Index of Passive-Aggressive Examples
I'm sure you've dealt with individuals who have caused
you to be so frustrated that afterwards you scratch your
head asking "Am I crazy?" Most likely you just had an
encounter with a passive-aggressive person. Such
encounters may include sarcasm, shifting blame, saying
one thing while meaning another to name a few. For
instance, I used to know a co-worker who was very
skilled at giving back-handed compliments such as "You
look great! You must be doing something different" as
well as sarcasm disguised as a compliment "Oh, I hear
you've managed to pull off another miracle." The problem
with these kinds of comments is that if you try to
confront them about the insult, you will be accused of
not understanding, "I didn't mean it that way" or of
misinterpreting, "You must have a problem to think that.
I was just trying to compliment you. Sorry I didn't word
it right to suit you." As a result, you end up looking
like the bad guy, feeling frustrated, and asking
yourself, "Am I crazy?" And the other person walks away
Reader's Example: Co-Worker's "Joking" Criticism
Question: My coworker has on five occasions commented on me never being at the office. I work at home one or two days a week as do others. However, he seems to want to point out that I'm never at the office. It always seems to be a joke. For example: I would compliment him on his attire and he would say "I always dress like this. You would know if you were here." Not sure what to say back to him....help?!!
WHAT IS PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR?
Passive-aggressive communication seeks to control the
emotions of others and thereby, control their behavior.
Typically, this communication style seeks to express
anger in an indirect manner. By doing so the individual
is able to deny all responsibility for the anger yet
they score a direct hit on their target.
example is criticizing as if you are concerned, "You've
put on so much weight! You might get diabetes or heart
disease if you don't take it easy with the sweets."
Certainly, in the right context this could actually be
an expression of concern. However, the right context
doesn't include making such a statement in front of
others just as the individual is taking a bite of
dessert. In this instance, if the comment is confronted,
the person will often deny responsibility by stating
something like, "I'm just concerned about you. Wow, are
The best way to recognize
passive-aggressive behavior is by analyzing the process
and purpose of the behavior. Typically, as the purpose
is to control and/or deflect responsibility for anger,
the passive-aggressive behavior causes frustration or
anger in the recipient and will escalate conflict unless
the recipient handles it passively by swallowing,
ignoring, or discounting their anger. Yet, if the
purpose is to escalate conflict, the passive-aggressive
behavior is calculated to cause the recipient to act
Reader's Example: Mother's "Helpful" Criticism
Question: Mother upon seeing outfit daughter was wearing to work: You know why Hillary Clinton wears pants? Because she has those cankles, right? She is smart. (pause) You shouldn't wear your skirts that short either. You can't help it if you are built like your grandmother but you should wear your skirts longer to cover more of your legs. I am only trying to HELP you since you look very nice but you would look better if you wore your dresses longer...
7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People
The most difficult social conflict usually involves passive-aggressive (PA) behavior. The reason it is more distressing than even aggressive behavior is because it causes the recipient to be doubtful of him or her self. When someone is aggressive towards you, their intention is clear and it is easier to make a decision such as “I need to steer clear of this person” or “I need to report this behavior.” However, the purpose of passive-aggressive behavior is for the aggressor to avoid responsibility for their actions. PA behavior can easily be denied or blame shifted: “I didn't mean it the way you took it” or “You're being too sensitive” or “You're just trying to get me in trouble.”
As a result, PA behavior cannot be addressed in the same way you might handle aggressive behavior. When managing PA people you need to be aware of the underlying purpose of the behavior so that you can respond in a way that prevents them from succeeding at their agenda. The less likely they are to achieve their goal, the more likely you will see a reduction in their behavior. Read more...
For example, a father conveys the subtle
message of "I don't think you're capable" by taking on a
task to do it right, "Here, let me help you cut that
out" as he takes over the child's school project. When
the child states "I can do it myself" the father keeps
working on the project "I know you can. I'm just
helping. Now doesn't that look better?" If the child
should protest angrily, "You don't think I can do it
right!" the father might respond "Of course I do. I was
just helping. You are so ungrateful!"
In this situation,
the father has escalated the situation to cause the
child to become angry and then to criticize the child
for being angry. This teaches the child that her
emotions are unacceptable as well as that her father
doesn't believe she is capable. Over time the child
learns to not trust her own perceptions of reality.
Another common example may be when a couple are trying
to make a simple decision such as where to go for
dinner. The wife says, "I don't care" but then pouts
when her husband decides. When her husband asks her what
is wrong she responds "You know I don't like Chinese."
