Passive-aggressive behavior: its 10 characteristics

Aggression is a basic trait in many animals that inhabit the earth. The most common is that it is a range of acts motivated by fear and / or anger, but other realities may also be involved, the end being linked to survival itself (such as sexual domination, territoriality, etc.).

It is therefore a phenomenon which is generally projected outside and which becomes very evident the moment it is expressed. It causes objective physical harm to others or has a dissuasive intention vis-à-vis situations interpreted in a hostile or dangerous manner (gestures, intentions, threats, etc.).

In humans, however, aggression can take much more subtle forms, which go undetected as quickly and the aim is to cause less obvious (but just as severe) damage than has been noted up to present.

In these cases we are talking about the passive-aggressive behavior, a phenomenon that uses our cognitive skills and abilities to protect hostile social acts the consequences painfully affect emotional life. In this article, we will discuss this interesting question in detail.

    What is passive-aggressive behavior?

    Passive-aggressive behavior was seen a few years ago as part of a structured personality disorder with its own clinical entity. Despite this, in the post-third editions of the DSM, he was ruled out to avoid the possible overdiagnosis that seemed to precipitate. From that moment until today has been considered a trait that accompanies group B personality psychopathologies (Mostly the narcissist, the borderline, and the anti-social), although they don’t always show up together.

    These are behaviors of a non-verbal nature, even if sometimes they can also take the weight of explicit words, or carriers of a sordid anger and hidden behind the mask of their fragile fiction.

    So even silences can express a sharp cut or become the weapon with which to hollow emotional wounds. Anger rises as the most common internal state, although one chooses not to reveal it to others, thus resulting in a form of psychological abuse that seriously harms loved ones and erodes the quality of the bond.

    Passive-aggressive behavior does not aspire to conflict resolution, but aims the ambiguous expression of emotions and the production of a silent grievance. However, it could only be considered as truly pathological once it was consolidated as the most common social dynamic in interpersonal relationships. Let’s see, in more detail, what it is.

    Most important characteristics of passive-aggressive behavior

    Here are some of the basic characteristics of passive-aggressive personalities. Not all individuals who show this fully comply, but a model is usually presented that combines them in a particular way for each case.

    1. Passive resistance and ambiguity

    It is common for the passive-aggressive attitude to work with what is called passive resistance.. In this case, the person would fully agree with what they are suggesting, and might even gladly accept such requests for help, but later act as if they really object. He may dismiss the corresponding responsibility or proceed in a deliberately awkward manner, so that the end result becomes insufficient or counterproductive. In this way, he would show his disagreement with the initial request made to him, but without communicating it openly.

    This ambiguity has an intentional character and seeks to drag the other into a terrain where there is unpredictability or an absolute lack of control, spreading an opaque veil over true intentions. This is why complaints about this situation are prone to a twisted retort, as the passive-aggressive subject resorts to disengaging himself from responsibility with excuses such as, “I tried with all my might, but it didn’t. could not be. ”.

    2. Feeling of incomprehension and lack of esteem

    People who frequently display passive-aggressive behavior often make constant statements about feeling misunderstood by others, or use all kinds of emotional blackmail to get the benefit they seek. Among them, it is common to accuse others of lack of affection, or to make expensive comparisons in which others are involved, such as “you treat everyone but me well” or “why don’t you love me.” you more? ” . With this attitude, toxic and intentional, they seek to manipulate the affection of the interlocutor.

    Those who are the subject of these practices may end up feeling guilty for things for which they have no responsibility whatsoever, which suffers from their own self-esteem (until they understand the true motives of the other and relativize their effect).


      Rudeness is a central characteristic of passive-aggressive people. It comes across as a harsh, rude, and callous attitude that unfolds to perceive upheaval in their interactions with others. The common thing is that they shoot a critic, and their purpose is to create an awkward atmosphere in which a “turn of events” is caused which either benefits them or reverses the burden of the “accusations”. In other words, he seeks to recognize that others have overreacted by expressing their displeasure.

      As you get along with these people, and especially if the closeness began in childhood, it is very likely that the ability to interact assertively is reduced. defended while respecting their rights). Others).

