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Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Definition:

Passive-Aggressive Behavior - The expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive, passive way (for example, through procrastination and stubbornness).

Description:

Whenever resentment and contempt lurk beneath the surface of a dysfunctional relationship, passive-aggressive behavior is the foam that rises to the top. Passive-aggressive behavior is a mechanism to express anger without openly admitting you are angry or confronting the source of your anger directly.

It is common for a person to express passive-aggressive behavior when they are in a position of low influence or control over a person with whom they are angry. People who feel powerless, inferior or afraid of a person with whom they are angry will frequently resort to a passive-aggressive style. This person may be a figure of authority such as a parent, an older sibling, a boss or a teacher. They may also be a peer such as a spouse, partner, sibling or friend over whom a person has little authority or who dominates or assumes the lead position in the relationship.

Passive-aggressive behavior is also common between Personality-Disordered Individuals (PDI's) and their family members, spouses and partners of personality disordered individuals (Non-PD's):

Personality-Disordered Individuals or PDI's often feel a great deal of pain over their own situation. Because of the way their emotions can overwhelm their rational thinking, they are prone to destructive behaviors, emotional outbursts, making poor choices and having feelings of self-loathing, powerlessness and discontent at the state of their own affairs. Faced with this, it is common for PDI's to look for a person who is willing to share the burden, help clean up the mess and help them feel better about themselves. Family members, spouses, partners and friends are prime candidates for this role - a role which they sometimes accept willingly; hoping to make a positive difference in their loved-one's life. However, they may unwittingly create over-optimistic expectations for what they can accomplish. When they inevitably fail to solve all the problems and fill all the voids, it is common for the PDI to feel disappointment, disillusionment and even resentment towards them. Filled with anger towards those who have disappointed them, yet consumed by fear that they will be abandoned by those who have loved them the most, the PDI may develop a pattern of passive-aggressive behavior towards the Non-PD.

Non-Personality-Disordered Individuals or Non-PD's are often confused about the erratic state of mind of the personality disordered individuals (PDI's) in their lives. They may feel anger and hurt towards the PDI because of the way they have been treated by them, while at the same time they may be afraid of future outbursts. The Non-PD may be fatigued from taking the "high ground" over contentious issues while at the same time angry with the PDI whom they deem to be taking the "low road" or taking advantage of them. Non-PD's may develop a pattern of passive-aggressive behavior towards PDI's as a way of registering their disapproval while trying to maintain the "high ground" and trying not to provoke further aggressive behaviors from the PDI. Click Here for More Information about Common Behaviors of People who care for a Personality-Disordered Individual.

Some Examples of Passive-Aggressive Behavior:

  • Withdrawal - of material support, contribution to shared goals, Re prioritizing alternate activities and goals, "go-slow's", procrastination or targeted incompetence are all manifestations of passive-aggressive behavior.
  • Silent Treatment, inappropriate "one-word" answers, inattention, making yourself generally "unavailable".
  • Off-line Criticism - propagating gossip or criticism to a third party in an attempt to negatively influence the third party's opinion of a person.
  • Sarcasm - Humor which targets a specific individual is a form of passive-aggressive communication.
  • Indirect Violence or shows-of-strength such as destruction of property, slamming doors, cruelty to animals in the sight of another is passive-aggressive.

Despite being a common result among both groups, passive-aggressive behaviors and communication styles are rarely effective in getting people what they want. Passive-aggressive behaviors are more likely to add fuel to the fires already burning. An assertive approach to managing conflict is far more likely to get both parties in a relationship what they want.


For More Information & Support...

If you suspect you may have a family member or loved-one who suffers from a personality disorder, we encourage you to learn all you can and surround yourself with support as you learn how to cope.

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