Passive-aggressiveness is a pattern of behavior in which a person indirectly expresses negative emotions instead of directly confronting or addressing them.
Examples of passive-aggressive ways of showing anger and resentment include backhanded compliments, snide remarks, sulking, or subtle complaints about being underappreciated.
What are signs of passive-aggressive behavior?
Signs of passive-aggressive behavior include:
- Resentment and opposition to the demands of others, especially people in positions of authority (bosses, team leads, etc.)
- Cynical, sullen, or hostile attitude
- Frequent complaints about facing injustice or feeling cheated
- Resistance to cooperation
- Sarcastic or argumentative attitude
- Intentional mistakes at work or school
Is passive-aggressive behavior a sign of a mental disorder?
Although passive-aggressive behavior is a dysfunctional behavior pattern, it is not considered a mental illness. It may, however, be seen in people with mental health issues such as:
- Narcissistic personality disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Eating disorders
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Substance abuse
What causes passive-aggressive behavior?
Many psychotherapists believe that passive-aggressive behavior is a defense mechanism to conceal pain. It protects the ego of the affected person from emotional disturbance (fear) and instinctive urges (active aggression) in response to a stressor (an event that triggers stress).
This behavior pattern is an immature defense mechanism often associated with childhood trauma or neglect. Individuals who exhibit this behavior often come from dysfunctional families or have faced emotional or physical abuse where they learned to repress their emotions as a child. Others pick up this behavior as adults because it helps them get what they want or avoid confrontation.
How do you deal with a passive-aggressive person?
Unfortunately, passive-aggressive behavior is common and difficult to avoid. One way to deal with someone who is exhibiting this type of behavior is to keep your anger in check and point out their feelings in a way that is non-judgmental but clear and factual.
Avoid getting into arguments. While a person may deny that they are angry, it may be a good idea to step back and allow them time to work through their feelings.
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