In a sense, a passive aggressive person is something of a paradox since passivity and aggression are at opposite ends of the behavioral spectrum, so what does passive aggressive mean and how can you combat this type of behavior in someone you know?
When a person acts in a passive manner, they do not express their emotions and let a situation ride, even if they are not happy about things. For example, if your partner is annoyed because you got home late but forgot to phone home, despite her displeasure, she will stay quiet about it to keep the peace.
Aggression is a completely different type of behavior and aggressive people use physically or verbally intimidating tactics to make sure they get their own way.
What Does Passive Aggressive Mean?
A passive aggressive person can be very manipulative and when they are not happy with a situation, so they use various techniques to manipulate others.
The DSM-IV describes a passive aggressive personality as sulking, procrastinating, or arguing when asked to do something they are not happy about.
They will also fail to fulfill obligations, ignore helpful advice, work inefficiently, or complain with no justification.
However, passive aggressive behavior is not considered to be a mental illness unless it is linked to a specific personality disorder.
Passive Aggressive Behavior in the Workplace
Passive aggressive behavior is common in all areas of life, but it can be particularly disruptive in the workplace.
A passive aggressive employee may sulk when given a task they see as boring or too menial, but instead of expressing their unhappiness, they take forever to do it or complain to everyone else out of earshot of you.
Employers are also good at using passive aggressive behavior to deflect difficult problems they do not want to deal with — they make the right noises, but do nothing to solve the issue.
What Does Passive Aggressive Behavior Mean Within Relationships?
Passive aggressive behavior is intensely frustrating to deal with. When a person behaves in a passive aggressive manner, they choose not to express their anger or emotions in a constructive way—instead they stay quiet and apportion the blame for the situation on to the other person, sometimes subconsciously.
This leads to a build up of anger and resentment, and in order to make their feelings known, the passive aggressive person withholds affection, attention, or something more concrete.
An Example of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Action
Julie is upset because her boyfriend has been working long hours and she feels neglected, but instead of telling him she’s unhappy at the lack of attention and why, she waits until he wants to see her and then tells him rather coldly she’s busy that night.
Naturally Julie’s boyfriend is rather confused by this sudden change of heart — he is aware he has been neglecting her, but now that he has some time to put things right, Julie suddenly seems to have lost interest and he begins to wonder if she is seeing somebody else.
And so the relationship flounders because Julie is unable to say why she is unhappy and her boyfriend is not a mind reader.