The Truth About Passive-Aggressive Behavior

By Marcia Sirota MD

passive-aggressive_OMTimesPassive-aggressive behavior is an extremely troublesome but misunderstood phenomenon. People frequently accuse each-other of engaging in it without really understanding what it is. On the other hand, when they encounter the real thing, they’re unable to recognize it and are therefore victimized by those who employ it.

So who is a passive-aggressive person, really? Essentially, it’s someone who engages in the indirect expression of anger. This person is unable to acknowledge to themselves or to others that they are angry, so they unconsciously bury this feeling deep in their psyche. Unfortunately, buried emotions have a way of leaking out, as I’ll soon demonstrate.

Anger is a complicated emotion. In our society it’s both celebrated (see any action or payback movie) and reviled. Anger is seen as both powerful and dangerous; both the path to success and a sign of destructiveness.

It’s difficult for us to separate anger from violence or to see images of anger expressed constructively anywhere in the media. We’re given mixed messages about this emotion and if we grow up with parents who tell us that our anger was “bad,” our confusion worsens.

Some people might have had a raging parent, and having seen this inappropriate expression of anger, come to feel that any anger is terrible and begin to repress it within themselves.

All of these things go into making someone passive-aggressive. Psychologically, this person needs to have an outlet for their repressed anger but is terrified to let it out. They fear that their anger might hurt others or that they’ll be punished for showing it. On the other hand, like any feeling, it pushes against the unconscious barriers to be released.

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About The Author

Dr. Marcia Sirota is a Toronto-based board certified psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of trauma and addiction, as well as founder of the Ruthless Compassion Institute, whose mandate is to promote the philosophy of Ruthless Compassion and in so doing, improve the lives of people, everywhere.

  • Shana

    Raised by a very loving, caring, manipulative passive aggressive parent, I chose to marry someone very much the same. Some things one can live with but the weapon of choice was incessant adultery on many levels. It is true emotional abuse and it took many years to see things for what they were. Walking away was the only sane choice.