Passive Aggressive Behavior, a Form of Covert Abuse
From Cathy Meyer,
Your Guide to Divorce Support.
Passive Aggressive (adj.) Of, relating to, or having a personality disorder characterized by
habitual passive resistance to demands for adequate performance in occupational or social
situations, as by procrastination, stubbornness, sullenness, and inefficiency.
Covert (adj.) Not openly shown, engaged in, or avowed : VEILED
Passive Aggressive Behavior Defined:
Passive Aggressive behavior is a form of covert abuse. When someone hits you or yells at
you, you know that you've been abused. It is obvious and easily identified. Covert abuse is
subtle and veiled or disguised by actions that appear to be normal, at times loving and caring.
The passive aggressive person is a master at covert abuse.
Passive aggressive behavior stems from an inability to express anger in a healthy way. A
person's feelings may be so repressed that they don't even realize they are angry or feeling
resentment. A passive aggressive can drive people around him/her crazy and seem sincerely
dismayed when confronted with their behavior. Due to their own lack of insight into their
feelings the passive aggressive often feels that others misunderstand them or, are holding
them to unreasonable standards if they are confronted about their behavior.
Common Passive Aggressive Behaviors:
Ambiguity: I think of the proverb, “Actions speak louder than words” when it comes to the
passive aggressive and how ambiguous they can be. They rarely mean what they say or say
what they mean. The best judge of how a passive aggressive feels about an issue is how
they act. Normally they don't act until after they've caused some kind of stress by their
ambiguous way of communicating.
Forgetfulness: The passive aggressive avoids responsibility by “forgetting.” How convenient
is that? There is no easier way to punish someone than forgetting that lunch date or your
birthday or, better yet, an anniversary.
Blaming: They are never responsible for their actions. If you aren't to blame then it is
something that happened at work, the traffic on the way home or the slow clerk at the
convenience store. The passive aggressive has no faults, it is everyone around him/her who
has faults and they must be punished for those faults.
Lack of Anger: He/she may never express anger. There are some who are happy with
whatever you want. On the outside anyway! The passive aggressive may have been taught, as
a child, that anger is unacceptable. Hence they go through life stuffing their anger, being
accommodating and then sticking it to you in an under-handed way.
Fear of Dependency: Unsure of his autonomy and afraid of being alone, he fights his
dependency needs, usually by trying to control you. He wants you to think he doesn't depend
on you, but he binds himself closer than he cares to admit. Relationships can become battle
grounds, where he can only claim victory if he denies his need for your support.
Fear of Intimacy: The passive aggressive often can't trust. Because of this, they guard
themselves against becoming intimately attached to someone. A passive aggressive will have
sex with you but they rarely make love to you. If they feel themselves becoming attached, they
may punish you by withholding sex.
Obstructionism: Do you want something from your passive aggressive spouse? If so, get
ready to wait for it or maybe even never get it. It is important to him/her that you don,t get
your way. He/she will act as if giving you what you want is important to them but, rarely will
he/she follow through with giving it. It is very confusing to have someone appear to want to
give to you but never follow through. You can begin to feel as if you are asking too much
which is exactly what he/she wants to you to feel.
Victimization: The passive aggressive feels they are treated unfairly. If you get upset
because he or she is constantly late, they take offense because; in their mind, it was someone
else's fault that they were late. He/she is always the innocent victim of your unreasonable
expectations, an over-bearing boss or that slow clerk at the convenience store.
Procrastination: The passive aggressive person believes that deadlines are for everyone but
them. They do things on their own time schedule and be damned anyone who expects
differently from them.
The Passive Aggressive and You:
The passive aggressive needs to have a relationship with someone who can be the object of
his or her hostility. They need someone whose expectations and demands he/she can
resist. A passive aggressive is usually attracted to co-dependents, people with low self-esteem
and those who find it easy to make excuses for other's bad behaviors.
The biggest frustration in being with a passive aggressive is that they never follow through on
agreements and promises. He/she will dodge responsibility for anything in the relationship
while at the same time making it look as if he/she is pulling his/her own weight and is a very
loving partner. The sad thing is, you can be made to believe that you are loved and adored by
a person who is completely unable to form an emotional connection with anyone.
The passive aggressive ignores problems in the relationship, sees things through their own
skewed sense of reality and if forced to deal with the problems will completely withdraw from
the relationship and you. They will deny evidence of wrong doing, distort what you know to be
real to fit their own agenda, minimize or lie so that their version of what is real seems more
The passive aggressive will say one thing, do another, and then deny ever saying the first
thing. They don't communicate their needs and wishes in a clear manner, expecting their
spouse to read their mind and meet their needs. After all, if their spouse truly loved them
he/she would just naturally know what they needed or wanted. The passive aggressive
withholds information about how he/she feels, their ego is fragile and can't take the
slightest criticism so why let you know what they are thinking or feeling? God forbid
they disclose that information and you criticize them.
Confronting the Passive Aggressive:
Beware, if you confront the passive aggressive he/she will most likely sulk, give you the silent
treatment or completely walk away leaving you standing there to deal with the problem alone.
There are two reasons for confronting the passive aggressive. One, if done correctly you may
be able to help him/her gain insight into the negative consequences of their behaviors. Two,
even if that doesn't happen, it will at least give you the opportunity to talk to him/her in a
frank way about how his/her behavior affects you. If nothing else you can get a few things off
your chest. Below are some ways you might approach your passive aggressive:
• Make your feelings the subject of the conversation and not his/her bad behaviors.
• Don,t attack his/her character.
• Make sure you have privacy.
• Confront him/her about one behavior at a time, don't bring up everything at once.
• If he/she needs to retreat from the conversation allow them to do it with dignity.
• Have a time limit, confrontation should not stretch on indefinitely.
If he/she tries to turn the table on you, do not defend your need to have an adult
conversation about your feelings.
Be sure he/she understands that you care about what happens to them, that you love them and
that you are not trying to control them. You are only trying to get to the bottom of your
disagreements and make the relationship better.
Inside the Passive Aggressive:
The passive aggressive has a real desire to connect with you emotionally but their fear of such
a connection causes them to be obstructive and engage in self-destructive habits. He/she will
be covert in their actions and it will only move him/her further from his/her desired
relationship with you.
The passive aggressive never looks internally and examines their role in a relationship
problem. They have to externalize it and blame others for having shortcomings. To
accept that he/she has flaws would be tantamount to emotional self-destruction. They
live in denial of their self-destructive behaviors, the consequences of those behaviors and
the choices they make that cause others so much pain.
The passive aggressive objectifies the object of their desire. You are to be used as a means to
an end. Your only value is to feed his/her own emotional needs. You are not seen as a person
with feelings and needs but as an extension of him/her. They care for you the way they care
for a favorite chair. You are there for their comfort and pleasure and are of use as long as you
fill their needs.
The passive aggressive wants the attention and attachment that comes with loving
someone but fears losing his/her independence and sense of self to his/her spouse. They
want love and attention but avoid it out of fear of it destroying them. You have to be
kept at arms length and if there is an emotional attachment it is tenuous at best.
The only hope for change in the way they deal with relationship issues is if they are able to
acknowledge their shortcomings and contributions to the marital problems. Facing childhood
wounds, looking internally instead of externally to find the cause of problems in their
life will help them form deeper emotional attachments with a higher sense of emotional