9 Signs You are Dealing with a Passive Aggressive Person
Post by Signe Whitson L.S.W.
Is there someone in your life who makes you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster–friendly one day but pouting silently the next? Does a family member consistently procrastinate, postpone, or stall anytime you make a request of them? Do you have an employee or colleague who chronically misses deadlines or purposefully underperforms in ways that make your whole group look bad? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, chances are good you may be interacting with a passive aggressive person. These nine common phrases can help you recognize hidden hostility when it is being directed your way:
1. “Fine. Whatever!”
Passive aggressive persons commonly sulk and withdraw from disagreements as their fundamental way of coping with rising anger. Rather than put their angry feelings into words and express emotions honestly, they use phrases like “Fine” and “Whatever” to shut down direct communication.
2. “I’m not mad.”
Denying feelings of anger is classic passive aggressive behavior. Rather than being upfront and honest when questioned about his feelings, the passive aggressive person insists, “I’m not mad” even when he or she is seething on the inside.
3. “I didn’t know you meant now.”
Passive aggressive persons can be master procrastinators. While all of us like to put off unpleasant tasks from time to time, people with passive aggressive personalities rely on delay tactics to intentionally frustrate others and get out of unwanted responsibilities.
4. “You just want everything to be perfect.”
When procrastination is not an option, a more sophisticated passive aggressive strategy is to carry out tasks in a timely, but unacceptable manner. For example:
- An angry student hands in sloppy homework.
- A resentful wife prepares a well-done steak for her husband, knowing he prefers to eat steak his rare.
- A hostile employee dramatically overspends the budget on an important project.
In all of these instances, the passive aggressive person complies with a particular request, but carries it out in an intentionally sub-standard way. When confronted, she defends the work, accusing others of having rigid or perfectionistic standards.
5. “I thought you knew.”
Sometimes, the perfect passive aggressive crime has to do with omission. Passive aggressive persons often express their anger covertly by choosing not to share information when it could prevent a problem.
6. “Sure, I’d be happy to.”
Have you ever been in a customer service situation where a seemingly concerned clerk assures you that your problem will be solved quickly? On the surface, the representative is cooperative, but beware of their lip service; behind the scenes, he is filing your request in the trash and stamping your paperwork with “DENY.”
7. “I was only joking”
Sarcasm is a common tool of the passive aggressive person. While some people use sarcastic humor to make light of a difficult situation, passive aggressive people express their hostility through the cover of biting humor and, when confronted, cast themselves in the role of victim, asking, “Geez, can’t you take a joke?”
8. “I’m Just Saying” (IJS)
Just as their sarcastic humor sometimes reveals more of their anger than they’d care to acknowledge, at times a passive aggressive person must defend his hostile words with, “I’m just saying,” a phrase designed to deny angry feelings verbally while affirming hostile meaning.
9. “Why are you getting so upset?”
The passive aggressive person is a master at maintaining calm and feigning shock when others, worn down by their indirect hostility, blow up in anger. In fact, the passive aggressive person takes pleasure out of setting others up to lose their cool and then questioning their “overreactions.”
Signe Whitson, C-SSWS, is a certified school social worker and chief operating officer of the LSCI Institute. She has two decades of experience working with children, teens, and families on issues related to managing anger, de-escalating crisis situations, and changing the culture of bullying in schools and communities. In addition to The Angry Smile, Whitson is the author of five other books including How to Be Angry and 8 Keys to End Bullying: Strategies for Parents & Schools.
Life Space Crisis Intervention (LSCI) is an internationally recognized training and certification program helping professionals and parents turn crisis situations into learning opportunities for children and youth with chronic patterns of self-defeating behavior. For more information on these authors and their work, please visit the website: LSCI.org.
The Angry Smile:The New Psychological Study of Passive-Aggressive Behavior at Home, at School, in Marriage & Close Relationships, in the Workplace & Online