10 Red Flags of Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Have you ever been friends with someone who is outwardly agreeable but then acts in ways that aren’t so kind? For example, let’s say you suggest going to a concert together and they enthusiastically agree. But when it comes time to buy the tickets they don’t respond to your messages. You go ahead and purchase them since they had initially said yes, but then your pal backs out at the last minute with a feeble excuse. Now you’re stuck with 2 tickets and have to scramble to find someone else to go to the show with you.

Or consider this common office scenario. In a meeting, someone brings up an idea for a new project. Everyone verbally agrees with the plan, but when it comes time to get the project underway, one person procrastinates, doesn’t hit their deadlines, and effectively sabotages the whole thing.

These are examples of passive-aggressive behavior. People who are passive-aggressive don’t express their anger, disagreement, or negative emotions directly, but rather through hostile or mean-spirited actions. These mixed messages leave others feeling confused, and this destructive trait can damage relationships at home, at work, or in love.

People who are passive-aggressive don’t express their anger, disagreement, or negative emotions directly, but rather through hostile or mean-spirited actions. This can damage relationships at home, at work, or in love. Click To Tweet


Passive-aggressive personality disorder (PAPD) is not considered an official psychiatric diagnosis, but according to research published in the journal Psychiatry, some mental health experts contend that it should be. Within the field of psychiatry, PAPD has been viewed in a variety of ways, including a personality trait or syndrome, a dynamic behavioral pattern, or a negativistic personality disorder. Regardless of its classification, it is a real issue for many people that gets in the way of healthy relationships in all areas of life.

Outwardly, passive-aggressive people seem pleasant, but internally, they feel frustrated, angry, or negative. They are often insecure, have low self-esteem, or are afraid people won’t like them if they voice disagreement. Research shows that people who are passive-aggressive have an increased risk of the following:


Experts point to both genetic and environmental factors in the development of passive-aggressive personality disorder. A study on twins in the Journal of Personality Disorders suggests that heritability accounts for 50% of a person’s risk for this trait. Several research papers have looked into the environmental factors that contribute to this personality type and concluded that the following increase a person’s risk:


How can you tell if you or someone you know has passive-aggressive tendencies? Here are 10 common behavior patterns associated with a passive-aggressive personality disorder.

  1. The silent treatment: Passive-aggressive people may have a hard time discussing their anger or negative emotions, so they stop talking altogether as a form of punishment.
  2. Negative body language: Rolling the eyes or crossing arms while others are speaking can be indirect signs of disagreement, resentment, or frustration.
  3. Ghosting: Rather than ending a relationship—whether it’s with a romantic partner or a colleague—in person, the passive-aggressive type is more likely to ghost the other person. They simply refuse to communicate anymore to avoid conflict.
  4. Making excuses: Individuals who exhibit passive-aggressive behavior are experts at coming up with excuses to get out of doing things.
  5. Procrastinating: When the passive-aggressive person says yes to something they should have said no to, they will often put it off as long as possible.
  6. Forgetful: These people tend to forget tasks, assignments, or promises they made that they didn’t want to do in the first place.
  7. Being sarcastic: Individuals who are passive-aggressive frequently use sarcasm to subtly attack others while claiming they are “just kidding.”
  8. Blames others: Passive-aggressive types are quick to say that their shortcomings are due to the fault of others.
  9. Pouts or acts sullen: Saying things are “fine” while conveying a sour mood is a common trait among passive-aggressive people.
  10. Being a complainer: Whining or complaining about things without taking any positive actions to change things is common in this personality type.


People with PAPD can get better. Recognizing the signs associated with this personality trait is one of the first steps. However, be aware that many of the signs listed above are similar to symptoms associated with other mental health issues, such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, schizophrenia, or substance use disorder. Ruling out these other conditions or identifying co-occurring disorders can be helpful in finding the right treatment.

