No doubt, passive aggressive behavior is a multifaceted psychological phenomenon that manifests in various ways across different contexts, including personal relationships and professional environments. Various psychotherapy paradigms offer insights into the definition, meaning, and examples of passive aggressive behavior, helping us to better understand its underlying dynamics.

passive agressive

Psychoanalytic Perspective on Passive Aggressive Behavior

Definition of Passive Aggressive Behavior

From a psychoanalytic standpoint, passive aggressive behavior is considered a defense mechanism. It allows individuals to express hostility indirectly, maintaining an outward appearance of conformity or positivity while actually undermining or resisting.

Passive Aggressive Behavior Examples

Those include backhanded compliments, deliberate procrastination, and subtle sabotage that can often be observed in personal and professional relationships.

Passive Aggressive Behavior in Relationships

This might manifest as agreeing to tasks but then performing them poorly or late, as a form of expressing hidden anger or resentment towards a partner.

Behavioral Therapy's View on Passive Aggressive Behavior

Defining Passive Aggressive Behavior

CBT identifies passive aggressive behavior as a result of maladaptive thinking patterns. This behavior often stems from beliefs that direct expression of anger or dissatisfaction.

Passive Aggressive Behavior Meaning

Cognitive-behavioral therapists view passive-aggressive actions as outcomes of beliefs that direct expression of anger or dissatisfaction will lead to negative consequences. This often results in suppressed anger and a manifestation of hostility in indirect ways.

Passive Aggressive Behavior Examples

Subtly undermining a partner’s efforts, making snide remarks under the guise of humor, or expressing resentment through compliance with a hidden motive to frustrate others.

Humanistic Approach to Understanding Passive Aggressive Behavior

What Passive Aggressive Behavior Is

In humanistic therapy, passive-aggressive behavior is seen as a failure to express one’s true feelings and needs authentically. It represents a disconnect between real emotions and their expression, which can hinder personal growth and self-actualization.

Passive Aggressive Behavior in Relationships

This might manifest as saying “yes” to please a partner while internally feeling resentment, or not communicating dissatisfaction openly, which can erode trust and intimacy.

Systemic Therapy's Insight on Passive Aggressive Behavior

Passive Aggressive Behavior Meaning

Systemic therapy views passive-aggressive behavior as part of broader relational dynamics. It is often a response to the power imbalances or dysfunctional communication patterns within a family or group.

Passive Aggressive Behavior Examples

A family member may agree outwardly with a decision but disengage from participating, or they might comply with a task but perform it in a way that undermines the intended outcome, thus maintaining a form of control within the family dynamics.

Passive Aggressive Behavior in the Workplace

Passive aggressive behavior in the workplace manifests as indirect expressions of hostility or resentment. Instead of openly communicating dissatisfaction, a passive aggressive employee might express their negative feelings through procrastination, subtle sabotage, intentional inefficiency, or non-verbal cues such as eye-rolling and sighing.

Examples of Passive Aggressive Behavior in the Workplace

  1. Sarcasm: Using sarcastic comments as a tool to disguise criticism under the veil of humor.
  2. Withholding Information: Deliberately withholding information needed by others to complete their tasks effectively.
  3. Backhanded Compliments: Offering compliments that actually convey criticism.
  4. Avoidance: Ignoring communications or requests from colleagues or supervisors.
  5. Sabotage: Subtly creating problems or obstacles that affect the performance of others.

Strategies for Managing Passive Aggressive Behavior in the Workplace

Recognize the Signs of Passive aggressive behavior

Being able to identify passive aggressive behavior is the first step in addressing it. Managers and coworkers should be aware of the common manifestations of such behavior to effectively intervene.

Foster Open Communication

  • Encourage Transparency: Create an environment where employees feel safe expressing their thoughts and feelings openly and professionally.
  • Regular Feedback: Implement regular feedback mechanisms that allow employees to express dissatisfaction constructively.

Address Issues Directly

  • Direct Confrontation: Address passive aggressive behavior directly with the individual in a private, constructive manner. Discuss specific instances of behavior and its impact on the team and work.
  • Conflict Resolution Training: Provide training for managers and employees on conflict resolution to equip them with skills to handle such situations diplomatically.

