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17 Examples Of Passive Aggressive Behavior

Passive aggressive behavior is often implicit and subtle. Hence, it is very difficult to deal with if you can’t identify it in the first place. This post shares 17 common examples of passive aggressive behavior. It will help you to avoid being manipulated by people with such behavior.

What is Passive Aggressive Behaviour?

According to Dictionary.com, “Passive aggressive behavior is a way to express feelings of anger or annoyance, but in a non-forthcoming way. Instead of communicating openly, people who engage in this type of behavior share their negative feelings through actions.”

A person exhibits passive-aggressive behavior when he expresses feelings of anger or resentment in a masked or covert way. Such behavior often aims to get back to the other person and to make them feel bad. Sometimes, it is done intentionally to manipulate the other person’s actions or feelings, so they react according to what he wants.

example of passive aggressive behavior type
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17 Examples Of Passive Aggressive Behavior

This list covers some of the most common examples of passive-aggressive behavior. You can use it to identify if someone has been subtly manipulating you with the passive aggressive behavior. 

1) Make Backhanded Compliments

Backhanded compliments are fake compliments or “disguised insults”. People with passive aggressive behavior use it to humiliate or to criticize the other person indirectly.

Backhanded compliments examples:

  • You look so much more awake with makeup today.
  • You’re lucky to have really small boobs, they always have your bra size in store.
  • Your life is so amazing. I wish I don’t have any responsibilities like you.
  • I wish I can have maternity leave too, so I can leave the jobs to others.

For fake compliments like these, you might need some time to ‘get it’. They are insults in disguise, but the person who said it packaged it as a compliment so well. If you confront it, you will then become the ‘bad guy’ who is too sensitive and overacting. Hence, most of the time, you are forced to accept it awkwardly.


2) Procrastination

Procrastination is another subtle act used by people with passive aggressive behavior. They purposely delay completing an accepted request to the last moment to punish the other person who they are angry at.

Even worse, they sometimes choose to miss the deadline in order to get back at the person who made them angry. They want the person to look bad or to be hurt professionally from their actions. Thus, this can be seen as an act of ‘revenge’. 

“We have found some links with chronic procrastination and personality challenges like ADHD, passive-aggressive tendencies, revenge, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other areas…”Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D. 

Procrastination Examples of Passive Aggressive Behavior:

  • Pretend to misremember the deadline and delay the other person’s progress
  • Break promises /quit and cause the project to halt
  • Submit half-hearted work last minute and causes a lot of work need to be done on the other person’s side

They use procrastination to assert power over others and make them suffer. In the workplace, this causes others to receive demerits or warnings.


3) Exclude People

People with passive aggressive behavior can use exclusion as an approach to isolate the person whom they do not like.  It can assert pressure socially and serve as an indirect warning for others not to go against them. A simple social exclusion example can be inviting everyone but the person they do not like to a gathering or party after work. It is done to purposely to make the person feel left out and to make him sad.

On the other side, professional exclusion can be intentionally keeping people uninformed about important things such as change of deadline, the new meeting agenda, and the upcoming trend or new direction of the team. 

Since it is not their obligation to update you on work or to invite you to a social event, people with passive-aggressive behavior like to use exclusion to their advantage to express dissatisfaction or anger indirectly. If you are the victim, you can’t be mad at them because again, it is your own responsibility to keep yourself updated in the workplace and to build your own social circle. It makes you an overdemanding person if you start asking them to do the things for you. 


4) Intentional Mistakes

Since passive aggressive people do not reject or resist directly, they tend to accept the others’ requests half-heartedly. In order to avoid getting asked to accept more new tasks again, they intentionally submit low-quality work. So, next time, the others would choose to do the work themselves rather than spending more time to re-work what the passive-aggressive people have done.

While deterring you from giving them more tasks, they also can cause you trouble, lower your work performance and irritate you. Since you cannot blame them as you are the one who requested for help, they use it to their advantage and test your patience. 


5) Play Victim

The passive aggressor can pretend to fall victim to the other person’s action or request. Doing so, they can incur guiltiness in others and refrain them from doing the same thing again. 

For example, they purposely stay back after working hours to complete the extra task you gave them. They did this to show the others that you have caused them trouble and burden. It makes you look like a bad person. But, the fact is that the task is so simple and they can certainly complete it during normal working hours. They tend to exaggerate the effect of your action on them and then manipulate you with a guilty conscience. It exerts social pressure on you, so you stop requesting them for help completely.


6) Make Wistful Comment

The wistful comment is another way how a passive aggressive person can manipulate your actions or thoughts. 