Solutions for a passive-aggressive personality disorder may include beneficial forms of psychotherapy, training to improve the ability to resolve conflicts directly, increasing self-esteem, overcoming negativity, and addressing any co-existing disorders.

Personality disorders and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. I think this article is very offensive and misinformed. My mother was passive aggressive. My father had a nervous breakdown when I was born and as a result, only happiness was allowed in my house. Between the two of them, I did not learn how to process my negative emotions. It was an incredibly painful and lonely way to grow up. I’ve worked really hard to integrate my negative emotions to become a whole human being. These people need compassion. Not articles like these. I was a fan until I saw this.


    Comment by Lisa — December 10, 2021 @ 4:33 AM

  2. One other thing I have seen create this behavior is lack of power to control situations/make decisions/ inability to feel like personal needs can be expressed. I have found that people often express this behavior in work situations where someone else dictates what must be done and when without soliciting or considering feedback from the people doing the work. The employee feels like they are compelled to agree even though they don’t due to either bullying, threats, or outright hostility so they will outwardly not argue, but do it or not do it their way. If you treat people with respect, solicit feedback, and act on it appropriately or explain why you can’t much of this behavior can be curtailed because people are more likely to meet commitments in which they had a part in developing and feel a sense of ownership for than those that were forced upon them

    Comment by Lisa — December 10, 2021 @ 6:01 AM

  3. I can relate to the passive aggressive disorder. I have operated in this way, especially in my marriage relationship. Not as much in my professional relations. I have been diagnosed with anxiety disorder and within the past 15 years, bipolar one. I wonder which is the root of the others? I feel bipolar came first which increased greatly my anxiety and insecurities which caused the passive aggressive behavior. Since divorcing and bipolar medications, my passive aggressive behavior has almost disappeared.

    Comment by Christy — December 10, 2021 @ 6:18 AM

  4. I live in Oklahoma And occasionally have clients who have tried different meds without much improvement. Please address the cost involved in referring them down to the Dallas area for a spect scan analysis. Also what would the resulting report entail? Med suggestions with an explanation that could be shared with their MD ? Thanks for the info. Darrell Lynch PhD

    Comment by Darrell Lynch PhD — December 10, 2021 @ 7:46 AM

  5. We have have a grown daughter who has multiple mental health issues, Boarder line schizophrenia, personality disorders, bi polar, and ADHD. She battles substance abuse issues. She has disrupted the lives of the people who love her the most. She recently conned us out of thousands of dollars by saying she had stage 3 ovarian cancer. She is extremely diabolical. She is a danger to herself and to others. She assaulted some one with a knife in an attempt to get money for drugs. How do we protect ourselves from her moving forward? She is currently in a 30 day treatment center. A 30 day treatment center will be ineffective for someone like her.

    Comment by Jeanne Phin — December 10, 2021 @ 8:02 AM

  6. This fascinating article makes me wonder what a non-professional friend may do to help one with PAPD have an easier life!

    Comment by Grant Schettler — December 10, 2021 @ 8:27 AM

  7. Hello Darrell, thanks for reaching out. For information regarding pricing, insurance, and financing options, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/

    Comment by Amen Clinics — December 10, 2021 @ 10:32 AM

  8. I felt so ashamed and embarrassed reading this- I could identify 9 out of 10 or the behaviours you describe in myself. It frightens me, in part because I am afraid of being angry and also because I don’t know what “healthy” anger might look like. In terms of using “the silent treatment”, I would explain this as a way of NOT hurting someone I love when I am angry. Some of the words my parents (and others) have said to me, in anger, have left fears, scars, pain that remain today. I prefer to speak/discuss things without heightened emotion. I do walk away when someone yells/raises their voice/ screams or swears at me, too. Is that bad? Is that blaming them? I feel scared when people lose their temper — not strangers though, strangely enough I am able and comfort and calm strangers.
    Anyway, thank you- I can see I have much to work on.

