Skip to main content

Tips on Dealing With a Passive-Aggressive Person

I'm a counselor and freelance writer with years of online writing experience. My work covers a large range of topics.

Got a passive-aggressive person in your life? Get advice on dealing with their behavior.

Got a passive-aggressive person in your life? Get advice on dealing with their behavior.

Understanding People Who Behave Passive Aggressively

Passive-aggressive people let out their anger and resentment in unseen and non obvious ways towards people they are closest to because they believe they can’t show their feelings openly.

Passive-aggressive behavior begins to show itself in early adulthood and will show up in a many situations that life presents itself.

There are certain situations that may activate passive-aggressive behavior—for example, when the person’s performance is judged, or they believe they are being judged. This can be seen often in the workplace, and in dealing with authority figures including bosses, parents, teachers, spouses, and with community leaders. On a unconscious level these authority figures indirectly or directly trigger angry feelings.

Where Do People Learn Passive-Aggressive Behavior?

Teenagers often test the boundaries of their parents and try to assert themselves, but have difficulty or are shut down by their mothers or fathers. This creates an unhealthy thinking pattern and is carried into adulthood.

Some psychologists believe it is a combination of the environment and genes that are the cause of passive-aggressive personality disorder developing. At its basis, a person becomes passive-aggressive unconsciously because they were not free to openly show their anger. This aggression becomes held back because they feel or were told that these feelings are bad and are not allowed.

Angry feelings still need to be expressed because they never just go away. Their anger comes out in indirect ways to avoid them being shut down by the authority figure or to avoid punishment from the authority figure. Two things happen from this situation:

  1. The person learns to let their anger out in covert ways to survive
  2. The person also develops a resentment towards authority figures because their feelings were shut down, or not acknowledged. This resentment is carried over to all authority figures and the passive aggressive person tries to defeat the authority figure, while still looking like they respect them.

It May Be How They Were Raised

If you take a look at the way a passive-aggressive person was raised, they were more than likely harshly judged for expressing themselves and lived under a very domineering parent. Passive-aggressive personality develops because emotional communication was stifled in the household.

Some children learn passive-aggressive behavior from their parents, because the parent behaves that way. Some develop it as a survival mechanism out of fear of punishment from a parent, or just having their feelings being ignored by a parent.

Passive-aggressive people hide their real feelings.

Passive-aggressive people hide their real feelings.

Many passive-aggressive people have a poor self-esteem because they have held back their true feelings. They probably felt overly criticized by their parents. They aren’t honest with their own feelings so they don’t deal with their emotions in a healthy way. They never learned to take responsibility for their own feelings and look to blame other people for their plight.

This kind of behavior becomes problematic as the person grows up and this behavior continues throughout many aspects of their lives. Often the passive-aggressive person is not aware of their behavior and what they are doing, so they don’t even try to stop it. Instead, they continue to have disappointing experiences that replicate their past.

What a passive-aggressive person really wants is warmth, love, and the support of others, but they are afraid of becoming dependent in the relationship because they fear they will get trapped , they want to avoid responsibility, and commitment to other people.

Passive-aggressive people feel angry, but are afraid to display it, so they let it out in ways that people will not readily see. This is problematic for the person who is the target of the passive aggressive person. The target never sees it coming. But by being aware, the target can protect themselves and not fall into the trap the passive-aggressive person sets.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Pairedlife

How to Deal With a Passive-Aggressive Person

It is a lot of work, and it can be emotionally exhausting and extremely frustrating, but here are some tips:

  • avoid getting into a power struggle
  • don’t let them get to you. Often they will push your buttons so you yell and become irritated, making you look like the aggressor and them like the victim.
  • avoid becoming frustrated with them.
  • try to turn the table on them.
  • talk in a calm and rational way in order to show them what behavior they are exhibiting.
  • they are experts at denial and will put you in a defensive position.
  • show them inconsistencies in their behavior.
  • look at the argument from their point of view.
  • ask them how they would solve or improve the situation, but they will avoid making any decisions.
  • they want someone else to make the major decisions and avoid giving advice, so that they can blame anything that goes wrong on someone else.
  • they have limited abilities to use logic and reason in expressing their thoughts, so you need to use other methods to possibly get them to understand your thinking.
  • they look for people who are pushovers, who don’t say no, who will make the passive aggressive person’s problem their own.
Passive-aggressive people are actually aggressive, but they hide it behind their passivity.