Later on in a completely unrelated situation, she may
even take this a step further "You make all the
decisions and don't take my preferences into account!"
This can become even more ugly if the wife should accuse
the husband of deliberately mistreating her "You do
whatever you want. You don't care about my feelings!"
This example shows how a simple situation can escalate
to include many different situations. The
passive-aggressive wife can angrily attack her husband
while blaming him for the attack. He becomes confused
and angry "You're crazy!" which allows his wife to prove
her point "See how you treat me? Calling me names and
putting me down!"
Reader's Example: Grandmother's Criticism of Child
Question: My mother criticizes my 10-year-old son about his hair, clothes, the activities he likes, you name it. He's a good kid, does well in school, and I think that he should be able to make his own choices about these things. I can see that my son is hurt by this criticism. When I try to tell my mother to stop, she and my sister say, "He's a boy and he needs to toughen up. He needs to be able to handle teasing. You're just over-protecting him." Is she right? How do I get her to stop?
CATAGORIES OF PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE PEOPLE.
Although passive-aggressive behavior is
generally hurtful to the recipient, the intention is not
always for the purpose of hurting the other person.
Therefore, whether the intention to hurt is present can
categorize the type of passive-aggressive person.
. Some passive-aggressive people
deliberately attempt to cause the other person to become
angry so as to displace their own feelings of anger onto
the recipient. In this situation, if a man has a bad day
at work he can create an argument at home in a
passive-aggressive manner and then take his anger out on
his wife. For instance, he comes home, glances around
and asks "What have you been doing today?" When his wife
becomes defensive "Are you saying that I'm lazy?" he
responds with "You are really over-reacting! I was only
curious about what you did today. You are so sensitive
and I can't even talk to you!"
This type of person could
be labeled an aggressive passive-aggressive in that the
purpose is to create anger or to try to control someone
else. "You should really try to treat your mother better
after all the sacrifices I've made for you. You're so
selfish" is an example of trying to control behavior. By
negatively labeling a behavior, they hope to control the
person's responses. The malicious type is reinforced
whenever they can successfully control the other person
or when they can escalate conflict while remaining
Unintentionally hurtful type
Another type of passive-aggressive person we could label
as the passive passive-aggressive. Typically, they are
trying not to hurt the other person but in the process
may unintentionally cause frustration or irritation.
This person also is trying to control the other person
such as trying to control the other person's emotions.
They don't want the other person to feel bad so they
will try to refrain from any communication that may seem
negative. However, their feelings may be readable at a
nonverbal level. Unfortunately, the other person may not
read the feelings accurately.
For instance, a girlfriend
is hoping that her boyfriend will pick up on her hints
about wanting to get engaged but doesn't express her
wishes; she becomes irritated with him and when he picks
up on the nonverbal frustration and asks if anything is
wrong, she says, "No." However, he becomes less certain
about their relationship due to this passive-aggressive
Another example is a man who is
disappointed that his wife passed up a job opportunity
but doesn't want to tell her how he feels because he
doesn't want to hurt her feelings. However, his
disappointment leads to him unknowingly being less
affectionate causing his wife to believe that he is less
attracted to her.
TYPES OF PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR.
As you see from some of the previous examples,
passive-aggressive behavior is manifested in many ways.
Although the bottom line in identifying the behavior is
that it succeeds in indirectly expressing anger; the
passive-aggressive individual does not have to take
responsibility for the controlling behavior and angry
message. However, we can divide the behaviors into
several common categories as described below. Obviously,
you will see that these behaviors often overlap so more
than one may occur in a situation.
. This type of
passive-aggressive behavior occurs when the individual
appears to be distressed, frustrated, bored, confused,
or any number of emotions but when questioned refuses to
admit to the feeling. They may outright deny or they may
avoid by ignoring, working, or deflecting with humor.
However, the behavior has the outcome of frustrating the
recipient because they are unable to confront and
resolve the problem. Thus, this individual is able to
control the other by not engaging in conflict resolution
when an obvious problem has occurred.
skilled passive-aggressive blamer can rephrase almost
any comment to make it appear the recipient's fault.
"You should have known!" or "You're too sensitive!" are
common methods of blaming the victim. Sometimes it can
be so extreme as to border on the ridiculous if it
wasn't so hurtful; for example, "You know I'm a grouch
before dinner. I wouldn't have yelled at you if you
wouldn't have asked me a question." This person deflects
all attempts to communicate about problems by blaming
the other person.
