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Passive-aggressive (PA) behavior is an indirect method of expressing criticism or negative emotions such as anger, frustration, disappointment, disapproval. By using an indirect approach the PA person does not take responsibility for the comments or behavior and can easily shift blame. PA behavior often leaves the recipient experiencing frustration and self-doubt.
Generally, difficult social conflicts frequently involve PA behavior. The reason PA behavior is often more distressing than even aggressive behavior is because you are not only hurt but it causes you to doubt yourself and your experience of reality. In contrast, 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.”
PA behavior is not so clear. The purpose of PA behavior is for the aggressor to avoid responsibility for their actions while causing distress for someone else or obtaining something they want.
PA behavior can easily be denied or blame shifted:
All PA people have a goal. It can be to make themselves feel better or to undermine your efforts in some way or to get what they want. By being aware of the underlying purpose of the behavior 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.