11 Characteristics of Passive Aggressive Behavior

passive aggressive behavior

“Passive-aggressive behavior is often seen in the people who have not learned how to express their feelings, needs, and desires to others.” – Unknown

Passive aggressiveness is passive anger.

One of my followers has asked me about this recently:

(My partner) was never aggressive, violent, or angry but after doing some research I do believe he was passive-aggressive. So what I am wanting to know is: is passive aggression a form of emotional abuse? 

Yes, it is.

Passive aggressiveness is confusing as someone who behaves as this acts passively. But they are covertly aggressive and hostile.

Passive aggressiveness is a sign of insecurity. It belies a deep sense of shame and low self-esteem.

Want to know more about passive aggressive behavior? Check this video out below!

Passive Aggressive Behavior

A person who is passive aggressive needs to feel dominant and in control. They also need to make others feel inadequate to relieve a feeling of deficiency within themselves.

They can be unreasonable, uncomfortable to be around. They express hostility covertly and use manipulative subterfuge over time. All designed to make you feel insecure, walk on eggshells, and at times, to punish you.

They do this in a number of ways:

11 Characteristics of passive aggressive behavior:

1) Sarcasm and Teasing

Sarcasm can be humor used as a weapon to hurt you.

Hostile humor that can be disguised as teasing you about your appearance, gender, cultural status or whatever personal to you.

If you get hurt or angry, they’ll say:

I was just kidding.

And gaslight you by telling you:

You’re too sensitive.

Related: 12 Characteristics of Passive Aggression and How To Deal With A Passive-Aggressive Partner

2) Picking Fights

This is where they’ll pick a fight out of thin air. But it will be because of something you’ve said or done they blame as causing them to do this. You’re responsible for their anger.

Or, they’ll be resentful and occasionally let nasty comments slip out.

3) The Silent Treatment

This is a form of punishment aimed at creating insecurity within you. It may be sullen resentment. Social exclusion or neglect.

Not speaking to you for days, as punishment for their behavior you may have questioned. So you become the problem, not them. And they avoid accountability for it.

4) Negative Criticism

Negative criticism of anything from your appearance to how you talk.

Telling you your friends or family are no good for you.

5) Passive Aggressive Comments

But, then they’ll say:

I’m only trying to help you. Who else will tell you if I don’t?

They may say negative things to others about you. Or, address you like a child.

This is all aimed at making you feel inadequate to relieve their own sense of deficiency. For them to feel superior and in control.

6) Psychological Manipulation

Using tactics like gaslighting. Blaming you for their abusive behavior.

Lying to you, then telling you – you’re the one making things up.

Making excuses for their behavior to avoid responsibility for it.

Throwing unexpected things your way to always keep you on eggshells.

Making you feel guilty for their behavior

Holding you responsible for their moods and behavior. Their unhappiness and lack of success.

Expecting you to change your behavior so they don’t have to be accountable for theirs.

7) Stonewalling

This is where they don’t say no. But do everything to block things. There’ll be broken agreements, endless red tape and a lack of follow-through.

They’ll keep you thinking progress will be made, but covertly they’ll be stonewalling you.

Related: Covert Verbal Abuse: Passive Aggressive Behavior That Aims to Control You

8) Stubbornness

Where they passively appear to be going along with you, but constantly come up with excuses or reasons why you can’t.

Which stalls progress or inhibits you coming to a decision.

9) Secret Subterfuge

This is where they undermine you in any way they can. They’ll ignore deadlines, sabotage projects.

Make you look like you’ve failed and you get the blame for it.

Again, this is about making themselves feel good, by crushing your self-esteem encouraging your insecurity.

10) Threatening To Hurt Themselves

 This is passive aggressive manipulation at its best. Threats such as:

If you leave me I’ll kill myself?

 The tactic is to teach you a lesson. Saying: I’ll hurt myself to hurt you.

It’s appealing for your sympathy, aimed at making you feel guilty. It’s attention-seeking drama aimed at you and gaining control again.

11) Playing The Victim

Narcissists are masters of at playing the victim, especially in their smear campaigns against you.

Making others believe they were the victim of your behavior, not the other way around.

Others play the martyr – not magnanimously, but so they can have control and feel better about themselves.

Victimhood can be a form of co-dependency. Where you have a need to be needed.

Even if the other person rejects your desire to rescue them. Your obsession for fixing them is at the expense of your own needs and wellbeing.

Passive anger

Passive aggressiveness can be frustrating to deal with, as the passive-aggressive person can transfer their inner anger onto you.

They covertly and passively press your buttons and push your boundaries. If you become frustrated and angry they’ll then turn it back on you, asking:

Why are you so angry?

If you’re in a relationship where this behavior is happening then chances are you are codependent.

Their covert manipulation is a form of coercive control and emotional abuse.

By staying there and accepting it you are also enabling them to continue with it.

It’s a form of hidden anger and resentment towards others they seem are more fortunate than they are.

They have an exaggerated sense of their misfortune, which they deem to be caused by others.

They can be sullen, argumentative and resentful and it can be so uncomfortable to be around them, it can be easier at times to take the path of least resistance.

Passive aggressiveness can be found in relationships, in the workplace – your colleagues.  Even your friends can use passive-aggressive behavior.

Don’t enable this behavior. It’s emotional abuse.

Related: Responding To A Narcissist’s Silent Treatment

Dealing with passive-aggressive people

The best response is not to engage with any of it.

If you nag them, scold them or pull them up for it, then you will most likely be gaslighted anyway. They’ll project their behavior onto you.

And unwittingly force you into the parent role, which they can rebel against even more.

The only response is an assertive one. Which is neither passive or aggressive.

Don’t blame them or judge them. Take emotions out of it.

Simply, describe their behavior and explain the effect it has on you and the relationship in factual terms. 