      4. Contempt for authority

      Passive-aggressive subjects they have enormous difficulty in recognizing the authority of others, Because they find it very difficult to tolerate the imposition of different rules on those who choose them for themselves and for others. This trait is worsened in adolescence, an evolutionary stage in which there is often an opposing response (reactance) to hierarchies and power, although in this case it remains with the same intensity into adulthood. Thus, they do not distinguish well the respect of the rules of the common life and the homage to the oppression.

      It is very common for this way of feeling and acting to report problems of very different natures, ranging from maladaptation to the context of professional or university life to the risk of sanctions for disobedience to legitimate figures of authority.

      5. Envy

      Envy is also a common trait for the hypothesis in question, and it interacts very closely with others of those described in this list. Although they can congratulate others on their successes and be full of knowing them, they harbor in them a negative emotion because of it (and in particular of not being able to grasp or regard them as proper). Sometimes, they come to downplay the relevance of these extraterrestrial merits and emphasize previous failures, Or even risks that could be diluted or unsuccessful in the future.

      They may also accuse others that success is due to external factors, unrelated to their efforts and abilities. For example, they often emphasize the contribution of chance, luck or the very requirement of the task (“it was very easy”).

      6. Complaints of bad luck

      The plaintive / pessimistic tendency is common in people with a passive-aggressive attitude. An attitude characterized by self-condescension and the desire that others have pity on them, for which they do not hesitate to proclaim all the misfortune that has happened to them as the root of what we can blame them for. They often make others believe their failures were caused by external factors, such as fate or fortune, and even accuse others of boycotting their efforts to achieve what they resisted.

      like that, they rarely admit their mistakes, Although they care to showcase those of others. This is why they often say of themselves that they are sincere people, even if they neglect (or degrade) all the good that their fellow human beings have or do.

        7. Oscillation between provocative attitude and repentance

        Although the attitude in front of us is usually characterized by an expression of veiled violence, sometimes those who show it are connected in a reasoned and belligerent way (as if they enjoy navigating an environment clouded by conflict).

        They often strive to push their loved ones into sterile wars, which they unmistakably animate through harmful comments and leaking secrets entrusted to them (“I’ll tell you something, but don’t say I am. have mentioned for you “). Over time, they are generally seen as “nothing can be explained” to..

        The very moment the rage of the conflict is resolved, and the people involved analyze the reason for it, they may end up allying themselves against the passive-aggressive person who motivated such a hostile situation. When asked for explanations, it is more common for them to respond by denying all the facts and generating alternate versions (which include the lie). Finally, when placed in a scenario from which he has no escape, he chooses to pray for forgiveness and to arouse feelings of pity.

        8.self-sabotage of work you don’t want to do

        A very common thing, intimately associated with the passive-aggressive trait, is the sabotage of all activities that meet external demand. In such cases, when we ask for something that is not really wanted, an attitude of obstruction arises which despairs the complainant. Forgetting, slowness, bad collaboration and even PROCRASTINATION; they are deliberate responses which seek to motivate a succinct form of aggression: obstacles to work / academic responsibilities, delays in shared projects, etc.

        At other times, what the subject hears is generating a prejudice that frees him from any responsibility for the future, because he would no longer trust him and could devote his time to activities that interest him.

        9. Protest that other people make excessive demands and tend to argue too much

        To escape their responsibilities, they sometimes go so far as to accuse others of asking for too much work, to the point of going beyond their means of survival. for that they can report that they feel “stressed” by the activities that have been assigned to them, Although there is no reasonable evidence for this complaint. When they delve deeper into the reasons for these negatives, they allude to a series of unraveled arguments, after which the reality is hidden: exerting a form of covert aggression (depriving them of the help they need or stimulating addiction ).

        10. Obstruction of the efforts of others

        In addition to not participating in articulated efforts to achieve a common goal, passive-aggressive people may engage in violence, making it difficult for others to be successful in their own tasks.

        All of this could be accomplished through direct (but subtle) “actions” or through attacks on the emotional waterline. (Discourage, sow insecurity, increase the demands of a task, promote events that hinder the dedication of effort or time required, etc.).

        The purpose of all of this would be to prevent the success of others, to generate veiled harm and even to stimulate an unhappy situation in which the object of their latent aggression finds itself.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Hopwood, C. and Wright, A. (2012). A comparison of passive-aggressive and negative personality disorders. Journal of Personality Assessment, 94 (3), 296-303.
        • Kaplan, R. and Norton, D. (2005). Passive-aggressive organization. Harvard Business Review, 83 (10), 82-92.

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