What is a wistful comment?
A wistful comment is basically a wish to own or to do something but it is expressed in a sad or melancholy way.

Passive-aggressive example of wistful comments:

  • I wish I could focus on my career and be successful too. But unfortunately, I have to spend all my time to take care of the kids. 
  • I wish the house is clean, but never mind, I know you are busy these days.

In the example above, you can see a common trend. These wistful comments often begin with a wish or declaration, but then end in a defeating way. It is done so that the responsibility is now on another person’s shoulder. 

“I wish I can save some money but it’s okay I know presents can make you happy.” The passive aggressive person said this, so the other person will feel guilty and tell them no need to prepare a gift in the first place. They are good at using guilt to manipulate people.


7) Sabotage

Sabotage is the action used by the passive aggressor to hurt someone. They plan ahead so the bad intention behind their calculated moves will not be exposed and they stay being the “good guy”.

Examples of passive aggressive behavior:

  • Invite someone to smoke when they know the other person is trying very hard to quit smoking.
  • Purposely share baby photos with people with fertility problems to make them sad.
  • Gossip spread false news, and purposely shape a bad image of someone within his social circle. It is actually sabotage disguised as sharing or caring. 

They do this subtly so that the victim who is being hurt will be unaware of it or believe that they themselves are responsible for the outcome.


8) Telling You The Opposite Meaning

We can often see this in a relationship. One party may verbally agree on things to avoid direct confrontation but then he shows otherwise via body language. 

Examples of passive aggressive behaviors:
Agree to let you go for dinner with your coworkers and leave him/her alone in the house, but then he/she expresses exaggerated anger or sadness non-verbally. It makes you guilty and you have to cancel the plan by yourself. 

Passive-aggressive people do not say no directly because they do not want to create direct conflict. So, they force the other party to obliged by showing dissatisfaction in other ways. They expect people to read their minds and then do according to what they want. Living with them, you will feel like you need to be careful of every action you take. Otherwise, if something goes wrong, the fault is yours because you fail to understand their true meaning. You will be labeled as insensitive. 


9) Silent Treatment

The silent treatment is similar to “telling you the opposite” when it comes to passive aggressive behavior. Instead of giving the minimum or the opposite response to you, they simply say nothing.

The concept of the silent treatment is almost the same. First, they say nothing about the problem to avoid direct confrontation, and second, such behavior shows disrespect and provoke conflict to happen. 

Silent treatment examples are not returning calls, texts or emails, pretend they didn’t see you when they pass by, and literally not talking to you. The silent treatment is all about withholding.

If you get mad at them for the silent treatment, it makes you look like an attention seeker. And, if a quarrel happens, you are the one who started it. This is a typical example of passive aggressive behavior.


10) Being Sarcastic

They ridicule someone verbally and disguise it as a joke. If you confront them directly, they will pretend it’s just a joke and you’re being too sensitive.

Since sarcasm is normally used to ridicule something in a ‘funny’ way, it is easy for the passive aggressors to disguise it as a joke. They belittle someone indirectly, and if needed, they can easily get away by just calling it a joke. 

It’s hard to know if the person is just trying to be funny or they are trying to insult you by being sarcastic. In any case, if you do not like it, just let them know it has offended you. If they say ‘why so serious, it’s just a joke’, then tell them you can accept jokes but just not the kind of jokes that is insulting.


11) Deflect Responsibility

When a quarrel start, the passive aggressor is good at changing the topics or deflect the responsibility. They are really good at shifting the responsibility, especially back to the person who confronted them in the first place.

In certain relationships, the passive aggressor might even hold someone else responsible for their emotions. This type of blaming is a form of coercive control

Example of passive aggressive behavior: 

When confronted why they break their promise again, the passive aggressor can say why do you raise your voice, and say you do not respect or love him anymore. Discussing a particular issue, and then all of a sudden, it’s a matter of love or hate? Sounds ridiculous, but that how passive aggressor does it, they don’t want to confront the person who raises the issue and to give reason (because they often can’t), so they switch the topic and then start blaming the other person on the new topic. Now the other person will have to be the one to start explaining. 

You know you’re dealing with a passive aggressor when you try to discuss an issue with them and they start blaming and accuse you of something you have never done before. If you’re in a relationship with a passive aggressor, you will find yourself unable to express your dissatisfaction because every time when you do that, they will accuse you on something else and you will be the one giving an explanation on the new topic. They use this method to deter you from confronting them again. 