    Comment by Terrie-Anne Snape — December 10, 2021 @ 10:09 PM

  9. I have emailed several times to schedule an appointment for evaluation and a Brain Spect I have been unsuccessful in receiving a response
    I’m suffering from anxiety and depression. I am told I have suffered emotional trauma.

    Comment by Marie Cooney — December 11, 2021 @ 4:53 AM

  10. Really good article. Thank you.

    Comment by Timothy Lee — December 11, 2021 @ 6:06 AM

  11. I can add a lot more here about passive aggressive people because I’ve been abused by them. First they look for ways to demean people emotionally esp. emotionally. They typically are bullies. They are very and angry hateful people and love inflicting it on others. They will take any sign O weakness in someone and save it to throw it in the persons face over and over inflicting much emotional damage. This article is a very weak explanation of how destructive and terrible this person is. Yes person not personality! This behavior has nothing to do with personality but energy.

    Comment by Kellie — December 11, 2021 @ 2:11 PM

  12. I became deliberately passive aggressive because I am small, old and female, and everyone is domineering and won’t leave me alone, they just have to win at something and I am an easy target, so I say anything to get away.

    Comment by Natalie — December 11, 2021 @ 2:34 PM

  13. Hello Marie, thank you for reaching out. Sorry to hear that you have had trouble getting in contact with our Care Coordinators. We would be happy to connect with you directly with more information regarding scheduling an appointment. We look forward to speaking with you soon

    Comment by Amen Clinics — December 13, 2021 @ 4:30 PM

  14. Is it possible to write an article on how to interact with a person of this personality type. I often come across this, and am unsure how to respond to the person with PAPD.

    Comment by Karen — December 22, 2021 @ 8:34 AM

  15. These type of people are irritating and frustrating to say the least. It’s so annoying to have to deal with child like behavior all the time. They essentially act like an upset child and their communication is non existent. One would think they would get fed up of the negative responses and outcomes they get and try to change how they act but doesn’t seem to be the case

    Comment by Alicia — June 7, 2022 @ 8:18 PM

  16. Loved the Article

    Comment by Dr Mithila Desai — September 7, 2022 @ 8:03 PM

  17. I have a problem with I cannot tell anyone how I feel or what I think. I am so good at pretending everything is okay even if I am boiling hot angry in the inside. I have been depressed and suicidal for 15 years I think it’s because of this and I want to be able to speak up like a man.
    Andres Sanchez Albuquerque NM

    Comment by Andrew Sanchez — November 17, 2022 @ 7:39 AM

  18. @Lisa — I'm sorry that you're suffering, but I fail to see how this this article could be construed as offensive or lacking in compassion, especially when it offers numerous forms of help for a passive-aggressive personality disorder/behavior. ("Psychotherapy, training to improve the ability to resolve conflicts directly, increasing self-esteem, overcoming negativity, and addressing any co-existing disorders.") To be blunt, you response makes it sound like you could benefit from treatment.

    Comment by Chelsea — August 8, 2023 @ 4:43 PM

  19. I just want to say that I very much appreciate the article that you wrote. I think it is very helpful to expose the addictive behavior that someone can function in, even though they have ceased to be dealing with an addictive substance. I would like to add that these individuals do not recover in a vacuum, relationally. They only get worse. For those who live with someone or are in a close relationship with someone who has such issues, your wrong freedom is essential. It is . They only get worse. For those who or are in a close relationship with someone or live with someone who has such issues, your own freedom is essential. It is through your own humility, growth and necessary boundaries of self-respect, without label a person by their actions formed by beliefs that can change that helps the other person, lower their walls of defense, build their trust in your “for them” care and consider root belief system redemptive processes. These people are stuck and they can’t get out by themselves. Honesty about what you were seeing is key. Taking your part of the codependent behavior out of the equation through your own growth process is key. Compassion is key. Wisdom is key. Boundaries are key. Whitewashing the problem only enables it.

    Comment by Lisa — October 2, 2023 @ 12:16 PM

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