you!

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