What Does It Really Mean to be Passive-Aggressive?

Passive-Aggressive: What Does It Really Mean?

‘Passive-aggressive’ is a term that’s sometimes used to describe someone who retaliates subtly instead of speaking their mind. But this term was once used to describe a personality disorder as well. Learn some of the signs and symptoms of passive-aggressive behaviors and how to deal with them.

The term passive-aggressive means the “unassertive” expression of negative sentiments, resentfulness, and feelings of anger. So instead of physically or verbally expressing physically or frustration — or even simply saying “no” when asked to finish a task — someone described as passive-aggressive may simply act agreeable but then not follow through with actually doing the task.

A passive-aggressive personality can sometimes seem pretty easy to recognize. These behaviors were once called a personality disorder of the same name — passive-aggressive personality disorder.

Today, a passive-aggressive personality disorder is no longer considered a mental health condition, and the diagnosis is not recognized. But that does not mean that these personality traits don’t exist anymore.

Passive-aggressive behaviors can be very troubling and may still need medical treatment and help to deal with them. Individuals with passive-aggressive personality traits also tend to, over time, generate feelings of anger.

Symptoms of Passive-Aggressive Behavior

It’s not known why some people behave in a passive-aggressive manner or have continued passive-aggressive personality traits. But it’s believed that genetics could play a role, in addition to the situation or environment.

Some identifiable symptoms and signs of passive-aggressive behaviors include:

  • Resenting and blaming other people
  • Putting off responsibilities
  • Carrying out responsibilities late, not at all, or inefficiently
  • Being reluctant to accept others’ suggestions
  • “Forgetting” to do tasks or using forgetfulness as an excuse not to complete tasks
  • Being scared of those in positions of authority
  • Sulking
  • Having built-up feelings of anger

People with passive-aggressive personalities normally don’t voice their resentment or disagree; their behaviors show that they’re passively ignoring a responsibility or request or performing it only with resentment.

Diagnosing and Treating Passive Aggression

Like a psychiatrist or psychologist, a mental health professional may perform a psychological evaluation to diagnose passive-aggressive responses. They will also do some thorough questioning and analyze a history of symptoms to suggest the appropriate type of treatment.

Passive-aggressive personality disorder was deemed a chronic condition, meaning that it had no chance of improving. But individuals with passive-aggressive behaviors can learn to handle those behaviors and learn ways to deal with their symptoms.

Counseling and therapy can benefit people with passive-aggressive behaviors to help them react more appropriately and learn to understand their behaviors. They can learn to better communicate their feelings before they produce resentfulness or hostility. Treatment can be useful, and the prognosis for defeating passive aggression is commonly considered good.

It’s also necessary to avoid dependency on alcohol or drugs. Any substance abuse dependencies or problems should be brought under restraint as part of handling passive aggression.

So maybe that friend who conveniently “forgets” her promise to help you take care of errands or wash your car didn’t really want to do it in the first place. Or maybe you recognize that you miss deadlines when you don’t like the project you were designated at work. Suppose you display these symptoms and behaviors frequently over time. In that situation, it may be a good idea to inquire about help from a mental health professional to see if you may have a passive-aggressive personality type — and discover how to better handle situations that cause frustration.