Passive-aggressive people are actually aggressive, but they hide it behind their passivity.

How to Recognize Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Here is what to look for in a person who displays passive-aggressive behavior (they may have several or all of these characteristics). Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • do they avoid responsibility?
  • do they may seem ultra sensitive to criticism, paranoid, or sensitive to comments from others and do they misconstrue statements as a personal attack?
  • do you find they are not receptive or open to suggestions about how to do things and may often do things to spite the person who made the suggestions?
  • are they stubborn, somber and gloomy?
  • do they say sarcastic and backhanded comments to you or behind your back?
  • do they make themselves feel like the victim?
  • do they make you look like the bad guy?
  • do they openly tell everyone about other people’s fault?
  • do they have a fear of intimacy, or fight dependency, even though they are dependent people?
  • do they want to make their own decisions with little or no input from other people?
  • do they have a negative outlook?
  • do they pretend to communicate well but upon a closer look they don’t acknowledge your needs?
  • do they blame others for the way things are for them?
  • do they avoid conflict, but act out in covert ways?
  • do they seem jealous of other people’s success?

This is just some of the signs you may see in passive-aggressive people.

A Passive-Aggressive Person Wants to Defeat You

If you are a passive aggressive person or are dealing with a passive aggressive person the first step to dealing and healing is awareness. By taking responsibility, the underlying anger and resentment can be dealt with and understood that this may be the root of the passive aggressive behavior.

Passive aggressive people are looking to defeat the person they are close to. They are looking to get back at them and annoy them. Sometimes the need to fail is a way to get back at the other person.

Learning to stand up for yourself and expressing your anger in a healthy way is another healing method. Assertiveness training courses can help a person express their feelings, desires, and needs in a healthy way.

People can’t usually change passive aggressive behavior on their own. Counseling can help resolve the underlying anger issues that are causing the behavior. Therapy involves realizing the repeated patterns of behaviors that help discover where the feelings come from, and why they continue.

Treating someone with passive aggressive personality disorder is often difficult because the type of person is attached to the resentment they are feeling. They would rather feel resentful than happy.

Their negative patterns continue and in therapy they can become resentful about needing the therapist and looking at the therapist as a person in position of authority. This can make the passive aggressive person wanting to perform and please the therapist, but they are not able to succeed. Failing in therapy is another outlet for the passive aggressive person to maintain their autonomy.

Understanding and Awareness Will Help You Cope

If you are dealing with someone who is passive aggressive it is vital to learn to see the signs of this disorder. If they can get help to learn communication skills things can be improved. Don’t make excuses for their behavior or give them an out. Make them accountable for their responsibilities. Avoid being judgmental, angry or controlling. Accept this person. Don’t ask them for anything. When the passive aggressive person is assertive, respond positively.

It is difficult to see that you are dealing with a passive aggressive person. The best way to recognize it is through a pattern of behavior. Once you recognize that the person you are dealing with is passive aggressive:

  • expect that person to not keep their promises
  • be assertive yourself, but not aggressive by letting them know how you feel and what you need.

Sometimes the best thing to do is walk away from the relationship. If the passive aggressive person is not interested in changing their behavior, there is nothing you can do. Often they believe the problem is with you, not them.

Passive aggressive behavior is difficult to recognize because they attack you in ways you don’t see it. The passive aggressive person hides and denies and leaves you not understanding what happened. It is hard to prevent when you don’t see it coming and hard to deal with when they deny.

Knowledge is power, and awareness is power. Once you can identify that you are dealing with a passive aggressive person, you can make choices about how you will handle them, how you will handle yourself and handle yourself. You can’t control anything, but your own thoughts, and behavior. It is your choice to get snared in their passive aggressive trap, or to not react the way they expect you to, and understand your relationship better for your own greater happiness.

Related Articles