Passive-aggressive behavior can be frustrating and confusing, especially when it happens in a relationship. It's not always easy to spot, but it can be incredibly damaging if left unchecked. Whether it's a romantic partnership, a family dynamic, a social circle, or the workplace, passive-aggressive behavior can cause tension and harm to all involved.
According to the NYU Medical Center, passive-aggressive individuals may seem compliant or appropriate, but they actually behave negatively and resist passively. This can show up in a variety of ways, from making excuses to outright sabotage. If you think you might be in a passive-aggressive relationship, it's important to know what to look for.
In this article, we'll explore seven common traits that passive-aggressive people exhibit in relationships. Remember, even if you don't see all of these signs in your own relationship, any one of them can be cause for concern.
1. Verbal Hostility
People who are passive-aggressive often use veiled verbal hostility to put others down and make themselves feel better. This can include talking badly about other people, criticizing their ideas and expectations, dismissing their feelings and experiences, and talking to them like they are children. The goal may be to gain power and control in the relationship or to make other people unhappy.
2. Hostile Humor
Another common trait of passive-aggressive individuals is the use of disguised hostile humor. This includes sarcasm, teasing, and "joking" followed by "just kidding." It can be used to express hidden anger, disdain, or rejection towards an individual, or to marginalize their dignity and credibility.
3. Relational Hostility
Passive-aggressive individuals may also use disguised relational hostility to express their anger or resentment. This can include the silent treatment, social exclusion, neglect, sullen resentment, or indirectly hurting something or someone important to the targeted person. The intention may be to create a negative and disconcerting environment or to put the targeted recipient off balance.
People who are passive-aggressive may use sly psychological manipulation to trick and control others. Some examples are lying, making excuses, backstabbing, putting the blame on the victim, and giving or withholding key information on purpose. The goal may be to avoid taking responsibility, change facts or how people see them, distort reality, or draw attention away from the real problem.
Underhanded sabotage is the act of intentionally undermining tasks, projects, activities, deadlines, or agreements, causing harm or loss materially. This can take many forms, such as overspending, wrecking positive chemistry interpersonally, socially, or professionally, deliberately disclosing harmful information, or obstructing communication and endeavors.
Possible intentions for underhanded sabotage include covertly expressing anger, hostility, and resentment towards an individual, group, or organization, channeling unspoken gripes or unresolved past issues, personal, social, or professional jealousy, or subtly administering punishment or revenge.
Self-punishment involves actions such as quitting, deliberate failure, addiction, or self-harm. The possible intention behind this behavior could be to hurt another by hurting oneself, aiming to frustrate, frighten, or pain someone, appeal to sympathy, drama, wanting and needing attention, or a cry for help on deeper issues (which might require strong intervention).
Victimhood behavior can manifest as exaggerated or imagined personal or health issues, dependency, co-dependency, or deliberately acting frail to elicit sympathy and favor. The intention behind victimhood behavior is often designed to exploit the recipient's goodwill, guilty conscience, sense of duty and obligation, or protective and nurturing instinct.