Why do people act in Passive Aggressive ways?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Passive-aggressive.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Why must they act Passive Aggressive?

Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder used to be a recognized mental illness. Then in the DSM-4, it was reduced to a condition that may need more study, and most recently it has simply disappeared from our way of thinking of mental illnesses.

Remember that there are times when a person gets criticized for adopting this form of behavior, maybe even referred for psychiatric care and then other people may be praised for adopting some form of passive reaction to an injustice.

So let’s look at why some people may adopt Passive Aggressive Behavior and why we are no longer so sure that it should qualify as a mental illness.

There are legitimate reasons people do not just come out and say what they mean. There are also reasons people may choose to say nothing but fail to carry through on things they were told to do. Passive-Aggressive behavior can be the result of some of those reasons.

People become Passive Aggressive when they have no power or control.

Children, especially if they are in an abusive or non-loving home, may not feel they can say no to their parents. They get out of things, not by saying no or discussing things but by taking excessive time or doing things wrong. If they break enough dishes mom may stop asking them to do the dishes.

The same behavior makes sense in the boss and employee situation. Sometimes you can’t tell the boss no, so you just do not get around to doing things that would be a waste of time anyway. Not everyone does this. Some employees are very conscientious, but the worse the boss in terms of giving arbitrary orders and not allowing people to disagree the more likely this becomes.

Some people use Passive Aggressive behavior more often than others.

If you came from a family where it was not acceptable to disagree with the parents or worse yet where you were not supposed to have any feeling unless they were sanctioned by the adult, you are more likely to hide your anger and then express it in Passive Aggressive ways.

Mental health clinicians used to think that there were things we called “Personality Disorders” and the presumption was that people who had these were always like that and that they were hard to treat and never changed. These premises have recently been called into question. Turns out that people can change their behavior when the situation changes.

One other thing that cuts against the validity of there being such a thing as Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder is that it is mostly used in situations where there is a weaker person who is unable to disagree with a stronger person or in a close situation like a marriage where sometimes we want to avoid both doing what the other person told us to do and also avoid making this into an argument.

One characteristic that has been used to differentiate Passive Aggressive behavior from something like passive nonviolence is the level of anger or hostility that the person using passive-aggressive behavior is experiencing.

When the non-doing stops being a way of avoiding conflict and becomes a way to harm someone else without having to accept the responsibility that hidden or veiled aggression can drive the most rational person to open hostility.

One aspect of Passive-aggressive behavior that has received a lot of attention is the times when it appears to be motivated by contrariness or oppositional motives. When a youth adopts the position that they will avoid doing whatever the adult asks them to do just for the sake of asserting that the adult cannot control them this can escalate to severe problems.

Frankly, much of what was getting called Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder looks way more like Oppositional Defiant Disorder when we see it in youths.

Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder shared so many features in common with other personality disorders and with depression and anxiety most professionals only used it when a parent or spouse said that was what the client was doing.

Most of the things we have been thinking of as personality disorders include a lot of antagonism towards others. Sometimes this is because the person’s life experiences tell them that they will not be treated fairly if they openly disagree or resist the will of others.

So while you will still read about Passive-Aggressive people, mental health has largely concluded that this is not a mental illness but is a way that some people cope with not being able to express disagreement. In other words, Passive Aggressive behavior is a symptom of some other problem rather than being a particular treatable disease.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Are you the Passive Aggressive type?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Couple fighting by not fighting

Passive-aggressive.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Who is the Passive-Aggressive?

There has been some discussion recently on the internet and elsewhere about people who are “Passive-Aggressive” how you deal with someone who is Passive-Aggressive and so forth.

What exactly is a “Passive-Aggressive Person” and how might this passive-aggressive personality be affecting you?

Turns out there are at least two somewhat different activities going by the name of Passive-Aggressive behavior.  On the subject of Passive-Aggressive Personality, psychology and mental health are not on the same page. There are not just separated and divorced on this one but living in different time zones.

Psychology has studied the way people may behave and do they have Passive characteristics or Aggressive characteristics. They used to think of these two as on opposite poles of the same axis.

Then it was suggested that some people combine both into a Passive-Aggressive style of dealing with conflicts. There were also some studies of whether these were stable traits, people did this all the time, or were these states, that the person might use a particular way of behaving in response to a specific situation and at one time but not another.

Mental health started looking at this as a potential mental illness, Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder, which was causing problems in people’s social lives or in their work settings. The result of these two different perspectives is that the two fields came to differing views about Passive-Aggressive personality.

How did we get to a place where some professionals are writing about Passive-Aggressive people as if we all know what that is and why, while other groups have told us to drop the idea altogether?

Is a passive-aggressive person all bad or are there times when this is a useful way of behaving?

The idea that there are “Passive-Aggressive people” seems to have originated during World War Two when officers noticed, and then they complained, that they might give orders but the men just did not get around to doing what they were supposed to do. The result of this behavior was that the men got out of doing things and sometimes they communicated to a superior officer that they did not like that officer.

One example of this might be an officer who had the men dig a ditch one day and then had them fill it in the next. I suppose that the officer could argue that this is teaching discipline and is keeping the men active and fit, but the men soon caught on and found that there was no reason to put much effort into this ditch to nowhere.

This concept, of the person who is told to do something but then deliberately does it poorly or not at all, has also been applied to employees in the work setting. Some bosses like to think of themselves as generals or in other military terms. They talk about commanding their employees. You can make a good argument for the need of people in the military to carry out an order regardless of whether they agree with the order or not. It is harder to see why bosses give some orders that just make life harder for their employees and do not create any extra production.

The result of these irritating directives from management can be work slowdowns, stoppages, or people who just forget to do things. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. Some jobs take longer to do than planned. Sometimes people do forget. So the interpretation of “is this a Passive-Aggressive act” has to do with the motivations or intent of the employees, not with the resulting action or inaction.

This Passive-Aggressive idea was expanded to include children who did not do what adults asked. I still see this version in articles about our educational system. The student is told to move something but they drop and break it. Or they get the instructions wrong and go to the wrong place. Sometimes is as simple as them saying yes to doing something but then just sitting in their seat and doing nothing. The complaint by teachers is that the student may be saying yes but their actions are sabotaging the outcome.

One other place this is coming up, and here we are bordering on the mental health arena is in the field of marriage counseling.

One partner will refer to the other as passive-aggressive. Say the wife has a job interview the next day, she is busy getting ready and she asks the husband to stop at the grocery store on the way home.

He gets home late that night and reports he had a problem at work and “forgot” to stop at the store. This may lead to an argument and then either they eat leftovers or he goes to the local fast food for dinner. She is annoyed.

Next morning she goes to use the car for the job interview and finds that the gas tank is empty. She is now furious at him. Her conclusion is that he was late and left the gas tank empty to sabotage her efforts to get a job. Before long both partners may be “not doing” and “forgetting” to get their revenge on the other partner.

So from these examples, we can see why some people may do things that look Passive-Aggressive and that this can be really annoying if you are on the receiving end of this behavior.

This is also a hard thing to cope with because the person who is behaving in a Passive-Aggressive manner has all kinds of excuses for why they did not get things done or why they made a mistake.

Does that mean that someone who is acting in a Passive-Aggressive manner has a mental illness? Why do they do this and how can you get them to stop? And can Passive Aggressive behavior sometimes be a good thing, at least for the person who is using it?

Let’s take a look at all those issues in an upcoming post about the reasons people might adopt passive-aggressive behavior.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel