Passive aggressive personality

By Norman Araiza

There was a time when passive/aggressive behavior was considered a psychological disorder. These days the term passive aggressiveness is considered to be a set of negative personality traits marked by passive resistance, insincerity, reticence and difficulty with assertiveness. Simply stated it is anger that gets expressed in the form of resistance that is not expressed openly or honestly but instead is disguised through procrastination, inefficiency, forgetfulness and avoidance. It is a form of “people pleasing” taken to a fault. It’s the antithesis of authenticity as well as assertiveness in relationships.

The passive aggressive personality is most frustrating for others because while passive aggressive people appear to actively comply with desires and needs of others they passively resist and become increasingly hostile and angry. What makes matters worse is that it is often unconscious and if confronted it is not owned and responsibility is rarely taken, leaving others the frustration of questioning their perceptions.

One of the earliest examples of passive aggressive behavior I witnessed was when I was very young and visiting my oldest sister Gloria, who was recently married. One evening after her husband, who began work very early, had gone to bed, I watched Gloria make her husband nice sandwiches for his lunch the next day. She lovingly placed them in a paper bag and wrote his name on it. Then she put it on the floor and stepped on it. Then she fluffed the bag so it appeared unscathed. I could only imagine my brother-in-law’s reaction as he attempted to eat his smashed sandwiches. When I asked her what she was doing, she replied “Sometimes he really pisses me off and maybe it will make him think.” Folks, you can’t make this stuff up. While my sister Gloria, was of the stuff cartoon strips are made, she confounded others in her inability to be straight with them.

Passive/aggressive types resent responsibility and they demonstrate it through their behavior rather than expressing their feelings. Often times, if they make a derogatory comment or use sarcasm, when confronted about it, use the common expression, “Just kidding.” Instead of saying “No” and meaning it, they may perform a requested task too late to be helpful or in a way that is useless or may even resort to sabotage in response to the unwanted responsibility. Instead of engendering respect from others through their straight and honest communication, they often promote distrust and suspiciousness as others see the disparity between what is said and what is done.

As for the cause, often times growing up with parents who are alcoholic or drug addicted or in an environment where expression of feelings was not encouraged or accepted leads to covert methods of expression.

Treatment for this behavior is totally dependent on the individual becoming conscious of this personality defect with a decision to experiment with change. Confrontation by those he/she loves most and trusts is helpful and with continued psychotherapy focusing on true feelings and learning ways of expression that is accurate, yet fits in with the personality of the individual, a good prognosis can be expected. Cognitive/behavioral methods raising awareness of the inner conflict and disparity between what is thought, felt and how it is actually being expressed is the therapy of choice. When fundamental changes are made in how we communicate our feelings to others, not only is our personal potency increased but there is a concomitant rise in self-esteem.

Norman Araiza M.A. is an American-trained family therapist enjoying a limited practice in SMA. He is available for consultation at 152 7842 email:

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