Using words such as:

When you do X, I feel Y and I believe it would be better for our relationship if instead we try Z.

It’s all about having strong boundaries, which are key to signaling to them how you expect to be treated.

There are even times when you can find yourself acting passive aggressively. I have.

There was one time when I started to use sarcasm and put-downs to covertly bully my husband. I wasn’t even aware I was doing it at the time.

It was when certain events impacted our relationship and we fell into an unhealthy parent-child dynamic.

Thankfully, I recognized this and that it was coming from a place of insecurity within both of us.

I learned love is a verb, not a noun. To get us back on track I needed to show him I loved him with my actions, not just words.

We both needed to nurture our boundaries, sense of self-esteem and self-worth.

So, back to her question:

Is passive aggressiveness a part of the dynamic? A form of emotional abuse?

The answer is: Yes. In codependent relationships, definitely.

Passive anger or passive-aggressiveness is a form of emotional abuse. Coercive control.

It’s aimed at making the other person feel small, so they can feel greater about themselves.

Originally appeared on VivianMcGrath.com
Written by Vivian McGrath
Printed with permission from author
Passive Aggressive Behavior
11 Characteristics of Passive Aggressive Behavior
passive aggressive behavior pin

— About the Author —

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Up Next

23 Dark Signs Of Religious Trauma and How to Heal

Dark Signs Of Religious Trauma Syndrome and How to Heal

Ever felt a tug at your soul or questioned your beliefs? Let’s explore the lesser-known signs of religious trauma and how to reclaim your peace from its impact.

If there’s any topic that has impacted my life so deeply – and yet I’ve been putting off writing for over ten years – it’s religious trauma.

The topic of religious trauma is such an inflammatory topic, and one that has harmed so many people, that I’m going to try and approach it as delicately as I can.

Religious trauma is pervasive and more widespread than I believe most people are aware of. After all, the foundation of most modern societies are based on religious ideals, whether you live in the east or west.

So to get this out of the way be

Up Next

The Narcissistic Stare: How A Narcissist Uses Stare To Control You and 5 Ways To Protect Yourself

Narcissistic Stare | Why Do Narcissists Stare? Coping Tips

The human gaze holds immense power, capable of expressing emotions, desires, and even hidden intentions. Among the many intriguing forms of eye contact, the narcissistic stare stands out as an enigmatic phenomenon that both fascinates and perplexes. 

But what is the narcissistic stare? Well, have you ever encountered someone whose gaze seemed to penetrate your very soul, leaving you feeling exposed and uncomfortable? 

Let us delve into this fascinating concept, exploring what is the narcissistic stare, why do narcissists stare and the different variations it takes on, including the malignant narcissist stare and the female narcissistic stare.

What is the Narcissistic Stare?

Up Next

8 Harmful Signs of Mental Illness in Women: A Comprehensive Guide For Identifying Red Flags

Harmful Signs of Mental Illness in Women And Treatment

Recognizing the signs of mental illness in women is crucial when addressing specific mental health issues that women face. It’s crucial to understand that the causes of these struggles affect not only women but everyone, and yet, our experiences can be uniquely different.

Mental illness, also known as mental health disorders, includes a variety of conditions that impact your mood, thoughts, and behavior. From depression and anxiety disorders to schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.

However, researchers have identified that although all genders suffer from mental health issues, women in particular show completely different symptoms and impa

Up Next

5 Stages Of A Narcissistic Relationship (And How To Escape Their Trap)

Stages Of A Narcissistic Relationship: Toxic Cycle

From euphoria to despair, the toxic relationship cycle leaves lasting scars. Learn the stages of a narcissistic relationship to protect yourself from the emotional rollercoaster and avoid lasting trauma.

Narcissistic relationships often go through a painful cycle that is a predictable outgrowth of narcissistic personality disorder. Central to understanding a narcissist’s behavior is that their relationships are transactional.

Their impaired boundaries and lack of empathy prevent them from seeing other people as separate three-dimensional beings with needs and feelings of their own.

Up Next

Disenchanted Childhood: The Effects Of Self Centered Parenting on Children

The Harmful Effects Of Self Centered Parenting on Children

When you are on the opposite side of self centered parenting, it can have far-reaching effects on you and your psyche. Growing up with selfish parents can take a heavy toll on your mental and emotional health, and these effects can be felt even when you are an adult.


Self absorbed parents create role-reversed relationships with their children in which the child psychologically caters to the parent.

Children show psychological responses to selfish parents depending upon the child’s personality.

Some children acquiesce to self-focused parents’ demands, while ot

Up Next

8 Signs Of Mommy Issues In A Woman and How It Haunts Her For Life

Signs Of Mommy Issues In A Woman: Maternal Scars

We often hear about “daddy issues” in pop culture, but less frequently discussed are “mommy issues”. Just like men, women can have unresolved emotional conflicts stemming from their relationship with their mothers. These signs of mommy issues in a woman, if left unaddressed, can manifest in various aspects of a woman’s life, affecting her relationships, self-worth, and overall mental well-being.

But what are the signs of a woman with mommy issues, and more importantly, what can you do when it comes to dealing with mommy issues? Let’s delve into the intricate world of mommy issues and find a way towards healing.

Up Next

People Who Only Take From You: 11 Signs Of Toxic Takers In Relationships

People Who Only Take: Signs Of Takers In Relationships

There are certain people who only take from others, and choose to be entitled and arrogant about it for their whole lives. Such toxic takers or self centred people demand and expect too much from others, whilst doing nothing in return. This article is going to talk in detail about the signs of people who only take and give nothing back.


People who demand too much from others have high self-esteem with anxiety and are inept at self-care.

Takers experience a higher mortality rate than those in give-and-take irelationships.

Expecting too much from others is lea