Passive Aggressive Behaviour

Passive Aggressive Behaviour takes many forms but can generally be described as a non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behaviour. It is where you are angry with someone but do not or cannot tell them.

Instead of communicating honestly when you feel upset, annoyed, irritated or disappointed you may instead bottle the feelings up, shut off verbally, give angry looks, make obvious changes in behaviour, be obstructive, sulky or put up a stone wall. It may also involve indirectly resisting requests from others by evading or creating confusion around the issue. Not going along with things. It can either be covert (concealed and hidden) or overt (blatant and obvious).

A passive aggressive might not always show that they are angry or resentful. They might appear in agreement, polite, friendly, down-to-earth, kind and well-meaning. However, underneath there may be manipulation going on – hence the term “passive aggressive”.

Passive aggression is a destructive pattern of behaviour that can be seen as a form of emotional abuse in relationships that bites away at trust between people. It is a creation of negative energy in the ether which is clear to those involved and can create immense hurt and pain for all parties. It happens when negative emotions and feelings build up and are then held in on a self-imposed need for either acceptance by another, dependence on others or to avoid even further arguments or conflict.

If some of this is sounding familiar don’t worry – we all do some of the above from time to time. It doesn’t necessarily make us passive aggressive, nor does it mean your partner is. Passive aggression is when the behaviour is more persistent and repeats periodically, where there are ongoing patterns of negative attitudes and passive resistance in personal relationships or work situations.

Examples of passive aggression

  • Non-communication – when there is clearly something problematic to discuss.
  • Avoiding/Ignoring – when you are so angry that you feel you cannot speak calmly.
  • Evading – evading problems and issues, burying an angry head in the sand.
  • Procrastinating – intentionally putting off important tasks for less important ones.
  • Obstructing – deliberately stalling or preventing an event or process of change.
  • Fear of competition – avoiding situations where one party will be seen as better at something.
  • Ambiguity – being cryptic, unclear, not fully engaging in conversations.
  • Sulking – being silent, morose, sullen and resentful in order to get attention or sympathy.
  • Chronic lateness – a way to put you in control over others and their expectations.
  • Chronic forgetting – shows a blatant disrespect/disregard for others as punishment.
  • Making excuses – always coming up with reasons for not doing things.
  • Self-pity – the ‘poor me’ scenario.
  • Blaming – blaming others for situations rather than being able to take responsibility for your own actions or being able to take an objective view of the situation as a whole.
  • Victimisation – unable to look at their own part in a situation will turn the tables to become the victim and will behave like one.
  • Withholding – withholding usual behaviours or roles, e.g. sex, cooking and cleaning or making cups of tea, running a bath, all to reinforce an already unclear message.
  • Learned helplessness – where a person continually acts like they can’t help themselves, or is deliberately doing a poor job of something for which they are often explicitly responsible.
  • Fear of intimacy – often there can be trust issues with passive aggressive people and guarding against becoming too intimately involved or attached will be a way for them to feel in control of the relationship.


Passive aggression might be seen as a defence mechanism that people use to protect themselves. It might be automatic and might stem from early experiences. What they are protecting themselves from will be unique and individual to each person; although might include underlying feelings of rejection, fear, mistrust, insecurity and/or low self-esteem.

Patterns of unassertive and passive behaviour may have been learnt in childhood as a coping strategy possibly as a response to parents who may have been too controlling or not allowing their child to express their thoughts and feelings freely. To cope, a child might adopt a passive-aggressive behaviour pattern.

For example, if a child was ridiculed, put-down or punished for openly expressing their feelings or disagreeing with their parents the child would learn to substitute open expression for passive resistance – agreeing with what mum or dad said in order to be a ‘good child’ or not speaking out honestly or at all.

If there was a consistent pattern within the family of punishment or rejection for asserting themselves the child would learn to become highly skilled at passively rebelling. An example of a child rebelling might be around toilet training, withdrawing from family conversation, choosing subjects at school to please parents and then not working hard, around eating and mealtimes – all causing worry and upset to the parents who may have no idea their behaviour is a contributory cause to the problem.

Passive aggression in the workplace

In the workplace, a passive-aggressive employee or employer may use these techniques as a form of control and/or intimidation. The worker might sulk, make faces, scowl inwardly when given jobs to do or may agree politely and then take ages to do them. By doing so, they are showing annoyance in the hope they will not be asked to do those tasks again.

Employers can also use passive aggression when confronted with employee problems, turning a blind eye, not facing facts or dealing with genuine cases of bullying and intimidation. This avoidant behaviour can be very damaging to individuals and teams of individuals within organisations.

Consequences of passive aggressive behaviour

In being passive aggressive, you are not giving yourself or others an opportunity to listen to what you think or feel. When on the receiving end of passive aggression, you can feel confused, upset, offended, guilty and frustrated. You may think you’ve done something wrong, but have no clear idea what it was.

  • It avoids communication in a very negative way.
  • It creates insecurity in all parties.
  • It creates a bad atmosphere between people.
  • It’s a form of conflict where both/one party cannot engage sensibly.
  • It avoids the real issues.
  • It creates negative feelings and resentments in an unassertive way.

Tips to help you overcome the effects of passive aggressive behaviour

If you have got this far in the article then it’s likely that passive aggression is an area of interest to you, or possibly a problem in your life or the life of someone close to you.