Promote a Positive Work Environment

  • Team-Building Activities: Engage in team-building exercises that foster trust and camaraderie among team members.
  • Recognition and Rewards: Implement a system to recognize and reward positive behavior and teamwork.

Provide Support and Resources

  • Counseling Services: Offer access to counseling services for employees who may be struggling with personal issues that contribute to passive aggressive behavior.
  • Professional Development: Encourage personal and professional growth through workshops and seminars that help improve communication and interpersonal skills.

Common Examples of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Marriage

  1. Sarcasm: Using sarcastic remarks as a means to express displeasure without addressing the real issue directly.
  2. Silent Treatment: Withholding communication to punish the other person, instead of discussing what’s bothering them.
  3. Procrastination: Intentionally delaying or avoiding responsibilities such as household chores or childcare tasks as a form of resistance or expression of displeasure.
  4. Withholding Affection: Using affection as a weapon, often withdrawing it to avoid addressing underlying issues.
  5. Indirect Communication: Using hints or speaking through others instead of directly addressing issues with the spouse.

Strategies to Combat Passive Aggressive Behavior

Open Communication

  • Encourage Honest Dialogue: Foster an environment where both partners feel safe to express their feelings openly and without judgment.
  • Use “I” Statements: Encourage expressions that focus on the speaker’s feelings rather than accusing or blaming the other party.

Seek to Understand

  • Empathy Building: Try to understand the underlying reasons behind your partner’s passive aggressive behavior. Often, these actions stem from feelings of powerlessness or insecurity.
  • Address Needs: Work on identifying and fulfilling each other’s emotional needs, which can sometimes mitigate the need for passive resistance.

Set Clear Expectations

  • Mutual Agreements: Clearly define the expectations and responsibilities within the marriage to avoid misunderstandings and resentment.
  • Consistent Consequences: Discuss and agree upon the consequences of not meeting these expectations, ensuring they are fair and consistently applied.

Professional Help

  • Couples Therapy: Engaging in couples therapy can provide a safe space to explore the underlying issues contributing to passive aggressive behavior. A trained therapist can help navigate these challenges and develop more constructive coping strategies.
  • Individual Therapy: Sometimes, individual therapy may be beneficial for the partner exhibiting passive aggressive behavior to address personal issues affecting their behavior.

20 phrases that sound nice on the surface, but are actually passive aggressive

“Fine, whatever you want.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: This phrase often suggests resignation and suppressed annoyance. It can imply that while the speaker is outwardly acquiescing, they may actually be holding resentment.

“I’m not mad.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: When said in a tone that suggests the opposite, this phrase can communicate anger indirectly, denying true feelings which creates confusion and mistrust.

“No worries, I’ll just do it myself.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: Suggests that the help offered by others is inadequate, reflecting a martyr attitude that can make others feel guilty or incompetent.

“I thought you knew.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: Implies blame and can be used to make the other person feel left out or negligent, despite the lack of direct communication.

“As you wish.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: Often used to relinquish responsibility while subtly criticizing the decision-making of others; implies that the outcome may be negative but the decision will be supported nonetheless.

“Thanks for letting me know last minute.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: Expresses displeasure about being informed late without addressing the issue directly, often making the other person feel guilty.

“I’m fine, really.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: Can be used to shut down communication and hide true feelings, leaving unresolved issues that may affect relationship dynamics.

“Wow, you actually did that?”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: This backhanded compliment can undermine someone’s achievement, implying surprise that they managed to accomplish something.

“Must be nice…”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: Implies jealousy or resentment towards someone else’s situation, suggesting they are undeserving or have it easy.

“I’ll let you figure it out.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: Can indicate a withdrawal of support, suggesting the other person is on their own, often used to express frustration without direct confrontation.

“Good luck with that.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: When said skeptically, it doubts the other person’s ability to succeed, veiling negativity with a facade of support.

“If you really think that’s a good idea.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: Undermines the other person’s decision or opinion, suggesting it is misguided without openly saying so.

“Sorry, but that’s just my honest opinion.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: Uses honesty as a shield to deliver potentially hurtful judgments, absolving the speaker of responsibility for the impact of their words.

“I guess I expected too much.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: Indicates disappointment without acknowledging personal expectations may have been unreasonable, putting undue pressure on others.

