Passive Aggressive Personality

Written by Janelle Martel | Published on July 10, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Passive-Aggressive Personality?

A person with a passive-aggressive personality expresses his or her negative feelings indirectly through his or her actions.

For example, someone proposes a plan. A person with a passive-aggressive personality actually opposes the plan but says that he or she agrees with it. The person promises to follow the plan. Instead, he or she passively resists following the plan. He or she may purposely miss deadlines, turn up late to meetings, and work against the plan in other ways.

What Are the Causes?

The cause of passive-aggressive personality is not known. However, both biological and environmental factors may contribute. Associated conditions include:

  • attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • stress
  • anxiety disorders
  • depression
  • conduct disorder
  • oppositional defiant disorder
  • bipolar disorder
  • schizotypal personality disorder
  • schizophrenia
  • alcohol abuse
  • cocaine withdrawal

What Are the Symptoms?

There is a disconnect between what an individual with a passive-aggressive personality says and what he or she does. His or her behavior often angers family members, friends, and coworkers. However, the person may not be aware of what he or she is doing.

Symptoms include:

  • criticizing or protesting
  • being disagreeable
  • procrastinating or being forgetful
  • performing tasks inefficiently
  • acting hostile or cynical
  • acting stubborn
  • easily blaming others
  • being irritable
  • complaining about being unappreciated
  • displaying resentment over the demands of others

Diagnosis

A doctor will not formally diagnosis a person with a passive-aggressive personality because it is not a disorder. However, a doctor can identify a behavioral problem that requires treatment. He or she will ask questions about symptoms. These could include when they began and the affect they have on your life, work, and relationships.

If your doctor suspects that you have a passive-aggressive personality, he or she may refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist for a psychological evaluation. Your doctor will be able to develop a treatment plan based on this assessment. He or she may ask you to complete several questionnaires about your symptoms, thoughts, and history. Your doctor will ask about your childhood and the experiences that evoke symptoms.

Your doctor may also order neurological tests. These tests will help determine if an underlying condition could be affecting your brain. Testing may include blood tests, a neurological examination, or imaging tests (to look at your brain).

What Are the Treatment Options?

Your doctor will treat you for any underlying conditions. He or she may also refer you to a counselor or other mental health professional for counseling. Counseling will help you identify passive-aggressive behavior and why it needs to change.

Your counselor can teach you how to change your behavior. He or she can also help you work through anger or low self-confidence issues that are causing your passive-aggressive behavior. Your counselor will teach you effective coping strategies. Coping strategies include learning to look objectively at a situation and problem solving.

Assertiveness training can also help an individual with passive-aggressive personality. Assertiveness training courses teach you how to express your thoughts and concerns. This can help to reduce behavior caused by underlying anger and frustration.

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