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Experts say passive-aggressive people display these behaviors

In this article we will talk about the signs of a passive-aggressive person.

It’s not easy to understand when someone is being passive-aggressive.

Yet, we deal with this kind of behavior more often than we think.

A Definition

So, first of all, let’s define this word. As explained in Mayo Clinic, “Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them.”

According to an article published on Medical News Today, passive-aggressive personality disorder (PAPD) causes people to communicate negative feelings and emotions subtly or passively rather than directly.

And as mental health and addiction recovery specialist Ray Sadoun explains,

“Some people can be passive-aggressive for various reasons, but it’s often because they don’t feel able to express themselves directly, either in one specific relationship or in general.”

What follows are five signs someone might be passive-aggressive, according to some experts that have been interviewed for this article.

1. They Make You Feel Guilty For Setting Boundaries

As licensed professional counselor Taylor Cameron says, “One way passive aggressiveness shows up, is when a person guilts or shames the other person in the relationship for setting a healthy boundary.”

Setting boundaries with others is a healthy behavior and it’s something normal in relationships between emotionally mature people.

As Cameron explains, an example of someone making you feel guilty for trying to set a boundary is this, “A mother may frequently vent to her son about her spouse, the child’s father, so her son sets the boundary that he
does not want to discuss their parents’ relationship.

Cameron adds, “The mother may respond passive aggressively by becoming defensiveness and blaming her son. Instead of respecting the boundary she tries to make her son feel guilty for setting a boundary.”

According to Cameron, someone trying to make you feel guilty for setting boundaries could look like any of the following statements:

  • “So I can’t talk to you about anything?”
  • “Why are you so sensitive?”
  • “But you’re the only person I can talk to about this.”
  • “Fine, I just won’t talk to you.”
  • “Don’t be ridiculous. We’re just talking.”

Related read: 5 Examples of Gaslighting — and How to Respond According to Experts

2. They Don’t Maintain Their Promises

As psychologist and author Linda Sapadin explains, “This pattern typically begins innocuously with a Yes and a No Problem.”

According to Sapadin, this is how the pattern develops: they say, “Sure, I’ll take care of the task” when they actually don’t want to take care of that task.

They say yes because they don’t know how to assertively say no. And then they just don’t take care of the task as they promised.

When they’re called out on it, they shrugs their shoulders.

They say something like, “No big deal. I said I’d take care of it.”

So you say, “Yes, but when?” They reply, “Get off my case. I said I’d do it.” You back off. Time passes. Task is still not done. You bring it up again.

The pattern typically ends with endless excuses and fire and brimstone. They say, “I’m busy now. Get off my back. I’ll do it in my own damn time, not yours.”

You start to lose your patience, like probably everyone else would, “But you said you’d take care of it last week.”

They say with rising disdain, “Calm down! You’re hysterical. Look at you; going nuts over nothing.”

Does this dynamic sound familiar to you? If yes, you have probably dealt — or are dealing — with a passive-aggressive person.

Recommended read: 9 Signs of a Toxic Relationship

3. They Criticize You, but in a Very Subtle Way

According to Sadoun, another sign you may be dealing with a passive-aggressive person is they criticize you, and they do it in a very subtle way.

As Sadoun puts it,

“Instead of directly telling you they disagree with you, passive-aggressive people will find a way to subtly put you down. For example, instead of saying ‘I’d like it if you helped more around the house,’ they may say ‘my ex helped out a lot around the house’ and let you in on their disapproval that way.”

4. They Give You The Silent Treatment

As we all know, the silent treatment is one of the most toxic behaviors you can use, and it can negatively affect any kind of relationship.

As Dr. Brenda Wade, advisor to Online For Love explains, the silent treatment happens when “a person is ignoring their partner or refusing to answer them, as if they didn’t really hear them or they are above answering. This is generally an avoidance type of behavior and the person refuses to acknowledge the other person’s presence. This type of behavior is a method of ‘punishing’ someone for a perceived slight instead of just discussing their hurt feelings.”

Passive aggressive-people often use this behavior because, as mentioned before, they are unable to assertively communicate their negative feelings.

Recommended read: 6 Signs Someone Might Have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

5. They Blame You or Other People for All Their Problems

The passive-aggressive person struggles to take responsibility for what happens to them or for how they behave.

An example of something they may tell you, according to Wade, is, “I’m not mad at you, I’m just in a bad mood because I’m tired. You woke me up so early and now I have to try to get through my day”.

This example shows you that they are not taking responsibility for their actions — acting badly — and instead shift the blame and make it your responsibility that they are in a bad mood.

Recommended read: 9 Relationship Red Flags You Should Never Ignore

6. They Don’t Tell You What’s Wrong But Act Upset

As we mentioned before, passive-aggressive people struggle to communicate how they feel, especially if their feelings are negative.

So, if anything is wrong, if they didn’t like something you did, or they’re simply upset for something you did, they won’t tell you. Instead, they’ll somehow let you know you did something wrong through their actions.

They might do something you don’t like on purpose, they might give you the silent treatment (as we mentioned before), or they may simply act emotionally distant.

Signs of a Passive-Aggressive Person: Final Thoughts

To give you a quick recap, here are the main signs of a passive-aggressive person:

  1. They make you feel guilty for setting boundaries;
  2. Don’t keep their promises;
  3. Criticize you, but in a very subtle way;
  4. Give you the silent treatment;
  5. Blame you or other people for all their problems;
  6. They don’t tell you what’s wrong, but act upset and play the victim instead.

Dealing with passive-aggressive people is not easy. In fact, they’re the kind of people that can make you lose your patience even if you’re the calmest person in the world.

As Dr. Linda Sapadin explains, “The biggest obstacle to changing passive-aggressive behavior is the lack of awareness of alternative responses.”

Also, as Vincent Cheng says,

“To cope with a passive-aggressive person, you must attend to your own feelings first and then address the elephant in the room by directly telling them it’s OK to say no and to express their feelings. Over time, they will begin to trust that you won’t be a threat. Remember, passive-aggressive people are operating mostly in fear.”


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