Five Signs You're Dealing with a Passive-Aggressive Person

How does a a passive-aggressive person behave? How do they manage to cause so much harm? These signs will help you identify these kinds of people and take action.
Five Signs You're Dealing with a Passive-Aggressive Person

Last update: 21 November, 2021

There are some prototypical aggressive behaviors. However, there are also others that aren’t usually identified as such. For example, passive-aggressive behaviors. These are characterized by ambiguity or subtlety. They might make you uncomfortable or feel confused, and you may not necessarily even react to them. In fact, in many cases, you let them pass because you don’t think it’s worth starting an argument.

In this article, you can learn about five signs that tell you you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive person, the kind who tends to use these kinds of behaviors. We also mention some strategies to help you cope.

1. The passive-aggressive person is ambivalent

You can tell you’re facing a passive-aggressive person in the way they relate to you. For instance, on some days they may behave quite politely. However, on other days they show hostility and rejection for no apparent reason.

It’s also possible that they indirectly express hostility toward you. For instance, using subtle and veiled insults, or pointing out your weak points, as if they’re trying to make a positive criticism when, in reality, they’re attacking you. These kinds of behaviors can become extremely disabling. These people also tend to systematically ignore your opinions, as if, because they come from you, they’re of no use.

This form of passive-aggressive behavior can make you insecure about your social skills. That’s because it makes you worry if you’ve done something wrong or if these people really have cause to be angry with you.

Man talking to his friend

2. They have communication problems

In addition, the passive-aggressive person tends to have communication problems in their different environments.

They send mixed messages and make statements then deny them. Furthermore, they announce that they’re going to do one thing and then do another. They also systematically accuse others of lying. Therefore, communicating with these people usually ends up consuming all your energy.

This communication difficulty means that people who behave in this way are often not seen as reliable. For this reason, they may be given fewer responsibilities than others. This, in turn, causes other traits associated with passive-aggressiveness to emerge.

3. They feel belittled and undervalued

There’s a tendency for passive-aggressive people to make constant complaints about feeling despised or used by others. They also claim to feel underappreciated, undervalued, and not recognized for their talents and abilities.

These self-victimizing behaviors become a form of emotional manipulation for them to gain advantages or benefits in their relationships. Unfortunately, if you’re exposed to their recriminations, you tend to feel guilty and want to compensate for the feelings of misunderstanding and rejection that you’ve apparently generated in them.

4. They avoid their responsibilities

Another characteristic sign of a passive-aggressive person is that they have the habit of not assuming their responsibilities and commitments. This trait has nuances. For example, it can be made visible when they exhibit inefficiency and carelessness. This means they’ll get asked to take on fewer responsibilities. On the other hand, it can also appear by way of blaming others or external events when things go wrong for them.

Added to this, as we mentioned earlier, these people usually speak and act in a rather different way. Either way, a passive-aggressive person will tend to repeatedly excuse themselves, procrastinate, or argue feelings of overload and injustice.

Woman talking to boyfriend

5. They’re bad-tempered

The presence of bad moods can also help identify passive-aggressive people. For example, they might be the kinds of people who seem to be sad and angry for no apparent reason. This kind of behavior generates negative responses in the environment, making it difficult to work with them as a team.

Similarly, the display of these moods can feed back into their feelings of misunderstanding and their tendency to blame others. In other words, they may exhibit sadness in the face of the injustices of which they believe they are victims. On the other hand, they demonstrate unexpected anger to the mistreatment that, according to them, they suffer.

If you’re having to deal with a passive-aggressive person, you should remember that trying to unmask them directly doesn’t usually work. As a matter of fact, taking into account that the purpose of passive-aggressive behavior is usually to affect you, perhaps the most effective thing you can do is to ignore these behaviors.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Hopwood, C. & Wright, A. (2012) A Comparison of Passive–Aggressive and Negativistic Personality Disorders, Journal of Personality Assessment, 94:3, 296-303, DOI: 10.1080/00223891.2012.655819
  • Rodríguez Sanz, J., Álvarez-Ude Cotera, F., & Gimeno Vicent, E. (2016). La asertividad. FMC – Formación Médica Continuada En Atención Primaria, 23(6), 352–357.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.