Passive aggressive behavior

Passive aggressive behavior is a personality disorder by way of a person acting in an aggressive manner alternating with a non-aggressive, passive, indirect manner. There are numerous personality traits which can hide passive aggressive behavior, stubborness, sarcasm, failing to face responsibility for their actions and purporting blame to other people for their own misdemeanours.


A classic sign of passive aggressive behavior is a lack of trust in other people and the inability to form close relationships with other people. Other signs appear gradually, fears of dependency and competition are common symptoms which manifest as belittling of other people who challenge them. Withdrawing for long periods of time from people and avoiding confrontation and hoping the issue will remove itself. This is the passive side of the disorder. Aggression comes out with shouting and rage at others. Tardiness and forgetfullness is displayed as a way of damaging other people.

Photo of a boy with his fingers in his ears.

Hiding true feelings in families can also present passive aggressive behavior in children.

Reasons for Passive Aggressive Behavior

There are no known certainties about where passive aggressive behaviour stems from, but studies have shown it can begin in childhood where people have been unable to execute signs of fear or frustration. A passive aggressive person will learn from their parents how to act out their feelings and this learned behavior will manifest itself to passive aggressive behavior in adulthood. Hiding true feelings in families can also present passive aggressive behavior in children and as those children age into adults and are faced with adult situations, verbal aggression and relational aggression within their own relationships begins to show.


Cognitive behaviorial therapy has been shown to work on passive aggressive behavior. Cognitive functioning is a major player in the disorder and re-educating behaviors and thinking patterns can have a positive effect on the sufferer. Recognising the signs of their own behaviors is a starting point and the sufferer can engineer their thought process to deliver less passive behaviour and less aggressive behavior to bring a more assertive, communicative person who is able to get their own feelings out without causing chaos for other people.

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