12) Play Dumb

The passive aggressors can play dumb to avoid their own responsibility. They use this method to subtly control the targeted person or to irritate them.

Passive aggressive examples of this behavior:

  • Oh, I thought that is just a suggestion. I didn’t know you actually want me to do it.
  • I don’t know you need the purchasing report as well because you only told me to ‘prepare the reports”. You didn’t specify what reports are needed.
  • I do not know how to use excel to prepare the report. Can you show me how?

They do this so that the other person feels it is too cumbersome to convey what they want to the passive aggressor. Also, since the passive aggressor does not understand the task, there might be a lot of mistakes in their work and this is too risky. The outcome is that they avoid asking the passive aggressor to do the work altogether and this is the outcome he wants. They do not want to reject the task directly, so they play dumb, and make the other person say, “nevermind I will do it myself”


13) They Keep Score

The passive aggressive people tend to remember all the perceived injustice they receive on their end. Then, they will wait for the perfect moment for an act of revenge.

It is hard for normal people to avoid offending them because they tend to perceive a lot of little things as injustice. In order to avoid direct confrontation, they will keep score for many months and one day, get back to the targeted person out of sudden. This makes often makes the targeted person feel odd and simply cannot comprehend the situation.

For example, you bought someone a present and you forgot to bring another one for the passive aggressor. He pretends everything is ok but he is actually mad inside. After months, the passive aggressor bought others present during a festival and purposely exclude you back just to get revenge on you. 


14) Sullen Attitude

People who exhibit a sullen attitude is often described as bad-tempered, resentful, and refusing to be cooperative or cheerful.

Passive aggressive people tend to avoid confrontation and not to deal with them directly. So, their life tends to be controlled by a lot of external factors because they are not doing anything to change them. The only thing they do is complain or to rebel quietly to express discontent over their life situation. This way, they do not need to confront the other person directly. And, through such actions, they require people around them to ‘get it’ and act according to how they want.

Sullen people are forever miserable, gloomy and negative. They complain about anything they possibly can and they purposely do things to spread their pessimism to you.

For example, you prepare breakfast for the passive aggressor person, they eat it but with the expression of “oh no, not this again. I hate this breakfast”. They do not like the type of breakfast but they just won’t tell you, instead, they just show their discontent on their faces and keep you frustrated not knowing what has gone wrong.

Another example, the holiday is coming and the passive aggressor said it is alright for you to plan everything for the holiday trip. But during the trip, the passive aggressor act being unhappy or moody because they do not like a particular itinerary. They don’t say anything but they subtly complain about things with their attitude and their facial expression.


15) Stubborn

The passive aggressive people are being stubborn not because they want to stand their ground over something which is important but just to irritate you. Perhaps, you might have done something which the passive aggressor perceived as injustice and he is now getting his revenge back on you.

In other words, they defend their position with some ridiculous excuse not because they truly believe it but they just want to annoy you. Sometimes, even if they know their actions or behavior is wrong, they are still going to hold on to it, so that you will get mad. If there’s a quarrel, they will say “you are the one who started it” but in fact, they are the ones who trigger it with their unacceptable attitude and behavior.

Passive Aggressive Example – Stubbornness:
You prohibit them from doing something, for example eating in the bedroom. Then, they refuse to wash their plates and tend to leave it in the sink for days saying it is not dirty and it is not going to attract cockroaches. No matter what you say, even if they know their statement is wrong, they are just going to hold on to it just to irritate you. They do so to tell you indirectly not to tell them what they can do, or they will cause you a lot of pain or trouble. When you want to correct them next time, your inner voice will say “I might as well just forget or swallow this, otherwise, they will cause me even more problem and pain”. They control your behavior and action subtly.


16) Push your button

The passive aggressive people like to push other people’s buttons when theirs are triggered. For example, you did something that offended them, they will pretend as if it is nothing, but then they will push your button to make you mad on purpose just to get back to you. And, because the two incidents are irrelevant, it is a good cover-up for getting revenge.

Examples of passive aggressive behavior:
ou forgot to buy something they requested, then they purposely throw away your important things when tidying up the house claiming it is an accident and they do not know it is important to you but the fact is they totally know about it. 


17) Indirect Request

This is a sneaky way for passive aggressors to put pressure on people, so they can get what they want indirectly. 

