Passive/aggressive behavior is when someone is upset with you, but rather than try to work it out, they deny being upset.  Instead, they do things that they know will hurt or anger you.

In late 2015 when my parents came to my home, my mother wanted me to do something for her.  As usual, she ordered me to do it, rather than asked.  It really ticked me off.  I am her daughter, not the hired help and I do not like being treated as such.  I also hated the smug look she got when she knew she upset me.  I got creative in my response.  I smiled at her and responded with “since you asked me so nicely, of course I’ll do it.”  She did not say anything, and I figured my sarcasm made no difference.

A few days later, my mother called me, wanting me to look something up on my computer for her.  Rather than her usual demand, she asked me nicely, so I looked it up.  It seemed like a victory in this area.  I quickly realized that was not the case.  Apparently she was not happy about asking rather than demanding, because she became passive/aggressive.  Her hearing is not the best, but she also uses that when it benefits her to do so.  While I was on the phone with her, about every other sentence at first was “What did you say?  I can’t hear you Honey!”  (Interestingly she only calls me Honey when she is playing deaf, which is how I know beyond a shadow of a doubt what she is up to.)  I was practically screaming into the phone before she suddenly heard me.  As the conversation went on, her hearing suddenly became better.  I could speak fairly quietly yet she heard me.  

Why did my mother behave this way?  I think partly because I let her ramble on about herself – she gained her narcissistic supply, which pleased her – and also partly because she felt that she had satisfactorily let me know she was not pleased with me because I wanted her to ask me to do things rather than demand it.

During the conversation, my mother also slipped in snide comments about how much she hates scary movies/books.  She says she does not understand how anyone can like such awful things!  Why was this mentioned out of the blue?  No doubt because she knows I love scary movies and stories.  This is a way to try to shame me for my “poor choices” without directly doing so.  A way to say I am wrong without using those exact words.

Passive/aggressive behavior is very sneaky.  It makes you wonder if the person acting that way is mad at you or not.  The worst part may be that when you confront the passive/aggressive person, they have a plausible sounding explanation for their behavior.  This makes you doubt your perception of the situation.  Plausible deniability is always a part of passive/aggression, as is the desire to punish another person.

Passive/aggressive behavior is deliberately inefficient, quiet in that the person refuses to discuss their needs and avoids responsibility.

There are other ways a person can exhibit passive/aggressive behavior, such as:



  • Being mean or sarcastic.
  • Withholding praise, affection or intimacy Refusing to complement you, hold your hand, kiss you or even make love to you are common passive/aggressive behaviors.
  • The silent treatment.  Passive/aggressive people love the silent treatment.  Rather than saying, “I was upset when you did something.. can we work it out?” they simply stop talking to you. If you try to ask what is wrong, they refuse to admit anything is wrong or get angry at you for not knowing what is wrong.  The silent treatment is designed to make you come crawling to the person and work hard to gain their forgiveness.  Do not fall for it!

  • Backhanded complements.  We have all heard these at some point.  Passive/aggressive people use them often.  Comments like, “Nice hair cut.  It really helps hide all that gray hair.” or, “I used to have an outfit just like that!  I stopped wearing it after high school though.” are just two examples of backhanded complements.  If a passive/aggressive person says such a comment to you, chances are he or she feels threatened by you in some way.  Maybe that person thinks you look more attractive than they do, you are smarter or more talented.  Sometimes backhanded complements can be hard to spot, so just notice how you feel when someone gives you a complement.  Genuine complements leave you wanting to thank the person and feeling good.  Backhanded complements leave you feeling offended and even confused wondering what the person who said it meant by their words.

  • Fake concern.  Closely related to the backhanded complements are the fake concern comments.  When a passive/aggressive persons says, “I don’t mean to sound judgmental/insensitive, but…” you can guarantee the next words out of that person’s mouth will be judgmental and/or insensitive.  This is their way of saying nasty things to you while appearing to be helpful.  If you say anything about how judgmental or insensitive the person is at this point, you are going to look like a jerk to anyone who does not realize what is happening. That is a jackpot for a passive/aggressive person – making you look bad on top of insulting you.

  • Running late.  Some people are always running behind due to poor time management skills, being forgetful or another reasonable excuse. Passive/aggressive people, however, are not that way. If they have a punctual partner, you can guarantee that they will run late periodically solely for the purpose of irritating that partner. They may say they forgot that special event was in an hour, so they will take their time getting ready and you end up leaving two minutes before the event is due to start.
  • Conveniently “forgetting” things such as special dates (anniversary, birthday, etc).  They may claim to have a lot on their mind so they simply lost track of the date.
  • Not getting around to doing something asked of him/her.  Again, they may claim to have a lot on their mind so they simply forgot.
  • Doing something very poorly so you are forced to do it yourself if you want it done right.  A passive/aggressive spouse may put the laundry in the washer but fail to put them in the dryer for hours claiming he thought you would do that. Or, she may leave your car with virtually no gas in it after using it after you argue. Usually whatever is done poorly is something that has happened countless times before, and rather than argue about it, you just fix the problem quietly.
  • Destruction and sabotage.  Sometimes passive/aggressive people will “accidentally” destroy something important to you when they’re upset with you.  That could be something like “accidentally” spilling red wine on your favorite white shirt or a coworker “forgetting” to tell you that the project you have been working hard on is no longer due next week, but in two days.



Does any of this behavior sound familiar to you?

A lot of people are passive/aggressive.  It is a very common phenomenon with narcissists, but I think it happens with non-narcissistic people as well.  It is a very immature type of behavior, and since there are a great deal of immature people in the world, it is no wonder it is quite common.

There are ways to deal with a person who behaves this way

First, you need to be able to recognize it.  If you do not recognize passive/aggressive behavior, you will end up enabling it.  You will ask the person what is wrong, try to make them happy, do what they seem unable or unwilling to do.

Next, refuse to play along.  If the person wants to behave badly, that is his/her choice.  If someone is constantly late when you are supposed to get together, tell the person that the next time they are late, you will do whatever you were supposed to do together without that person.  Then follow through on it.  Also not try to pry out of this person what is bothering him or her.  He or she is an adult and can behave as such.  Do not reward bad behavior by going along with the manipulation and games!

Pretend not to notice the other person sulking.  Go on with your day in peace.  It will annoy the other person that the behavior is not having the desired effect, so he or she may give up on it.

Passive/aggressive behavior is very common on social media.  Vague posts about how “some people” behave or think just after you had a disagreement on that topic, or posting things showing a person is for something you are against or vice versa are all too common.  Social media is great, but it can be a useful tool for narcissists and other passive/aggressive people.  When these things happen, ignore them.  Obviously the person posting what they have wants to make a point without discussing it with you in an adult manner.  Opting to try to discuss it with them would most likely only frustrate you.  Just ignore them.  You also can unfollow or unfriend them.

Lastly, never forget to pray.  God will help you to identify & deal with this awful behavior in the most effective ways possible.  All you have to do is ask Him to