“Not like it matters.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: Dismisses the significance of an issue or opinion, possibly belittling others’ feelings or contributions.

“If you say so.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: Shows apparent agreement but actually expresses doubt or disagreement, dismissing the other’s perspective.

“Sorry you feel that way.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: A non-apology that places the responsibility for feeling hurt or offended on the other person, rather than acknowledging any wrongdoing.

“Hopefully you can handle it.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: Questions the other person’s capability in a veiled way, suggesting a lack of confidence in their abilities.

“Interesting choice.”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: Can subtly criticize someone’s decision or taste, implying it was not what the speaker would have chosen or recommended.

“I’m just joking!”

Why It’s Passive-Aggressive: Used to cover up hurtful comments or criticisms that may not have been well received, suggesting the problem lies with the recipient’s reaction rather than the comment itself.

What are some passive aggressive things an INFJ can do to someone?

INFJs, known for their deep empathy and idealism, may not typically engage in overtly aggressive behaviors. However, like anyone else, they might exhibit passive-aggressive behavior when they feel overwhelmed, misunderstood, or unable to express their feelings directly. Here are some passive-aggressive actions an INFJ might resort to:

Withdrawal of Affection

INFJs value deep connections, so in response to hurt or conflict, they might withdraw emotionally and physically as a means to protect themselves or subtly signal their displeasure.

Sarcasm or Subtle Digs

While INFJs are generally serious about their communication, under stress or when feeling passive-aggressive, they might use sarcasm or make subtle digs. These can be veiled as jokes or innocent comments but are meant to express hidden displeasure.

Silent Treatment

When deeply hurt or feeling unable to express their complex emotions, INFJs might resort to the silent treatment. This is not just about avoiding confrontation but also about signaling that something is wrong without direct communication.

Procrastination or Deliberate Inefficiency

In situations where they feel undervalued or coerced into doing something against their will, an INFJ might procrastinate or perform tasks inefficiently. This isn’t about laziness but rather a non-verbal protest against circumstances they find unjust or misaligned with their values.


Instead of outright refusal or disagreement, an INFJ might give lengthy explanations why something won’t work or why they can’t participate. This might come off as helpful, but it can also be a method to avoid direct conflict while still standing their ground.

Guilt Tripping

An INFJ might indirectly make someone feel guilty to avoid direct conflict. This can involve highlighting how much they have sacrificed for others or the intensity of their own feelings, which places emotional pressure on others to conform to their desires or expectations.

What are some tips for dealing with an INFJ who is being manipulative and passive-aggressive?

Here are some practical tips for navigating this situation effectively.

Open Communication

Approach the conversation with openness and honesty. INFJs respect authenticity, so being straightforward about your feelings can help. Initiate a gentle but direct conversation about how their behavior affects you, emphasizing the importance of transparent communication.

Stay Calm and Patient

When discussing issues, keep your tone calm and your approach patient. INFJs can be very sensitive to criticism, and a defensive or aggressive tone might worsen the situation. Patience can create a safe environment for them to open up about their own feelings.

Address Specific Behaviors

Rather than making broad statements about their personality, focus on specific behaviors that are problematic. For example, if they’re using the silent treatment or sarcastic comments, point out these behaviors and explain how they make you feel, suggesting alternative ways they could express their concerns.

Set Boundaries

It’s important to set clear boundaries. Clearly articulate what is acceptable and what isn’t in your interactions. Boundaries can help prevent manipulation and reduce passive-aggressive interactions.

Encourage Open Expression of Feelings

INFJs may resort to passive-aggressive behaviors if they feel they cannot express their emotions openly. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings openly, possibly through writing if direct conversation is too intense initially.

Validate Their Feelings

Acknowledge and validate their feelings, even if you don’t agree with their actions. Validation can reassure an INFJ that their feelings are understood and respected, which might reduce their need to resort to indirect methods of expression.

Seek Professional Help

If the behavior is deeply rooted and affects your relationship significantly, suggesting counseling or therapy might be beneficial. Professional help can provide strategies and tools to manage and understand passive-aggressive behaviors better.

Practice Self-Care

Dealing with manipulative and passive-aggressive behavior can be emotionally draining. Make sure to take care of your own emotional needs and seek support if needed.

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