Passive-aggressive behavior

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Passive-aggressive behavior is passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to following through with expectations in interpersonal or occupational situations. It can manifest itself as learned helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate/repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible. It is a defense mechanism, and (more often than not) only partly conscious. For example a worker asked to organize a meeting might happily agree, but will then take so long on each task in the process and offer excuses such as calls not being returned or that the computer is too slow, that things aren't ready when the meeting is due to start. A colleague is forced to hurriedly complete the task, or the meeting is postponed.


[edit] Description

Passive-aggressiveness (negativistic personality trait) is a personality trait said to be marked by a pervasive pattern of negative attitudes and passive, usually disavowed resistance in interpersonal or occupational situations. It 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. By way of explanation on that point, "Straight Dope" columnist Cecil Adams writes:

Merely being passive-aggressive isn't a disorder but a behavior — sometimes a perfectly rational behavior, which lets you dodge unpleasant chores while avoiding confrontation. It's only pathological if it's a habitual, crippling response reflecting a pervasively pessimistic attitude.[1]

When the behaviors are part of a person's personality "disorder" or personality style, repercussions are not usually immediate, but instead accumulate over time as the individuals affected by the person come to recognize the disavowed aggression coming from that person. People with this personality style are often quite unconscious of their impact on others, and thus may be genuinely dismayed when held to account for the inconvenience or discomfort caused by their passive-aggressive behaviors. In that context, they fail to see how they might have provoked a negative response, so they feel misunderstood, held to unreasonable standards, and/or put-upon.

Remedying this behavior can be difficult: efforts to convince the subject that their unconscious feelings are being expressed passively, and that the passive expression of those feelings (their behavior) invokes other people's anger or disappointment with the person, are often met with resistance. Passive aggressive individuals will frequently avoid treatment claiming that there is no way to remedy it. Since the effectiveness of various therapies has yet to be proven, these individuals may be correct. Passive aggressive disorder may stem from a specific childhood stimulus (e.g., alcohol/drug addicted parents).

[edit] History

Passive aggressive behaviour was first clinically used in the context of "defying" authoritative figures. But noncompliance is not indicative of true passive aggressive behavior, which is the manifestation of repressed, self-imposed oppression of emotions based on a need for acceptance. Anger turned inwards that has no other way to heal or express itself will either turn into depression or passive aggression.

[edit] Signs of passive-aggressive behavior

The book Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man lists 11 responses that may help identify passive-aggressive behavior. [2]

  • Ambiguity or speaking cryptically: a means of engendering a feeling of insecurity in others
  • Chronically being late and forgetting things: another way to exert control.
  • Fear of competition
  • Fear of dependency
  • Fear of intimacy as a means to act out anger: The passive aggressive often can't trust. Because of this, they guard themselves against becoming intimately attached to someone.
  • Making chaotic situations
  • Making excuses
  • Obstructionism
  • Sulking
  • Victimization response: instead of recognizing one's own weaknesses.

A passive-aggressive person may not have all of these behaviors, and may have other non-passive-aggressive traits.

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