Passive aggression is a form of anger, except the anger is expressed with a smile
instead of the typical expressions. Passive aggressive people are experts at sugar coating
hostility. They often use procrastination, bumbling inefficiency, and the exasperating excuse
of “I forgot” to avoid commitments or let you down. They appear eager to please, but know
exactly how to make you mad. They can be infuriating because of their seductive or
Here are some examples:
Your spouse brings home yet another gallon of ice cream after you’ve specifically
asked him or her not to do this because you are trying to lose weight.
A friend keeps arriving an hour late for a dinner date leaving you waiting over and
A co-worker keeps promising to help with a project but never comes through.
Passive aggressive behavior ranges from simply irritating to manipulative and
punishing. This is different from occasionally being absent-minded, lazy, or busy. Passive
aggression is repetitive and has a covert angry edge to it. Passive aggressive people
promise anything, then do exactly as they please. They hide anger beneath a compliant
exterior. They don’t give straight answers and have vague responses such as “I’ll get back
to you.” Then they don’t follow through so you must keep reminding them. Sometimes their
remarks can be hurtful, especially so because they come at you sideways– you don’t know
what hit you.
Why do people become passive aggressive?
They’re typically raised in families where it’s not safe to express anger– they’re never
taught to communicate it in a healthy manner. They adapt by channeling these feelings into
other less obvious behaviors; this gives them a sense of power and control. They’re masters
at shirking responsibility by hurting you in ways that appear unintentional or unavoidable.
Passive aggressive people operate by stuffing anger, being accommodating, and then
indirectly sticking it to you. When confronted, they’ll drive you crazy with a variety of “the
dog ate my homework” excuses, blaming others, or yessing you to death without changing.
Since many are unaware of their anger, they feel misunderstood or that you’re holding them
to unfair standards.
Here are tips on how to communicate with passive aggressive people from my book
Learning to Communicate With Passive Aggressive People
1. Trust Your Gut Reactions
With these types you may question yourself since their anger is so masked. It’s
important to recognize the pattern. Their mixed messages will test your patience. So when
you doubt yourself, take a breath and try to let the doubt go. Tell yourself, “I deserve to be
treated more lovingly. I will trust my gut reaction when I feel jabbed.” This affirmation helps
you release doubt so you’d don’t convince yourself you’re imagining things. Then move
forward to improve communication. You must surrender the idea that these people will
change without you speaking up. They aren’t motivated to change unless someone calls
them on their behavior. When it’s not appropriate to be direct, such as with a boss who
might retaliate or fire you, keep letting the zingers go by accepting your powerlessness to
2. Address the behavior
Focus on one issue at a time so people don’t feel attacked or overwhelmed. Let’s say
a friend is always late. In a calm, firm tone say to her, “I would greatly appreciate it if you
can be on time when we go out to dinner. I feel uncomfortable waiting in a restaurant
alone.” Then notice her reaction. She might say, “You’re right. I’m always running behind.
I’ll try to be more organized.” Then see if the lateness improves. If she is evasive or makes
excuses, request clarification about how to solve the problem. If you can’t get a straight
answer, confront that too. Being specific pins down passive aggressive people. If nothing
changes, keep setting limits or stop making dinner plans. With a close friend who continues
to be late, it’s always an option to accept and acclimate to his or her shortcoming when the
pros of the relationship outweigh the cons.
As a psychiatrist I teach my patients to address passive aggressive behavior directly
as the person may not be aware of the impact on you since they are short on empathy.
Hopefully you won’t have many passive aggressive people in your life, but if you do, clear
communication is a form of empowerment.
How to Spot an Energy Vampire
Judith Orloff, MD Bio
Judith Orloff MD is author of the national bestseller The Power of Surrender: Let Go &
Energize Your Relationships, Success & Well Being, upon which this article is based.
Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, intuitive healer, and New York Times bestselling author who
synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition,
energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths (highly sensitive
people). An Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, she passionately
believes that the future of medicine involves integrating all this wisdom to achieve
emotional freedom and total wellness. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The
Today Show, CNN, Forbes, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today.
To learn more about being an empath visit http://www.drjudithorloff.com/empath-support- community.