Passive-aggression. How to recognise and tips to deal with it. Also passive-aggressive narcissism.


How to recognise it and tips to deal with it.

Passive-aggressive behaviour is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. There’s a disconnect between what a passive-aggressive person says and what he or she does.


For a passive-aggressive person, true feelings are shared through actions, not words.


For example, a passive-aggressive person might appear to agree, perhaps even enthusiastically, with another person’s request. Rather than completing the task, however, he or she might express anger or resentment by missing deadlines, showing up late to meetings, ‘forgetting ‘ or deliberately not replying to calls or emails, making excuses or even working against the task.


The passive-aggressive will always seem like the nice guy whilst seething below the surface as unable to voice their hostility.


If you are having to deal with someone who is passive-aggressive it can cause you all sorts of problems. Learn to be assertive in expressing yourself. You have a right to your thoughts and feelings so communicate them with honesty and truth. You may feel anger and resentment and this is a perfectly normal reaction to abnormal behaviour. A passive aggressive might not always show that they are angry or resentful.


They might appear in agreement, polite, friendly, down-to-earth, kind and well-meaning. However, underneath there may be manipulation going on – hence the term “Passive-Aggressive”.


Specific signs and symptoms of passive-aggressive behaviour include:


  • Silent resentment and opposition to the requests of others
  • Chronic forgetting -shows a blatant disrespect and disregard for others to punish in some way
  • Making excuses -always coming up with reasons for not doing things
  • Unwilling to give a straight answer which causes confusion and insecurity
  • Giving people the silent treatment.
  • Not replying to call, texts and emails then saying not received or were forgotten
  • Intentional mistakes and inefficiency
  • Unwilling to speak the truth openly, kindly and honestly when asked for your opinion or when asked to do something for someone
  • Disguising criticism with compliments or ‘humour’
  • Chronically being late is another way to exert control or to punish
  • Convenient forgetfulness to win any argument with denial
  • Embarrassing co-workers during meetings and presentations
  • Ambiguity being cryptic, unclear, not fully engaging in conversations
  • Sulking, being silent, morose, sullen and resentful in order to get attention or sympathy
  • Procrastination
  • Complaining about feeling underappreciated or cheated
  • Stubbornness
  • Irritability
  • Cynical or hostile attitude

Although passive-aggressive behavior can be a feature of various mental health conditions, it isn’t considered a mental diagnosis. If you find you are being passive-aggressive and it is interfering with your relationships at work or home consult a therapist who can help you identify and try to change your behaviour. In being passive aggressive you are not giving yourself or others an opportunity to listen to what you think or feel.


Passive aggression might be seen as a defence mechanism that people use to protect themselves. It might be automatic and might stem from early experiences. What they are protecting themselves from will be unique and individual to each person; although might include underlying feelings of rejection, fear, mistrust, insecurity and/or low self-esteem.


Patterns of unassertive and passive behavior may have been learnt in childhood as a coping strategy possibly as a response to parents who may have been too controlling or not allowing their child to express their thoughts and feelings freely. To cope, a child might adopt a passive-aggressive behavior pattern.

For example if a child was ridiculed, put-down or punished for openly expressing their feelings or disagreeing with their parents the child would learn to substitute open expression for passive resistance – agreeing with what mum or dad said in order to be a “good child” or not speaking out honestly or at all. If there was a consistent pattern within the family of punishment or rejection for asserting themselves the child would learn to become highly skilled at passively rebelling.


Consequences of Passive Aggressive Behaviour:


  • When on the receiving end of passive aggression, you can feel confused, upset, offended, guilty and frustrated. You may think you’ve done something wrong, but have no clear idea what it was.
  • It avoids communication in a very negative way.
  • It creates insecurity in all parties.
  • It creates a bad atmosphere between people.
  • It is a form of conflict where either both or one party cannot engage sensibly in the issues.
  • It avoids the real issues.
  • It creates negative feelings and resentments in an unassertive way.



Five tips for coping with the passive-aggressive behaviour of others:


  • Become aware of how passive aggression operates and try to understand.
  • Explain how their behaviour towards you is affecting you. Communicate calmly without blaming – i.e. talk about how you feel and what you think without using language that will inflame the situation more. For example you might say “I feel upset by your behaviour” rather than “you’ve done this or that”.
  • Be aware of your responses to others and yourself– do not blame yourself for the behaviour and reaction of others
  • If the passive-aggressive behaviour of others continues to affect you in a negative way, set clear boundaries around yourself – rules for what you will and won’t accept. Stay strong and focused and get on with your life in a positive way.
  • Do not try to fight passive-aggression with passive-aggression as this just makes a cycle that is difficult to break.
  • Walk away if you’ve tried above as it can destroy confidence and make you continually insecure and hurt.

The Passive-Aggressive Narcissist


Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity, or egotistic admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes, that derive from arrogant pride. At the core of extreme narcissism is egotistical preoccupation with self, personal preferences, aspirations, needs, success, and how he/she is perceived by others. Some amount of basic narcissism is healthy, of course, but this type of narcissism is better termed as responsibly taking care of oneself. It is what I would call “normal” or “healthy” narcissism.


