A passive-aggressive personality is undoubtedly the most frustrating personality type to come across.

By the time you’ve worked out that someone is being passive-aggressive, you have already thought that you were the one going mad.

Passive-aggressive behaviour is defined as ‘indirect expression of hostility through passive methods.’ So how can you spot a passive-aggressive person and take control before they suck you into their toxic behaviour?

Learning to spot the signs of a passive-aggressive personality is key. Here are eight of them:

1. Sullen behaviour or sulking

Not talking through a problem is a very passive-aggressive way of dealing with an issue. It gives the person sulking the upper hand through their silence, but they are not actually being aggressive in their nature. They are simply remaining quiet, however, by not communicating, they are holding the power in the relationship.

2. Failure to complete a task

Colleagues that continually fail to complete a task or keep making mistakes could be doing so on purpose so that they will not be asked again. The right way to go about this would be to approach the boss and state that they feel the work is above their capability.

3. They say they are okay, but they are not

Ever had a friend that is constantly in a mood and whenever you ask if they are okay they say in a sad voice ‘Yes, I’m fine’, then go on being sad? Mature people open up about their feelings and don’t bring the rest of the group down.

People with passive-aggressive personality don’t want you to help them, they want to be the focus of the attention.

4. They are always late but blame others

If you have witnessed that one employee that is always late but always rushes in, stressed out, blaming everyone and everything for them being late but themselves? That is passive-aggressive behaviour.

Why? Because as a manager, you cannot take to task the late bus, the crying baby that kept them up all night, and all the other very good reasons they give. A good employee takes responsibility for being late.

5. Forgetting to ‘do something’

Purposely forgetting to do something that puts you at a disadvantage is second nature to the passive-aggressive personality. This could something as simple as leaving your name off an email list so that you do not get an important document and look unprofessional in a meeting.

Or it could be forgetting to invite you to a work’s social event. Of course, the beauty is that you can never prove that they have forgotten.

6. They procrastinate

It is typical for a passive-aggressive person to procrastinate if they do not want to do a particular thing. For most of us, the act of procrastination is a subconscious decision. We do not realise we are procrastinating when we have a task to fulfil that we don’t want to do, and we find ourselves on social media sites instead.

For the passive-aggressive personality, however, it is a very deliberate act to procrastinate. They will not complete a task until the very last minute, making the person who requested the task pay.

7. They give back-handed compliments

You will never get a genuine compliment from a passive-aggressive person. They might say: “That dress looks gorgeous on you! I don’t think I could get away with it, I’m much too thin.” Or “Wow, this is really quite big for a starter home!” Or “Well done on your promotion, it’s a shame our son didn’t qualify under the diversity programme.

A passive-aggressive person will always use your achievements as a way to bring theirs to your attention.

8. They make wistful statements

Finally, the last passive-aggressive behaviour is when a person wants something but does not ask for it in a direct manner, instead, makes wistful statements and hopes the other person picks up on the clues.

For example, you are going on holiday and your friend says “I’ve always wanted to visit Venice but could never afford to go.” This makes you feel guilty for having a holiday and for not inviting your friend.

A far better way for your friend to state her request would be “I love Venice, let me know when you plan to go again and maybe I can save up and come with you?

Why Do People Become Passive-Aggressive?

Letting Go of Grudges

Why do some people approach conflict in a passive-aggressive way and adopt the toxic behaviors described above? There could be many factors, including one’s childhood experiences and personality traits. Here are a few possible causes:

1. They were not given the freedom to express themselves as children

Like most behavioural problems, we have to look back to our childhoods. Experts believe that children who were brought up in homes where it was not safe to express their natural frustration or anger may grow up with a passive-aggressive disorder. For example, children who have controlling, abusive or narcissistic parents.

These children would have learned very early on to use other channels in which to let their anger out. As a result, when they grow up, they can’t face conflict in an open way or express their emotions freely.

2. They don’t have a good touch with their emotions

When you don’t know how to release your emotions, especially negative ones, they poison you on the inside. The frustration and resentment constantly grow bigger and when they don’t find the way out, being negative and bitter becomes your second nature. You come to be a slave of your own bottled up emotions.

This is when you turn into a passive-aggressive person and use this toxic behavior as the only way to release all the negativity you have inside you.

At the same time, it is worth noting that passive-aggressive behaviour is not a trait of toxic personalities only. Sometimes, good people who just don’t have good touch with their emotions may have passive-aggressive traits too.

Some examples include emotionally detached individuals or those with extremely reserved personalities. In other words, people who struggle with expressing their emotions and communicating the way they feel to others.

3. They are mentally weak

A mentally weak person can’t just face conflict, obstacles, and hardships. It’s a too difficult task. But you know what? Everyone wants to feel powerful, even those who lack mental toughness.

Thus, the only way for a weak person to feel powerful is a passive-aggressive approach. It gives them the illusion that they have the upper hand in a relationship or conflict. By giving you the silent treatment, the passive-aggressive person feels like they are in charge.

It’s not uncommon for such people to believe that their passive aggression is actually patience and inner power. In reality, it’s an indication of weakness and low emotional intelligence.

4. They are secretly angry and frustrated with life

As the very name suggests, a passive-aggressive personality has to do with anger and hostility. It just about the way these people let their negative emotions out.

Remember bottled-up emotions we talked about previously? Repressed anger is one of the most toxic ones. It’s an extremely damaging thing that is ruining your mental and physical health. It may stem from jealousy or an overall frustration with life. It is eating you up.

But like any other emotion, anger wants to come out and when you don’t release it openly, it finds indirect ways. It develops into passive aggression.

A passive-aggressive personality could be angry at the whole world for their own failures in life. They tend to blame everyone and everything but themselves for all the adversity that happens to them.

5. They are jealous

Remember those sneaky back-handed compliments? “Wow. I’m so glad you are getting a scholarship! When I was your age, I didn’t manage to.” You don’t need to be an expert to see jealousy in this kind of comment.

The truth is that passive-aggressive personalities are often remarkably jealous too. They secretly hate you for succeeding while their own life is a failure. Or they just envy you for being younger/smarter/more attractive than they are.

This jealousy is eating them up inside and the only possible way to release it is to give people back-handed compliments and wistful statements.

6. They have low self-esteem


Passive aggression may stem from self-esteem issues. It’s a way of weak people to feel better about themselves. When they give you an unkind back-handed compliment, they see the confusion on your face. They know they’ve managed to make you feel bad. And at that very moment, they feel superior to you.

It’s the only way a passive-aggressive person can feel better about themselves because having severe self-esteem issues equals feeling inadequate most of the time. Passive aggression gives such people a temporary remedy for that.

7. They crave attention

Finally, people with a passive-aggressive personality secretly crave attention. But again, they can’t get it in a direct and open way. So they use these kinds of tricks described above like saying they are fine while having a sad expression on their face. In reality, they may not even be sad at all.

All a passive-aggressive person wants is your attention and empathy. They achieve the same result when directing the conversation to themselves in an underhand way. In essence, passive-aggressive people are emotional vampires who feed off those around them.

Whether they manage to make you feel bad or to get your attention, they receive an emotional response that gives them a sort of energy boost. And this is what the passive-aggressive personality wants.

As you see from the above, people with passive-aggressive personalities are difficult to be around. If someone in your life has these kinds of behaviours, check this article to learn how to deal with passive-aggressive people.

Do these sound like someone you know? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org

Copyright © 2012-2024 Learning Mind. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact us.

power of misfits book banner desktop

Like what you are reading? Subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss new thought-provoking articles!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Enlightened by your words

    This is a great, straight forward article. Thank you for putting this into perspective for me.

Leave a Reply