Reader's Example: Living with Blaming and Guilting Mother (Part 1)
My partner's mum is staying with us and she's quite PA and I'd love to know better ways of dealing with some of what she does...
A) She blamed my partner for not telling me her plans had changed (in the last thirty minutes) and that she did want me to include her for dinner after all. But she didn't tell him she now wanted to eat but only that she was leaving later. She didn't tell me (the person cooking) anything. We offered to split what we had but she made a fuss whilst making a sandwich and saying "I suppose you don't want to share!" Sporadically through the next hour she'd sigh and say to herself "it wouldn't have taken you both MUCH effort to pad out the meal" and "you've got to start passing messages."
B) Partner's mum is upset dishwasher wasn't run overnight. She complains to my partner loudly enough that I can hear: "I know she doesn't CARE about keeping the house tidy but how could anyone NOT run the dishwasher? Why on earth WOULDN'T you?"
"That's a little unfair when you make these general statements. I know she cares and she must have had a reason."
"Why on earth wouldn't you! It's just common sense!"
(In fact I hadn't run it because she'd often complained about running it when it wasn't totally full and had even unpacked the top row to demonstrate that you could jam one more glass inside. This time the dishwasher had five or six spaces.)
"I would like you to think about maybe not making general statements. It upsets people."
"I'm not allowed to think anything! I've just got to shut up and keep my thoughts to myself. You want me gone. You make it totally clear you HATE having me here!"
"We like you here. I just want you to know people feel hurt if..."
"I'm not ALLOWED to say anything!!" Slams door, sulks in room. We leave her to it. Returns two hours later to scream at partner that he's a hateful (expletive)! Slams sitting room door. More sulking.
. This behavior is
calculated to try to hurt the other person without
taking responsibility. An example of this is described
above with the "back-handed compliment." The individual
somehow is threatened by the other, whether real or
imagined, and seeks revenge in an underhanded manner. By
doing so, they can claim ignorance if confronted such as
"I had no idea you would take it that way" or resort to
blaming "You must be imagining that. I would never do
anything to hurt you."
. This behavior seeks
to control the individual in an indirect manner. For
instance, a man who emotionally abuses his partner says
"No one could ever love you the way I do" with the
intended result being insecurity in the woman so that
she won't leave him. Another example is parents telling
their adult children that they should respect or love
them because they are their parents thus trying to
control their behavior. Love and respect is something
that occurs due to the underlying relationship not
because of a demand.
Reader's Example: Controlling by Refusing to Discuss Problems
Question: Any time I want to calmly discuss a situation that is bothering me in our relationship, my husband's reply is always "I don't want to fight about this!" Although I tell him that I'm not trying to fight, I just want to talk about it, he never has the discussion with me and the problems are always left unresolved.
. This behavior controls
through using guilt either directly or indirectly to
control the other. An indirect form of guilt may be
"Don't worry about me...I'll be okay" followed by a
sigh. A more direct form may be describing all the
efforts made on your behalf followed by an expectation
"I've only cleaned the house today, taken the kids to
their activities, checked on your mom. Taking me out to
dinner isn't too much to ask, is it?"
. Many of
the examples above contain sarcasm probably because it
tends to be a favorite of mine. Sarcastic
passive-aggressive comments are the ultimate indirect
form of aggression because they are calculated to avoid
responsibility such as "You know I was just kidding."
Yet, they have the impact of controlling the other
person's emotions and potentially their thinking and
. This behavior often uses
techniques such as hitting below the belt by using
previously confided or sensitive information against the
person or by communicating through someone else but with
plausible deniability. This individual may even resort
to showing artificial concern as a way of validating
their behavior "You know I wouldn't want to hurt you but
I'm only saying this because I'm concerned about you."
Reader's Example: Back-stabbing Doctor
Question: A doctor I work with feels I am "too proud" and independent in my work. He dislikes my personality, and that's ok--we don't have to be buddies. But he has taken to telling each new group of residents that there is no point discussing anything with me because I am overbearing. He tells them they should just avoid discussion and agree with me. When I present an assessment in rounds he covers his eyes and bows his head. After he leaves, if I need to speak to one of the residents about a patient having problems, I can see them bracing themselves as I approach or rolling their eyes even though we may have never yet spoken to each other! I am viewed as a competant and compassionate doctor by families and co-workers, but this treatment is distracting and disheartening. It is making it difficult to provide safe care, to the point that I have considered leaving my practice.