Narcissists cut a wide, swashbuckling figure through the world.  At one end of the self-loving spectrum is the charismatic leader with an excess of charm, whose only vice may be his or her inflated self-love  At the far end of the spectrum reside individuals with narcissistic personality disorder, whose grandiosity soars to such heights that they are manipulative and easily angered, especially when they don’t receive the attention they consider their birthright. To an extreme narcissist, people are things to be used.


Narcissists are extremely selfish and self-centered people who are capable only of thinking about their own issues regarding power, prestige, and personal adequacy. They have little to no empathy, cannot understand the problems of people around them, and are not aware of other peoples’ feelings. Although they act superior and confident, this actually hides the fact that they have very fragile egos. The slightest disrespect or challenge can quickly lead to the development of a furious rage in them.


Narcissism, in lay terms, basically means that a person is totally absorbed in self.  The extreme narcissist is the centre of his own universe. The classic narcissist  is often thought of as charming, boisterous and positive (in public), they often also reflect traits of the passive-aggressive personality.


Narcissists will tell you that they will do something, but if they don’t want to do it for whatever reason, they won’t- just like the passive-aggressive personality. There are some narcissists who never display the charming, boisterous façade but only the negative personality (along with lack of empathy and other defining characteristics of NPD).


A narcissist can have mild or occasional passive-aggressive traits or they can be a narcissist with a full-blown passive-aggressive personality.


So how and where does passive-aggression overlap with narcissism?


Traits common to narcissists and passive aggressive personalities
  • Negativistic outlook (many narcissists won’t exhibit this in public)
  • Use denial  as a frequent defense mechanism
  •  Manipulate and distort facts
  • Do not accept (or recognize) their own feelings, actions or responsibilities
  • Passively resist doing any routine, expected tasks (narcissists feel they are “above” this or will only do them if it gets them Narcissistic Supply – people who provide a constant source of attention, approval, adoration, admiration, etc., for the narcissist.)
  • Blame others for anything and everything wrong in their lives
  • Commonly complain of not being appreciated, misunderstood or under-valued
  • Exaggerate their misfortunes
  • Do not consider or care about other people’s feelings (although they will insist that they do)
  • React with disdain, rage, and/or defiance to any slight criticism, real or imagined.

Tips for dealing with the Passive Aggressive Narcissist


Don’t continue the game


Passive-aggressive narcissists have not learned how to deal with conflict, effectively or ineffectively. Instead, they will revert to using the primitive defense mechanism of denial or turn the tables on the other person by placing total blame/responsibility on them (or on someone else). For example, if they stand you up when you were supposed to meet or “forget” to do a task they agreed to do (at home or at work), they will either deny they ever agreed to it or blame someone or something(s) for it. A passive-aggressive narcissist will never take responsibility for his or her actions.


Don’t continue this game by arguing “the truth” or trying to persuade them. You won’t win. Express your concerns and feelings (how their actions made you feel) but do not waver from the fact that they did not do what they were supposed to do. Ignore their denial and blaming and state the consequences. Then stick to them.


Confront the behavior
Many people choose to ignore the passive-aggressive behavior hoping it will disappear with time. Ignoring passive-aggressive behavior actually increases the behavior because it reinforces the idea that the behavior is acceptable. Instead of letting the person continue the unwanted behavior, confront them privately in a calm, matter-of-fact voice. Let them know you are puzzled or disturbed by their behavior. You may want to consider telling them that if they want the relationship to continue, they must stop the passive-aggressive behavior. However, unless they are financially dependent on you, this often comes as a relief to passive-aggressive narcissists as they really don’t want, and are not capable of, any kind of genuine relationship.


Leave the relationship
If you are unfortunate enough to be in any kind of relationship with a passive-aggressive narcissist and you sincerely desire happiness, you need to leave.  If you are in business and have unwittingly hired a passive-aggressive employee, you know by now how toxic and disruptive they can be to the work environment. You may have lost good employees who left the business or department after they were forced to work in that negative environment. If at all possible, fire them or get them to quit. It’s actually not difficult to get a passive-aggressive narcissist to quit their job. You need only to start enforcing the everyday, expected rules – being on time for work, completing a time card, finishing what you start, etc. The passive-aggressive narcissist will be unable or unwilling to comply and will usually quit under the pressure. If not, they can be fired when they violate the rules of the employee contract.


Editors Note:

Passive aggression seems to be a relatively new malaise. When I was younger most people would say what they felt they had to say, have a discussion or even argument and move on and make up.

Nowadays that seems to be interpreted as aggressive behaviour and very much frowned upon.

As the recipient of a lot of passive aggressive behaviour I find it puzzling and frustrating that so many people seem to be unable to express their feelings in a healthy way and see fit to play these underhand games.  It has caused me a lot of problems and anxiety. And then when you complain you are perceived as wrong or ‘confrontational’.

There is a really good article here by one of our writers that I would recommend to anyone:




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