You may have heard of passive-aggressive behaviour, but maybe you don’t know exactly what it means. In this article, we examine what its characteristics are, and how to deal with people who exhibit this type of behaviour.

Most of the time, we need to be very tactful when interacting with passive-aggressive people. Here are some important tips.

What is passive-aggressive behaviour and how does it show itself?

Passive-aggressive behaviour has its origin in a person’s inability to express their anger or dissatisfaction in a healthy, direct, and open way. They repress their feelings so much that they may not even realise they are upset. Someone who is passive-aggressive is characterized by a discrepancy between what they say and what they do. For example, when making a decision, they seem to agree with it, but after that, they express their dissatisfaction by not respecting the decision that was taken.

Often, a passive-aggressive person has an attitude of hostility and a disregard for authority, which they do not express directly, but mutter under their breath. They tend to mumble, always have a different opinion than the one they express out loud, they don’t trust those around them, and they are unhelpful and negative. Passive-aggressive behaviour can show up differently in different cases, but it is all based on a fear of conflict and a desire to avoid it, as well as feelings of helplessness, points out Psychology Today.

What are the characteristics of a passive-aggressive person?

In addition to those described above, a passive-aggressive person is distinguished by disinterest or even contempt when making decisions. Intentional avoidance of responsibility is also a characteristic sign of passive-aggressive behaviour, which manifests itself either by procrastination (intentionally and unnecessarily) or by deliberate forgetfulness.

Nagging, irritability and quarrelling, and frequent and unreasonable protests, are other features of this type of behaviour. When asked for something, the passive-aggressive person tends to refuse, protest, or to argue the futility or absurdity of what is asked of them.

What are the causes of passive-aggressive behaviour?

Some psychologists claim that such behaviours have their origin in the subject’s childhood. Parents who have not shown enough parental warmth can cause their children to be unable to express their anger towards their parents at some point. They then accumulate frustrations, and when they become adults, they tend to develop passive-aggressive behaviours.

Andrea Brandt, a therapist, claims that this type of behaviour is related to the way in which passive-aggressive people were raised. For example, those who grew up in families where one parent was dominant and the other submissive are very likely to develop this type of behaviour. They learn that strong, dominant people cannot be approached directly, but they can be lied to, or have certain things hidden from them in order to get what you want from them, notes Huffington Post.

How do we interact with such people?

First of all, passive-aggressive behaviour must be identified. Once detected, you must avoid the mistake of being indulgent or tolerant of such behaviours, because this way, any chance of correcting it is lost. If the passive-aggressive person is not accepted or their behaviours tolerated, they will probably understand that they don’t have the right attitude.

Secondly, boundaries need to be set. The passive-aggressive person must know that they cannot behave badly and expect everyone else to treat them as if nothing has happened.

A third essential skill in approaching passive-aggressive people is communication. Criticism is not a solution, but assertive communication is. Lange and Jacubowski (1976) argued that “assertiveness involves personal rights and expressing thoughts, feelings and beliefs directly, honestly and appropriately, without violating the
rights of others”.

An assertive communication style involves giving importance to the opinions and interests of those involved in the conversation, knowing how to listen, not making accusations, and displaying an accord between the verbal message that is transmitted and one’s facial expressions and gestures. If you show the passive-aggressive person that they can trust you, that you want to work with them to solve the problem, and that you take their feelings and opinions into account even if you don’t agree with them, then you are being assertive, and the interaction can have positive results.

If those who interact with passive-aggressive people do so properly, they may help them understand how much their behaviour affects those around them. Of course, the desire for change, and change itself, comes from within and depends on those involved, but family and friends can play the role of therapist quite effectively if they want to help correct the inappropriate behaviour of a passive-aggressive loved one.