A classic example would be:

On a road trip, the passive aggressor asks “do you want to stop for a coffee”. The actual reason why he/she ask is not that they’re concern if you need a coffee but they want one themselves. If you miss the hidden meaning, they will then put up some ‘attitude’ for you to see, and you will start wondering what has gone wrong again. If a quarrel starts, you will be the one to be blamed because you are so ‘insensitive’ for not getting their hidden meaning. Plus, they have asked you if you need a coffee, but you didn’t even care to ask back, you just do not care about them, and now you are not only insensitive but a total jerk. 

Passive aggressors like to put pressure to conform when asking for something. When they ask something indirectly, they often assume it is the other’s responsibility to “get it”. And, if you failed to get the hidden message behind their questions,  by default, they will assume you are at fault. It’s a pity they can’t see the problem arises is because of their poor communication skills.

If you are in a relationship with a passive aggressor, you will find yourself trying to mind-read and explain yourself all the time.


What Causes Passive Aggressive Behavior

  • Childhood Trauma – they might have a very bad experience in dealing with direct conflict in early life.
  • Childhood Upbringing – they could be conditioned to do so while growing up in a household where direct expression is not encouraged.
  • Suppression of Anger – they do not have the authority to say no. So, they suppress the anger on the surface and express it passively. And slowly, this becomes their habit.
  • Social Adaptations – they want to be accepted at the current social circle (friends, family, coworkers), and they do not want the relationship to turn sour. So, they resort to releasing their anger subtly while keeping the ongoing relationship.
  • Lack of Confidence – they might think it is useless to express their feelings directly because the other party will not listen to them. So, they tend to create trouble and manipulate others to act according to how they want it. This avoids direct confrontation and they might be able to get what they want in the end.  Or,
  • Bad Communication Skills – they simply have not learned how to communicate more effectively or directly.


How To Deal With Passive Aggressive People

1) Identify the passive aggressive people
If you found yourself pressured to do something or often being blamed when you are with someone, then you are probably dealing with a passive-aggressive person. They often do not tell you to want they want directly, and they only show it with their attitude. They put you in a situation where if you confront them and raise the conflict, you will then be labeled as too sensitive or unreasonable. They confuse you that you are the reason for the problem when you are not. 

2) Stay Objective
It is hard to stay objective so when you know the passive aggressor is pretending to be innocent or playing dumb to irritate you. However, if you want to solve the problem, you will have to discuss the matter objectively and try not to get personal. 

3) Confront them directly
Let them know 3 things: No.1, it is not possible for you to read their mind, No. 2, you prefer direct communication No.3 if there’s a conflict, let’s have a conversation between adults and cut off those little immature actions that only kids do. Saying so will put the responsibility to communicate directly on their shoulders. If they do otherwise, then they will be labeled as a kid or immature. They like to be the good guy on the surface, and they want to stay perfect in their social circle. So, by default, they do not want to be labeled as immature by others. This will pressure them to go for direct communication next time. Let them know communication is a mutual thing. It’s all about exchanging thoughts and opinions, and it’s never about guessing and mind reading. 

4) Show them how to communicate directly
Because they have been practicing indirect communication for years, it is a challenge for them to start doing the other way around even if they want to make a change. When you catch them exhibit passive aggressive behavior without knowing it, give them a gentle reminder, and show them the way to communicate things directly. Ask their permission if it’s alright for you to show them the better way to communicate with you, so you can understand their motives effectively? If they say yes, then put yourself in their shoes, and say it directly, so they can learn from your example. 

5) Avoid them
If you already let them know the way they communicate is deteriorating the relationship and causes you to feel disappointed and they are still doing it on purpose, then just avoid or minimize your contact with the passive aggressor. You do not owe them anything, let life to teach them the lesson. If the person is someone you cannot avoid, for example, your family member, each time when they exhibit passive-aggressive behavior, let them know it won’t work, not even in the covert way because you can catch it and you won’t give them permission to hurt you. This tells them their default communication style is not going to work anymore. If they want to communicate with you, only direct communication will work now. 

passive aggresive infographics
credit: https://visme.co/blog/passive-aggressive-behaviors-in-the-workplace-infographic/



A passive-aggressive person can be very childlike. In their world, they always want to have the upper hand and get revenge on small little things which they perceive as injustice. In addition to that, they do not know how to communicate directly, so it is super frustrating and energy-draining to deal with them. We hope the 17 examples of passive aggressive behaviors are helpful to you. 

If you have already let them know that their passive aggressive behavior is disappointing you and they have no intention to change, just let them go and focus on living your own life to the fullest. Some people are meant to be in our life just to teach us a lesson but not to stay with us forever. In this case, they help us to learn what is our boundaries and we can have full power in controlling what and who can come into our life. Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.


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