Passive-aggressive & PAPD

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Passive-aggressive behavior is the indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastinationsarcasm, hostile jokes, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.

For research purposes, the DSM-IV describes passive-aggressive personality disorder as a “pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance in social and occupational situations”.



Concept in different areas

In psychology

In psychology, passive-aggressive behavior is characterized by a habitual pattern of passive resistance to expected work requirements, opposition, stubbornness, and negativistic attitudes in response to requirements for normal performance levels expected of others. Most frequently it occurs in the workplace where resistance is exhibited by such indirect behaviors as procrastination, forgetfulness, and purposeful inefficiency, especially in reaction to demands by authority figures, but it can also occur in interpersonal contexts.[1]

Another source characterizes passive-aggressive behavior as: “A personality trait marked by a pervasive pattern of negative attitudes and characterised by passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to complying with expectations in interpersonal or occupational situations. Behaviors: Learned helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate/repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible”.[2]

Passive-aggressive may also refer to a person who refuses to acknowledge their own aggression (in the sense of “agency”), and who manages that denial by projecting it. This type of person insists on seeing themselves as the blameless victims in all situations.[citation needed]

According to Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man, a self-help book, a passive man does little to get what he wants as it is too much effort to do so, and ranges from the inept “loser” type to the conformist who does anything to be liked, avoids making waves and rarely says what he feels.[3]

In social protest

Passive-aggressive behavior is not the same as nonviolent resistance exhibited in groups by social protesters. The nonviolent campaigner is working to defeat demands for social behavior required by others as a method of defiance of authority figures. The person characterized by passive-aggressive behavior is not working with others toward a defined social goal.[citation needed]

In conflict theory

In conflict theory, passive resistance is a rational response to demands that may simply be disagreed with. Passive-aggressive behavior can resemble a behavior better described as catty, as it consists of deliberate, active, but carefully veiled hostile acts which are distinctively different in character from the non-assertive style of passive aggression.[4]

In the workplace

Passive-aggressive behavior from workers and managers is damaging to team unity and productivity. Warner in the ad for his online ebook says: “The worst case of passive-aggressive behavior involves destructive attitudes such as negativity, sullenness, resentment, procrastination, ‘forgetting’ to do something, chronic lateness, and intentional inefficiency.” He advises that though the temptation for a worker may be to quit the job: “Stay and fight back: Engage in guerrilla tactics to counteract passive aggression and defend your own work”.[5] If this behavior is ignored it could result in decreased office efficiency and frustration among workers.[6] If managers are passive-aggressive in their behavior, it can end up stifling team creativity. De Angelis says “It would actually make perfect sense that those promoted to leadership positions might often be those who on the surface appear to be agreeable, diplomatic and supportive, yet who are actually dishonest, backstabbing saboteurs behind the scenes.”[7]

Passive-aggressive personality disorder

Passive-aggressive personality disorder
Classification and external resources
ICD10 F60.8
ICD9 301.84

The World Health Organization‘s ICD-10 lists passive-aggressive personality disorder under (F60.8) Other specific personality disorders.

DSM-IV Appendix B

Passive-aggressive personality disorder was listed as an Axis II personality disorder in the DSM-III-R, but was moved in the DSM-IV to Appendix B (“Criteria Sets and Axes Provided for Further Study”) because of controversy and the need for further research on how to also categorize the behaviors in a future edition. According to DSM-IV, passive-aggressive personality disorder is “often overtly ambivalent, wavering indecisively from one course of action to its opposite. They may follow an erratic path that causes endless wrangles with others and disappointment for themselves.” Characteristic of these persons is an “intense conflict dependence on other and the desire for self-assertion.” Although exhibiting superficial bravado, their self-confidence is often very poor, and others react to them with hostility and negativity. This diagnosis is not made if the behavior is exhibited during a major depressive episode or can be attributed to dysthymic disorder.[1]

Millon’s subtypes

The psychologist Theodore Millon has proposed four subtypes of ‘negativist’ (‘passive-aggressive’).[8] Any individual negativist may exhibit none or one of the following:

