Passive-aggressive anger can be broken down into exactly what it claims to be based on its given name. “Passive” represents the trait of a person who is angry but doesn’t express it, and then “aggressive” quite literally means they are hostile through the process refusing to do something later. This can manifest through forgetfulness, procrastination, or malicious gossip. The personality trait, by contrast, is an expansion of this concept. A passive-aggressive person does this behavior all the time and it is not exclusive to the emotion of anger.
According to the DSM-V, Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder is not listed on its own but is rather classified under Personality Disorder Trait Specified. This means that there was not enough research to properly classify it as a named personality disorder, but there is evidence enough that it does exist. Here are the characteristics of a passive-aggressive personality:
- Outwardly pleasant but inwardly frustrated.
- Frequently shifts blame from themselves to others.
- Resents being held accountable.
- Often confidently “forgets” assignments or tasks they prefer not to do.
- Acts sullen without expressing the reason for the behavior.
- Agrees to a course of action but does not follow through.
- Is inefficient on purpose to avoid responsibility.
- Habitually complains or whines but does nothing to change a course of action.
- Harbors unexpressed anger, sadness, anxiety, or guilt.
- Procrastination is a way of life.
- Resistant to suggestions of change.
- Unaware of own emotions or reasons for feeling a certain way.
- Avoids conflict but will instigate it in others.
- Neglects personal relationships.
- Says they want to be intimate and will act that way for a few days but then withdraws for months or years.
- Shows little remorse for behavior; will apologize but will not modify future behavior.
As an example, the movie “Bride Wars” featured two main characters who displayed some passive-aggressive traits in a humorous setting. But the main character Emma appeared to have more of a passive-aggressive personality, which could be seen through several areas of her life where she could constantly be found putting things off, getting back at her friend in an underhanded way, intentionally being inefficient, and being repeatedly resentful.
How can a person deal with a passive-aggressive personality? Here are a few suggestions:
- Once a passive-aggressive nature is discovered, be on guard. They can be very angry without expressing it until they stab a person in the back.
- Their behavior feels like immaturity, but it is not. Rather it is a personality issue that will not be outgrown. Set expectations accordingly.
- Eventually, they comply with wishes, demands, or expectations, but it will be later than you may expect and come across as rebellious. Drawing attention to every incident is more frustrating for the person confronting it. The passive-aggressive likes to use such events to demonstrate how rational they are and how illogical or overly emotional others are.
- When they get angry, they have a tendency to sabotage whatever is going on. This is a clue that something is wrong. Addressing the issue when they are passive is better than addressing it after they have been aggressive.
- By contrast, they hate outward signs of anger and routinely shut down when others are aggressive. Avoid reacting emotionally, use logic.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of passive-aggressive is that they seem like adult teenagers. But unlike a teenager, a passive-aggressive personality will not grow out of their behavior. This is not a condition that goes away with time. Learn how to modify expectations, manage emotional reactions, and establish healthy boundaries. This way you can coexist more efficiently with a passive-aggressive personality in a way that benefits both parties.