As you can see with the examples in this article, many
times the actual words that the passive-aggressive
person uses may seem reasonable or even caring.
Therefore, to determine passive-aggressive behavior, the
context, the relationship, previous experiences with the
individual, and the non-verbal communication needs to be
considered. However, without even considering all of
these factors, you usually know that you are the
recipient of passive-aggressive behavior by your own
emotional reaction. If you feel frustrated, deflated, or
crazy as a result of an interaction, it probably was
HOW DO YOU HANDLE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE PEOPLE?
This needs to be the subject of a separate
article. In fact, what I would like to do is to use some
real-life examples that people submit and discuss them
in detail in another article. So, if you have an
example, please submit it on the form below by
describing the situation in detail, your relationship
with the person, and the specifics of what was said and
how it was said.
Although each situation may vary, there
are some basic steps you can take with
1) Identify the reward
Determine what the passive-aggressive person achieves by
engaging in the behavior. Do they get something they
want? Do they make you feel bad? Do they discharge their
anger on to you so they can feel better? Do they
escalate conflict so they can make you look bad?
Reader's Example: Why Does My Husband Want a "Reward" for Hurting Me?
Question: Best article on passive/aggressive. Wish I read this 27 years ago. Didn't know what I have been dealing with. Why does my husband want a "reward" of seeing me hurt, upset, put down? Is this sick behavior learned from watching his parents? Will he ever "want" to treat me nice? Or is he incapable? I just want a husband who loves me and acts like it. I have been telling him for years his behavior is emotionally abusive, but he cant seem to stop. Why? Why is his reward to see me unhappy?
2) Refuse to provide the reward
If you refuse to provide
the reward, they are no longer in control of the
interaction which tends to cause the situation to
backfire on them. For instance, when the co-worker I
described earlier would give me a back-handed compliment
I would effusively respond "Oh, that's so nice of you to
say that! I really appreciate it!" as if it were a true
compliment. This would have the effect of making her
believe that she had not accomplished her purpose (which
she hadn't anyway because I was thinking "How silly of a
grown adult to act this way") which tended to reduce the
behavior because she was getting her reward of feeling
better at my expense.
If you determine that the
individual is trying to escalate conflict, then you want
to become even more calm almost to an extreme. The more
calm you become, the more apparent and ridiculous their
behavior will appear. Plus, you are not allowing them to
get the reward of freely discharging their anger on to
you. What I mean is that if you allow the situation to
escalate, they will then engage in a full battle while
blaming you for "starting" the argument.
3) Indirectly confront
Obviously, as I described above, if you
directly confront the passive-aggressive person is
likely to turn it against you. But if you confront with
"I" statements instead of "you" statements and remain
very calm you may be able to reduce the behavior.
Although you are unlikely to get them to admit they were
wrong, since they do not like to take responsibility,
they are more likely to reduce the behavior if they know
they will be confronted every time.
example uses the broken-record technique in which you
repeatedly make your point of letting them know how you
feel when they act in a passive-aggressive manner.
need to be careful what you're eating. You're getting
"I feel hurt when you call me fat."
"I'm just saying that because I'm concerned about you."
"But I feel hurt when you call me that."
"You're just too sensitive!"
"That may be, but I'm letting you know that
I feel hurt when you call me names." This statement uses
the technique of agreeing with them but still using the
broken record to make your point.
"You need to just get over it."
"Since I've told you that I feel hurt when you
call me names should I assume that you are trying to
hurt me when you call me names?" This last line should
not be uttered unless the passive-aggressive person
ESCALATION OF BEHAVIOR WHEN SETTING LIMITS
When you start changing a behavior pattern in which
you've engaged with someone for a period of time,
sometimes you may see the behavior get worse. Although
sometimes this is because you are still learning and
needing more practice, many times it occurs because the
person will try to escalate the behavior in order to
obtain their reward. It is much different from trying to
change a child's temper tantrums. If you have been
rewarding the child by trying to quiet her with a piece
of candy whenever she has a temper tantrum and then you
decided to stop doing that, you will initially see an
increase in the temper tantrums. However, if you remain
firm and consistent, eventually they will decrease.
It will take time to learn to handle passive-aggressive
people, however, it will be well worth the effort. When
I'm working with clients frequently it will take a
number of tries and adjustments in our approach but if
we examine the behavior and the reward process we can
usually find a method that can work.
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