Subtype Description Personality Traits
Vacillating Including borderline personality disorder features Emotions fluctuate in bewildering, perplexing, and enigmatic ways; difficult to fathom or comprehend own capricious and mystifying moods; wavers, in flux, and irresolute both subjectively and intrapsychically.
Discontented Including depressive personality disorder features Grumbling, petty, testy, cranky, embittered, complaining, fretful, vexed, and moody; gripes behind pretense; avoids confrontation; uses legitimate but trivial complaints.
Circuitous Including dependent personality disorder features Opposition displayed in a roundabout, labyrinthine, and ambiguous manner, e.g., procrastination, dawdling, forgetfulness, inefficiency, neglect, stubbornness, indirect and devious in venting resentment and resistant behaviors.
Abrasive Including sadistic personality disorder features Contentious, intransigent, fractious, and quarrelsome; irritable, caustic, debasing, corrosive, and acrimonious, contradicts and derogates; few qualms and little conscience or remorse. (no longer a valid diagnosis in DSM)


Passive-aggressive disorder may stem from a specific childhood stimulus[9] (e.g., alcohol/drug addicted parents) in an environment where it was not safe to express frustration or anger. Families in which the honest expression of feelings is forbidden tend to teach children to repress and deny their feelings and to use other channels to express their frustration.

Children who sugarcoat hostility may have difficulties being assertive, never developing better coping strategies or skills for self-expression. They can become adults who, beneath a “seductive veneer,” harbor “vindictive intent,” in the words of US congressman/psychologist Timothy F. Murphy, and writer/practicing therapist Loriann Oberlin.[10] Alternatively individuals may simply have difficulty being as directly aggressive or assertive as others. Martin Kantor suggests three areas that contribute to passive-aggressive anger in individuals: conflicts about dependency, control, and competition, and that a person may be termed passive-aggressive if they behave so to most persons on most occasions. [11]

Murphy and Oberlin also see passive aggression as part of a larger umbrella of hidden anger stemming from ten traits of the angry child or adult. These traits include making one’s own misery, the inability to analyze problems, blaming others, turning bad feelings into angry ones, attacking people, lacking empathy, using anger to gain power, confusing anger with self-esteem, and indulging in negative self-talk. Lastly, the authors point out that those who hide their anger can be nice when they wish to be.[12]


Psychiatrist Kantor suggests a treatment approach using psychodynamicsupportivecognitivebehavioral and interpersonal therapeutic methods. These methods apply to both the passive-aggressive person and their target victim.[13]


Passive-aggressive behavior was first defined clinically by Colonel William Menninger during World War II in the context of men’s reaction to military compliance. Menninger described soldiers who were not openly defiant but expressed their aggressiveness “by passive measures, such as pouting, stubbornness, procrastination, inefficiency, and passive obstructionism” due to what Menninger saw as an “immaturity” and a reaction to “routine military stress”.[14]

According to some psychoanalytic views, noncompliance is not indicative of true passive-aggressive behavior, which may instead be defined as the manifestation of emotions that have been repressed based on a self-imposed need for acceptance.

In the first version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-I, in 1952, the passive-aggressive was defined in a narrow way, grouped together with the passive-dependent.

The DSM-III-R stated in 1987 that passive-aggressive disorder is typified by, among other things, “fail[ing] to do the laundry or to stock the kitchen with food because of procrastination and dawdling.”[14]

Increased public exposure to the term has led to websites like Passive-Aggressive Notes, which uploads purportedly passive-aggressive emails, notes and signs, although many of the examples are not correctly passive-aggressive in nature.

