What is passive-aggressive behavior? What are some of the signs?

Answer From Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D.

Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. There's a disconnect between what a person who exhibits passive-aggressive behavior says and what he or she does.

For example, someone who engages in passive-aggressive behavior might appear to agree — perhaps even enthusiastically — with another person's request. Rather than complying with the request, however, he or she might express anger or resentment by failing to follow through or missing deadlines.

Specific signs of passive-aggressive behavior include:

  • Resentment and opposition to the demands of others, especially the demands of people in positions of authority
  • Resistance to cooperation, procrastination and intentional mistakes in response to others' demands
  • Cynical, sullen or hostile attitude
  • Frequent complaints about feeling underappreciated or cheated

Although passive-aggressive behavior can be a feature of various mental health conditions, it isn't considered a distinct mental illness. However, passive-aggressive behavior can interfere with relationships and cause difficulties on the job. If you're struggling with passive-aggressive behavior — or you think a loved one is — consider consulting a therapist.

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Dec. 15, 2021 See more Expert Answers