Passive-aggressive behavior

Passive-aggressive behavior refers to passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to following authoritative instructions in interpersonal or occupational situations. It can manifest itself as learned helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, resentment, sullen, or deliberate/repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible. It is a defense mechanism, and (more often than not) only partly conscious. For example, suppose someone does not wish to attend a party. A passive-aggressive response in that situation might involve taking so long to get ready that the party is nearly over by the time they arrive.


Passive-aggressive personality disorder (also called negativistic personality disorder) is a personality disorder said to be marked by a pervasive pattern of negative attitudes and passive, usually disavowed resistance in interpersonal or occupational situations. It was listed as an Axis II personality disorder in the DSM-III-R, but was moved in the DSM-IV to Appendix B ("Criteria Sets and Axes Provided for Further Study") because of controversy and the need for further research on how to also categorize the behaviors in a future edition. By way of explanation on that point, the popular "Straight Dope" columnist Cecil Adams writes:
Merely being passive-aggressive isn't a disorder but a behavior — sometimes a perfectly rational behavior, which lets you dodge unpleasant chores while avoiding confrontation. It's only pathological if it's a habitual, crippling response reflecting a pervasively pessimistic attitude.

When the behaviors are part of a person's personality disorder or personality style, repercussions are not usually immediate, but instead accumulate over time as the individuals affected by the person come to recognize the disavowed aggression coming from that person. People with this personality style are often quite unconscious of their impact on others, and thus may be genuinely dismayed when held to account for the inconvenience or discomfort caused by their passive-aggressive behaviors. In that context, they fail to see how they might have provoked a negative response, so they feel misunderstood, held to unreasonable standards, and/or put-upon.

Treatment of this disorder can be difficult: efforts to convince the subject that their unconscious feelings are being expressed passively, and that the passive expression of those feelings (their behavior) inspires other people's anger or disappointment with the patient, are often met with resistance. Individuals with the disorder will frequently leave treatment claiming that it did no good. Since the effectiveness of various therapies has yet to be proven, these individuals may be correct.

Passive aggressive disorder is said to stem from a specific childhood stimulus (e.g. overbearing parental figures, or alcohol/drug addicted parents).


The term "passive-aggressive" was first used by the U.S. military during World War II, when military psychiatrists noted the behavior of soldiers who displayed passive resistance and reluctant compliance to orders.

Common signs

There are certain behaviors that help identify passive-aggressive behavior.

A passive-aggressive person may not have all of these behaviors, and may have other non-passive-aggressive traits.

See also


External links

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