See also


  1. Jump up to:a b American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatic Association. p. 733-734. ISBN 0890420629.
  2. Jump up^ Diagnostic criteria at The Free Dictionary
  3. Jump up^ Wetzler 1992, pp. 35–37.
  4. Jump up^ Simon, George (2010), In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People, Parkhurst
  5. Jump up^ Warner, Neil, Manage Passive Aggression In The Workplace,
  6. Jump up^ Harms, Kimberly A (May–June 2012,), Passive Aggressive Behaviour in the Dental Office (3 ed.) .
  7. Jump up^ De Angelis, Paula (2009), Blindsided: Recognizing and Dealing with Passive-Aggressive Leadership in the Workplace, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, p. 3, ISBN 1442159200.
  8. Jump up^ Millon, Theodore (2004), Personality Disorders in Modern Life.
  9. Jump up^ Johnson, JG; Cohen, P; Brown, J; Smailes, EM; Bernstein, DP (July 1999), “Childhood maltreatment increases risk for personality disorders during early adulthood”, Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 56 (7): 600–6, doi:10.1001/archpsyc.56.7.600PMID 10401504
  10. Jump up^ Tim, Murphy; Hoff Oberlin, Loriann (2005), Overcoming passive aggression: how to stop hidden anger from spoiling your relationships, career and happiness, New York: Marlowe & Company, p. 48, ISBN 1-56924-361-1, retrieved April 27, 2010
  11. Jump up^ Kantor 2002, pp. xvi–xvii, 5.
  12. Jump up^ Tim, Murphy; Hoff Oberlin, Loriann (2005).
  13. Jump up^ Kantor 2002, p. 115.
  14. Jump up to:a b Lane, C (1 February 2009), “The Surprising History of Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder”(PDF), Theory & Psychology 19 (1): 55–70,doi:10.1177/0959354308101419



Passive-aggressive means that a person finds ways to express himself indirectly so that he doesn’t have to admit how he really feels or thinks. Typically, the term is associated with feelings of bottled up anger, but more broadly, it refers to being untruthful about any emotion or desire (passivity) and retaliating against the frustrations arising from being unable to be honest (aggression). Professionals think that, for the most part, acting this way is a coping mechanism that an individual learns over time. With a lack of honesty potentially leading to problems such as relationship conflicts and insecurity, it is usually to a person’s benefit to try to stop the behavior in some way, such as by practicing “I” language.

Symptoms and Examples

What a person does when he is passive-aggressive can vary quite a bit, because the relationships involved determine to some degree what type of retaliation an individual feels will work best. Even so, some common symptoms psychologists and psychiatrists recognize are blaming others, being late a lot, avoiding or ignoring, procrastinating, failing to communicate and being ambiguous during speech or in writing. These signs indicate that an individual isn’t happy, even if he doesn’t come right out and admit it.

As an example, an employee might be assigned work he doesn’t want to do, or that he thinks is unfair. Rather than tell his boss he’d rather not do the assignment, he might agree to it enthusiastically to save face with the company. Afterward, he might fail to turn in paperwork by an assigned due date, show up late to project meetings or pretend he didn’t get messages.

In a more domestic setting, a partner who hates folding laundry might agree to do it if his significant other asks for help. He might wait until the clothes are cold and wrinkled to do so, however, or he might put them away in the wrong spots. Here, the partner doesn’t want to say no because he doesn’t want to cause tension in the relationship, but he’ll perform the task below standard so that he doesn’t get asked to do it again.


When someone shows this type of behavior, the person he manipulates might end up feeling frustrated, angry, sad or betrayed. Tension often develops in the relationship, which can lead to conflicts. If the manipulated person says harsh words or ends the friendship, the passive-aggressive individual might feel that his fears about loss or having to hide his real heart are well founded, creating a cycle. The real problems behind the behavior might never be solved.

Origin and Causes

Psychiatrists, psychologists and others who study human behavior generally believe that the ability to assert oneself is somewhat innate. A baby, for example, cries by instinct to be held, changed or fed. Over time, though, people essentially can be trained not to express themselves truthfully. A child might learn not to ask for anything, for instance, if her parents routinely respond to her requests by saying she’s selfish. The problem is that this doesn’t stop a person from having particular needs or desires — it simply makes it hard to be honest.

Role as a Coping or Defense Mechanism

Although some experts claim that a passive-aggressive person truly enjoys frustrating other people, given how the behavior is thought to develop, other professionals say it is better to see this type of action as a basic defense mechanism. Under this view, an individual might act this way because he is honestly afraid of what will happen if he asserts himself the way he really wants to. He might not like being indirect, but he is anyway because he thinks he’ll lose something valuable — for example, a relationship — if he speaks his mind.

The behavior of soldiers during World War II supports the defense or coping mechanismtheory. People in the armed forces shirked their duties, but they did so in ways that were not openly disobedient. In general, they saw what they were doing as a simple way to avoid being killed during combat, but leaders knew that safety depended on discipline and the trust that soldiers would follow their orders. They sent a bulletin to the soldiers to address their actions — it was in this document that the term “passive-aggressive” supposedly first appeared.

