What Is a Passive-Aggressive Personality?

What Is a Passive-Aggressive Personality?

A passive-aggressive personality can involve hinting at insults without actually saying them. But is it just a trait or a type of personality disorder?

Being passive-aggressive suggests that you’re using indirect or nonconfrontational means to convey your feelings of negativity.

Instead of yelling and waving your hands, for example, you might make sarcastic comments, give backhanded compliments, or deliberately take extra time on projects to “get back at” someone.

Passive aggression is a behavioral expression of hostility, and it can be both a personality trait and part of a broader personality disorder.

What is a passive-aggressive personality?

Most people experience passive-aggressive traits once in a while. Snapping at your boss with a snide comment, for example, may be your way of begrudgingly taking on an assignment you didn’t want.

A passive-aggressive personality, however, is one where negative feelings are regularly expressed through patterns of indirect, often hostile behaviors.

Always meeting conflict with procrastination, for example, can be a behavioral pattern seen in a passive-aggressive personality.

What are the causes?

There are many reasons why you may not be comfortable directly communicating negative emotions.

“Passive-aggressive behavior may arise when the person utilizing it feels they cannot communicate their needs and feelings directly, or when someone wants to avoid taking responsibility for the impact of their words and actions,” explains Ileana Arganda-Stevens, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Sacramento, California.

Bognar says this need to bottle up emotions is often a learned behavior from childhood, when you realize at an early age your needs won’t be met by asking in a straightforward way.

“A passive-aggressive person learns at an early age that the most reliable way for them to get what they want and need is through manipulation, and they do this often through the use of guilt and/or shame,” he says.

What are the characteristics of a passive-aggressive person?

Characteristics of passive-aggressive personality can include patterns of:

  • passive resistance to social and occupational task completion
  • complaining
  • feeling misunderstood or unappreciated
  • frequent arguing
  • acting sullen or grumpy
  • bitterness and scorn toward authority
  • resentfulness toward the success of others
  • envy
  • excessive vocalization and complaining about personal misfortune
  • indecision
  • low self-confidence
  • pessimism
  • catastrophizing
  • stubbornness
  • procrastination
  • feigned forgetfulness
  • blame shifting


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