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What Exactly Does Passive Aggressive Mean?

Like “gluten” or “literally,” the term “passive aggressive” gets thrown around a lot, but is often misunderstood. Here are 6 examples of what it really means to be passive aggressive.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD ,
June 1, 2015

You may complain that your annoying coworker, manipulative sister, or neighbor who left youa note is “passive aggressive,” but is it really?

Here’s the skinny: individuals who are passive aggressive are hostile, but in a thinly disguised manner. They’ll let you know through little barbs and lapses that they’re angry with you, but they’ll never confront you directly. Instead, they demonstrate their defiance or resistance indirectly, or at least disguise it with a tightly clenched smile and a semi-growled, “Have a nice day.”

It is thought that passive aggressive behavior develops when kids are taught it’s not OK to be angry. Trying to suppress anger is like trying to keep a lid on boiling water—eventually the steam will spew out any available crack. As such, kids who grow up to be passive aggressive learn that instead of airing their anger directly, they have to disguise their methods while fuming behind the smile.not listening passive aggressive

Are you dealing with a passive aggressive individual? Look for these passive aggressive moves:

Example #1: Insisting “I’m fine, really," or “Wrong? Nothing’s wrong," or “What makes you think I’m mad? I’m not mad. Nope, not me.”

Example #2: Showing up late to events they’re resentful about attending. Rather than say, “I’m so sorry, but I just can’t make it,” they turn up tardy. If you confront them, they’ll blame traffic, their workload, or anything but their own anger.  

Example #3: Procrastination or stalling. They’ll wait until the last minute to do something for which they’re responsible, sometimes just to annoy you. “Sure, right after this!” or “I’ll do it just as soon as I can!”  

Example #4: Playing the victim, which goes hand in hand with lame excuses. “I couldn’t remember everything you told me to get from the grocery store, so I couldn’t go," or “Why are you so upset? I unloaded the dryer just like you said. You didn’t tell me I had to fold it and put it away.”

Example #5: Ignoring you. You’ll get silence and tumbleweeds in response to your repeated emails or voicemails. If you confront them, they’ll play it off. A classic: teens with earbuds in their ears magically can’t hear you request a favor, but they can hear you say it’s time for dinner.

Example #6: “Forgetting” things. “Sorry, that meeting wasn’t on my schedule. You should send an email reminder next time.”

To sum up, passive aggressive individuals are the opposite of team players. Rather than just saying what’s wrong, they’ll create obstacles, waste time, and generally make everyone’s job more difficult, not to mention less pleasant.

For some addictively hilarious passive aggressive examples (and others that aren’t truly passive aggressive, but are still funny), check out passiveaggressivenotes.com.

Not listening image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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