It’s easy to recognise aggressive behaviour: Somebody raises their voice, says intimidating things, or maybe even resorts to physical abuse and violence. Passive-aggressive behaviour, on the other hand, is subtler, sneakier – and a lot harder to recognise.
“Aggressive behaviour is easy to call out. Behaviour that is passive-aggressive is much more difficult to put into words,” says Jessica L. Griffin, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics. “Simply put, passive-aggressive behaviour refers to behaviour that is indirect and typically results from negative feelings that the individual has difficulty directly – or openly – expressing.”
For those on the receiving end, passive-aggressive behaviour can be emotionally destabilising, says Abisola Olulade, MD, a family medicine physician.
“The fact that it is often subtle and not direct yet very hostile causes victims to question whether they are imagining things. They may not realise or understand what is happening at first, which is part of why it can be traumatising.”
Here, some signs of passive-aggressive behaviour you need to know, along with expert tips on how to deal with it.