Passive Aggressive Behaviour

Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder. A lot of us have been using this term very randomly. It’s a type of behaviour that can affect a person’s ability to create and maintain healthy relationships and can cause problems even at the workplace.


The NYU Medical Centre defines a passive-aggressive individual as someone who “may appear to comply or act appropriately, but actually behaves negatively and passively resists.” Passive-aggressive actions can range from the relatively mild, such as making excuses for not getting together, to the very serious, such as sabotaging someone’s well-being and success.


The exact cause of passive-aggressive behaviour isn’t known. However, both biological and environmental factors may contribute to the development of passive-aggressive behaviour.

Environmental Factors –

One study discovered that people who had parents who were more controlling were more likely to become closed–off, withdrawn and cold in their adult relationships.

From a child’s point of view, outside stressors, anxieties and parenting principles are irrelevant. A child has no idea if his father’s bosses are piling on the pressure, or if the debts are mounting up and the bills can’t be paid. To a child, a parent’s anger is direct, personal and indicative of some sort of failure or disappointment. Children generally crave the approval of their parents. In a child’s world, the parental figures are all-knowing, all-seeing authority figures. The literal be-all and end-all of life. To be put down ignored or shouted at consistently can often be a very traumatic experience for a child.

Repression instead of expression

Eventually, the child begins to believe that what they have to say must be worthless and irrelevant, so they stop saying it. When their emotions are met with anger (parents often say ‘don’t answer back, or ‘don’t be cheeky’, when their children stand up to them, they learn to bottle up. As children grow into adults, these lessons stay with them. They may learn to fear speaking out in case their words are met with rejection or conflict, and they will eventually adopt the lessor role their parents (usually unintentionally) enforced. Essentially, passive-aggressive behaviour stems from trying and failing (in our eyes), to please the parents.

Secretive behaviour

Of course, hiding their desires and opinions won simply make them go away. Instead, children will naturally learn different, non-verbal and indirect ways of channelling how they really feel about things. His repression can be quite damaging and will often cause a more introverted, secretive character, who is more likely to lie, manipulate people, or ‘act out, the person they think they should be. For example, an adolescent who isn’t allowed to go out with her friends might sneak the money from her father’s wallet and tell him she s doing homework at a friend’s house.

Resentful feelings

This dishonesty and secretiveness are bound to make a child feel guilty. After all – we still want to please our parents. We have simply learned that the easiest way to keep them happy is to appear docile and accommodating, while simultaneously finding covert ways of acting out desires and expressing emotions. Eventually, we begin to resent having to be so secretive. These feelings of resentment end to stay with us throughout adulthood and manifest for all authority figures, who we can’t help but associate with, with all the times our ideas, jokes, opinions and desires were ignored or criticised.

Underlying health conditions

They may result in behaviour that appears similar to passive-aggressive behaviour. Some conditions associated with passive-aggressive behaviour include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders, stress, etc.

Substance abuse and low self-esteem

They are also thought to lead to this type of behaviour.

Diagnostic Criteria

Most of us are guilty of displaying passive-aggressive behaviour occasionally in our day-to-day lives. It is, after all, a simple way of avoiding conflicts.

Individuals who are passive-aggressive usually agree to cooperate and then provide constant excuses not to follow through on promises or agreements. In many cases, the intention is to sabotage a project or task or to undermine authority.

While people with passive-aggressive tendencies see these behaviours as a way to avoid responsibility and express anger or resentment in a non-confrontational way, they are often surprised when they are no longer trusted or even liked. That’s when it’s time to seek treatment or counselling.


  • Putting things off
  • “forgetting” to do things others ask
  • Being stubborn
  • Disliking people who are in charge, or having a bad attitude about them
  • Complaining frequently
  • Working poorly or slowly on purpose
  • Feeling unappreciated
  • Blaming problems on others
  • Being irritable
  • Disliking the ideas of other people, even if they are useful
  • Arguing frequently


Medications –

If an underlying health condition is causing your passive-aggressive behaviour, then that condition will be treated first. Your behaviours should improve with treatment.

Homoeopathy – in the treatment, the cause is first found out. Homoeopathy is one of the most popular holistic systems of medicine. The selection of remedy is based upon the theory of individualization and symptoms similarity by using a holistic approach. Some of the remedies that might be used are, Lycopodium, Naja, Staphysagria, etc.

Psychological Treatment –

You may also be referred to a therapist or other mental health professional for counselling. A therapist can help you identify passive-aggressive behaviour and teach you how to change your behaviour. They can also help you work through anger, resentment, or low self-esteem issues that may be contributing to your passive-aggressive behaviour. They may even teach you effective coping strategies, including how to look at a situation objectively and how to solve problems in a healthy way.

There are also some easy things you can do every day to eliminate your passive-aggressive behaviour. These include:

Ways to overcome your Own Passive-Aggressive Behaviour

  • Become aware of the underlying feelings causing your behaviour
  • Become aware of the impact of your behaviour and how your desire to defeat others, get back at them or annoy them, creates yet further uncomfortable feelings for yourself
  • Take responsibility of your actions and reactions
  • Try to no feel attacked when faced with problem but instead take an overall objective view of the situation
  • Learn to be assertive in expressing yourself. You have a right to your thoughts and feelings so communicate them with honesty and truth. And strengthen your relationships

Ways to cope with the Passive-Aggressive Behaviour of Others

  • Become aware of how passive aggression operate and try to be understanding towards your partner
  • Explain to your partner how their behaviour towards you if affecting you. Communicate camly without blaming – i.e. talk about how you feel and what you think without using language that will enflame the situation more. For example, you might say, “I feel upset by your behaviour” rather than “you have done this or that”
  • Be aware of your responses to others and yourself – do not blame yourself for the behaviour and reaction of other
  • Be honest about your part in the situation
  • If the aggressive behaviour of others continues to affect you in a negative way, set clear boundaries around yourself – rules for what you will and won’t accept. Stay strong and focused and get on with your life in a positive way.

Remember that you are in charge of your behaviour and you can change it at any time. 

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