Understanding Passive Aggressive Personality Trait

Bride Wars

Bride Wars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Most likely you have heard the term “passive-aggressive anger” which is a person who gets angry but doesn’t show it right away and instead stabs you in the back later.  While the experience hurts, you are not likely to forget the passive-aggressive approach.  Now take this concept and expand it to not just one emotion of anger but in nearly every aspect of a person’s personality.  This is passive aggressive where blame is shifted from them to you and no responsibility or accountability is taken by them.


So what is Passive Aggressive?  Well, according to the new DSM-V, passive aggressive did not make the final personality disorder cut and instead is classified under Personality Disorder Trait Specified (PDTS).  This means that there was not enough research to properly classify passive aggressive as having a named personality disorder but there is evidence enough that it does exist.  So the traits of passive aggressive are still classifiable and qualify as a PDTS.  Here is the technical definition based on the new classification:


  • Hostility
  • Depressivity


The practical definition looks more like this:


  • Acts sullen
  • Avoids responsibility by claiming forgetfulness
  • Inefficient on purpose
  • Blames others
  • Complains
  • Feels resentment
  • Has unexpressed anger
  • Procrastinates
  • Resists suggestions


The movie “Bride Wars” featured two main characters who displayed some passive aggressive traits in a humorous setting.  But the main character Emma took passive aggressive to a personality level where she had issues in several areas of her life of putting things off, getting back at her friend in an underhanded way, intentionally being inefficient, and being resentful.  


So how do you deal with a person who might be passive aggressive?  Here are a few suggestions:


  • They can be very angry and you will not know it until it is too late and they are stabbing you in the back.  So be on guard.
  • This personality is not immature behavior although the behavior does look immature.  Rather their behavior is a personality issue and they will not outgrow it.
  • Eventually they will comply to wishes, demands, or expectations but it will be late and seem almost rebellious in nature.
  • When they get angry, they have a tendency to sabotage whatever is going on.  This is your clue that something is wrong as they are not likely to communicate anger.
  • By contrast, they hate outward signs of anger and routinely shut down when others are aggressive.


Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of passive aggressive is that they seem like adult teenagers that you just want to shove into reality.  But they are not, this is not a condition that goes away with time and experience usually does not change their behavior.  If you are in a relationship with a passive aggressive, get some counsel to learn to better manage your expectations and establish healthy boundaries for your protection.




Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.