Passive-Aggressive Behavior

  • Definition

    A person with a passive-aggressive behavior pattern may appear to comply or act appropriately, but actually behaves negatively and passively resists. In the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, passive-aggressiveness is not officially characterized as a personality disorder. Instead, passive-aggressiveness is labeled as an area that needs further study.
  • Causes

    The cause of passive-aggressiveness is unknown. There may be environmental and genetic factors that contribute to the development of this behavior pattern.
    Prefrontal Cortex
    Prefrontal cortex brain
    This part of the brain is believed to control our ability to act in a way that is socially appropriate. Biological changes to this area may contribute to behavior patterns.
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your risk of passive-aggressive behavior include:
    • Childhood abuse or neglect
    • Harsh punishment
  • Symptoms

    Passive-aggressive behavior includes:
    • Contradictory and inconsistent behavior—A person with this behavior pattern may appear enthusiastic to carry out others’ requests, but purposely performs in a manner that is not useful and sometimes even damaging.
    • Intentional avoidance of responsibility—Some behaviors that may be used to avoid responsibility include:
      • Procrastination—to delay or postpone needlessly and intentionally
      • Deliberate inefficiency—purposefully performing in an incompetent manner
      • Forgetfulness
    • Feelings of resentment toward others
    • Stubbornness
    • Argumentative, sulky, and hostile, especially toward authority figures
    • Easily offended
    • Resentful of useful suggestions from others
    • Blames others
    • Chronically impatient
    • Unexpressed anger or hostility
  • Diagnosis

    A mental health professional diagnoses passive-aggressiveness after doing a psychological evaluation. This may include a range of mental health and neurological tests to assess how the brain is functioning.
  • Treatment

    There is no medication available for passive-aggressiveness. If anxiety or depression is also involved, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants. Antidepressants are medications that ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
    Counseling can help you become aware of the problem and acknowledge the need to change.
  • Prevention

    There are no known ways to prevent passive-aggressive behavior.

    American Psychological Association

    Mental Health America


    Canadian Psychiatric Association

    Health Canada


    Passive-aggressive personality disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated November 30, 2009. Accessed August 13, 2013.

    Personality disorders. Mental Health America website. Available at: Accessed August 13, 2013.

    Revision Information

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