Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder

Passive aggressive persons do not handle their negative feelings directly. Instead, they express them through their actions. What they say is often different from what they do. Passive aggressive personality disorder is a symptom of various mental disorders. However, it is not classified among mental health conditions. The disorder may affect an individual’s performance at the work place and his or her ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships.

How to Know If Someone Has Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder

In most cases, what a person with a passive-aggressive behavior says is different from what
they do. Their behavior is offensive to their friends, colleagues, and family members. Sometimes the person is unaware of his or her offensive behavior. The common signs of this disorder include:

  • Showing hostility and bitterness when others make requests
  • Intentional delays and mistakes when granting other people’s requests
  • An aggressive, pessimistic and cynical demeanor
  • Complaining that they feel deceived or unappreciated frequently
  • Protesting and criticizing others regularly
  • Easily irritable and disagreeable
  • Forgetfulness and procrastination
  • Inefficiency in performing tasks
  • Stubbornness
  • Constantly blaming others

 A person with passive aggressive personality disorder may oppose a proposed plan at the work place without saying so. He/she will speak of his/her support for the plan but will not follow it. Instead, he/she may undermine the plan by attending meetings late or missing deadlines intentionally.

Why does It Occur?

The exact reason why some people have passive-aggressive behavior is still unknown. Researchers indicate that environmental and biological factors may cause the behavior to develop. The behavior may start in childhood because of family and parenting dynamics among other factors. An individual may develop passive aggressive behavior because of harsh punishment, child abuse, low self-esteem, neglect and substance abuse. If a person has other underlying health conditions, he or she may develop signs similar to those of passive aggressive personality disorder.

The health conditions associated with this behavior include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Cocaine withdrawal
  • Conduct disorder
  • Stress
  • Schizotypal personality disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Oppositional defiant disorder

How to Deal With Passive-Aggressive People

1. Do Not Personalize Their Behavior or Overreact

Do not be quick to jump into a conclusion when you interact with a passive aggressive person for the first time. Instead, view the situation in all possible ways before reacting. Avoid personalizing his/her behaviors to develop an objective perception of the behaviors. A wide perspective will also eliminate misunderstanding.

2. Stay Away Where Possible

Individuals with passive aggressive behavior are more difficult to handle than openly aggressive individuals. The later are predictable because they use direct actions and words. Passive aggressive are unpredictable and will deny having a hidden agenda when confronted. Be diplomatic if you must deal with a person with passive aggressive personality disorder. Otherwise, keep a distance wherever possible.

3. Do Not try to Change Their Behavior and Attitude

Trying to change passive aggressive behavior through dialogue is noble but you will be disappointed and frustrated in the end. The causes of this behavior are deep-rooted and complex. The person can only change when they mature and become aware of their behavior. Instead of trying to change their attitude and behavior, focus on controlling your own behavior and attitude.

4. Use Humor to Show Composure in Mild Situations

Humor is an effective communication tool that disarms difficult behavior. It is a display of your superior composure to the other person. You can use humor in different ways to eliminate or reduce difficult behavior when solving a conflict.

5. Use Formal Language and Be Proactive in Serious Situations

If you interact with a passive aggressive person regularly, be proactive and deal with serious damaging patterns early. Tolerating negative patterns or behavior encourages them to continue and intensify. Set the tone of your relationship and use formal communication tools. For instance, you can communicate in writing or involve other parties in your dialogues as witnesses. Keep records of agreements, disagreements, deadlines, issues and timelines.

Do not raise passive-aggressive incidents alone. Have a witness when you raise an issue. The witness can be physically present or copied in your written communication. Let the passive aggressive person gather his or her facts about the issue before raising it. Review records of your previous communication as well to support your position on the issue. Accusations or statements starting with “you” are likely to trigger a defense reaction from the passive aggressive person. Instead, start your sentences with let’s, I, this, it or we and then state your facts. Facts and evidence give you credibility.  

6. Allow the Aggressive Passive Person to Help in Solving a Problem Where Appropriate

Individuals with passive aggressive personality disorder have a difficult behavior because they believe no one listen to them. Try including such a person in discussions on how to solve a challenge and see if they will suggest constructive solutions. Do not agree or disagree if they choose to complain or criticize. Indicate that you will consider what they said and then proceed to solve the problem.

7. Establish Consequences of Resistance and Non-cooperation

Most passive aggressive persons resist any confrontations about their behavior. They may resort to denial, pointing fingers or making excuses. Let the person know what you intend to do if the behavior continues. Set some consequences that will make the person consider changing his or her behavior. When you identify and assert the right consequences, the aggressive person moves from obstruction to cooperation.

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