Inclusion as a Mental Disorder

The American Psychiatric Association does not formally recognize passive-aggressiveness as a personality disorder. In its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, APA identifies it instead as needing further study. It is not yet clear what environmental or genetic factors, if any, play a role in its development. With the exact cause still somewhat under debate as of 2013, professionals generally do not use medication to address the problem, although they sometimes prescribe substances for the symptoms it can cause, such as depression or anxiety.

Fixing the Problem

The view of many contemporary psychiatrists and psychologists is that, because passive-aggressive behavior might be a bad habit that is learned, a person also might be able to learn how to stop acting this way. This is not simple to do, however, because generally, strong emotions are motivating the dishonesty. To be expressive and start telling the truth typically requires that someone directly admit to and address whatever has led him to feel restricted. Doing this can be quite painful and time consuming for some people. In some instances, professional therapy helps overcome the underlying personal problems.

One of the simplest yet strongest ways for an individual to stop being passive-aggressive is to practice using “I” language. He might say, “I feel that…” or “I think…” during his conversations, for example. This type of speech forces a person to own his thoughts and emotions, admitting and expressing them instead of keeping them inside.

Another technique that sometimes works is to ask friends and family to watch for the behavior and to say something when it shows up. Sometimes, the passive-aggressive person has to be very specific about what to look for, because he might manipulate differently in each relationship. Those who are pointing out instances of the problem generally should approach their task with tact, because the individual they’re helping still might be sensitive about his tendency to manipulate.

Other ways someone can address and change how he is acting include writing in a journal, being insistent in small ways such as wanting a menu alteration at a restaurant and role playing to practice conflict resolution and compromise. Individuals also might consider videotaping themselves or using digital voice recorders to become more conscious of their physical and verbal language. They can resolve to say only what they really mean and not use sarcasm, as well.

Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder (PAPD)

Someone with passive aggressive personality disorder (PAPD) may appear to go along with the desires of other people while in reality, they are passively resisting orders and instructions. He or she may avoid responsibility, respond negatively to suggestions, and appear easily offended. People with this disorder may also develop a resentful attitude towards family members, romantic partners, and authority figures over time.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV describes PAPD as a pervasive pattern of negative, resentful attitudes and passive resistance. The signs of PAPD may be evident in early adulthood and may continue throughout the rest of the person’s life. These symptoms include an avoidance of responsibility, resentment towards loved ones and authority figures, stubbornness, and general inefficiency. People struggling with PAPD may sulk and appear angry, hostile, and offended at inappropriate times. People with other types of personality disorders may display similar negative attitudes and behavior.

Someone struggling with PAPD will often respond negatively to suggestions, instructions, or orders from another person. If he or she must complete a task, the person with PAPD may deliberately avoid hearing the instructions or procrastinate while attempting to complete the task. In some cases, the person may bungle the task intentionally as an expression of resentment against the person issuing the order. Passive-aggressive behavior may simply be the person’s outlet for expressing general hostility and anger.

According to the five-factor model for personality, people with Passive aggressive personality disorder display highly neurotic, extroverted, and conscientious tendencies. The PAPD psychological profile also indicates that people are not very open and agreeable with others, at times appearing paranoid or overly cynical. Despite a high level of intelligence, people displaying the symptoms of PAPD may struggle with relationships and career development.

Passive aggressive personality disorder is diagnosed by a psychologist. The psychologist analyzes the patient’s behavior, taking note of drug use, survival skills, and psychosocial history. Some of the symptoms of PAPD may also be identified under other types of personality disorder, such as borderline personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder. An extreme and continuous display of passive-aggressive behavior may lead the psychologist to diagnose the patient with PAPD.

There is no treatment for patients with passive aggressive personality disorder. Patients may struggle with other issues with exacerbate their negative behavior, however, such as anxiety, depression, and any other drug or alcohol-related problems. People with other problems in addition to PAPD can take medication for anxiety and depression and seek counseling for addiction and behavioral issues. Cognitive-behavioral and group therapy might be very beneficial for the patient. Group therapy can help the individual address his behavior within the context of a group setting and possibly improve relational issues.


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