Five tips for overcoming your own passive-aggressive behaviours

  • Become aware of the underlying feelings causing your behaviour.
  • Become aware of the impacts of your behaviour and how your desire to defeat others, get back at them or annoy them creates yet further uncomfortable feelings for yourself.
  • Take responsibility for your actions and reactions.
  • Try to not feel attacked when faced with a problem but instead take an overall objective view of the situation.
  • Learn to be assertive in expressing yourself. You have a right to your thoughts and feelings so communicate them with honesty and truth and strengthen your relationships.

Five tips for coping with the passive-aggressive behaviour of others

  • Become aware of how passive aggression operates and try to be understanding towards your partner.
  • Explain to your partner how their behaviour towards you is affecting you. Communicate calmly without blaming, e.g. talk about how you feel and what you think without using language that will inflame the situation more. For example, you might say “I feel upset by your behaviour” rather than “you’ve done this or that”.
  • Be aware of your responses to others and yourself– do not blame yourself for the behaviour and reaction of others.
  • Be honest about your part in the situation If the aggressive behaviour of others continues to affect you in a negative way, set clear boundaries around yourself – rules for what you will and won’t accept.
  • Stay strong and focused and get on with your life in a positive way.

Resilience and Wellbeing

Resilience “The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and change”.

I like the word “bouncy”.

There is no doubt that life can be challenging and there is no escaping difficulties and constant change. Why is it that some of us seem more “springy” yet some of us are left floored?

An ever-growing theory is that resilience is very much influenced by our overall wellbeing. Think about the last time you drank too much alcohol or stayed up worrying all night with little sleep – your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing would be resultantly low, impacting your resilience. On days like this even the smallest obstacle can seem insurmountable.

Wellbeing is a state of feeling happy and healthy; being productive and being able to perform at our best. When looking closely at Wellbeing it is crucial to acknowledge the multiple areas influencing this.

The London School of Economics conducted a study “The Wellbeing and Resilience Paradox” They describe Wellbeing as a state at a point in time for an individual. Their insight reveals that Resilience is less than a point and more of a continuum. Resilience traits add an element of future proofing wellbeing – the concoction of both future shocking unpredictability.

For those of you who have experienced our training, using an analogy is not unusual for us. With Wellbeing, I like the analogy of a motor car. Servicing and maintaining the entire vehicle, the sum of all the parts offers an enjoyable, effective and reliable ride.

Checking in with yourself today what vehicle would you compare yourself to? What make, model and colour are you? In thinking about your vehicle consider this.

The multiple Wellbeing areas:

Emotional Resilience (Diesel/Petrol)

Filling the tank with low grade fuel or none at all is going to impact the engine and running performance. Keeping a close eye on the fuel gauge and choosing a quality product is key.

Our thoughts and emotions coarse through us influencing our self-talk; motivation and mental health. Cultivating self-awareness and ways to manage psychological stress means rich emotional health resulting in enthusiasm, creativity; empathy and contentment.

Physical Wellbeing (Chassis)

Keeping the chassis in good shape; clean and polished not only offers good functionality but an appealing appearance which eludes to success.

How we physically treat our bodies is important – the conduit for everything else. Feeling physically well is pivotal to productivity and performance, energy and longevity.

Relationships (Electric board)

Cars today incorporate latest technologies with extremely high-tech computing power. These are fabulous in maintaining multiple components like safety features, fuel supply; airbags; navigation to name a few. Glitches with technology equals dysfunctional potential.

Fostering healthy, happy relationships enables us to be who we are. Founded on good communications skills, listening and being heard, effective interaction – our partnerships undoubtedly affect our stress levels and influence how we feel.

Work-Life Balance (Tyres)

Tyre pressure not only maintains safety but maintains fuel efficiency too. Maintaining tyre pressure and balance requires ongoing care.

Finding harmony between home and work is something many of us crave and getting the balance right can be tricky. Making healthy choices, introducing flexibility, managing expectations and being able to prioritise well aids in offering us control in this often precarious dynamic.

Health of your Wealth (Leased or owned)

It may be that you cannot afford your vehicle outright and leasing offers a monthly payment plan avoiding depreciation costs. Whatever your financial choice; affordability and paying for your vehicle is ongoing, so it needs to be achievable and manageable.

Money worries keep a large percentage of us awake at night and they often influence our relationships too. Managing our personal finances is crucial to tempering stress levels and overall wellbeing. It is something that not only affects us individually but can have a knock-on effect on businesses too.

Purpose (Destination)

We don’t jump into our cars and drive around aimlessly. We drive with a destination in mind; we use the sat nav to help us navigate to a final point.

Having a sense of purpose helps us get out of bed in the mornings. It is about knowing exactly where we fit in; what our contribution means and knowing where we are heading. This is intrinsic to our motivation; sense of optimism and resilience. A strong sense of purpose helps us overcome challenges and transcend difficulties.

How is your vehicle looking now? Having a vehicle that manages changing terrain and weather conditions; is energy efficient and gets you to your destination smoothly means servicing it regularly and looking after it.

Can a relationship survive without intimacy?

Intimacy is defined as a close, familiar and unique bond existing between humans, both physically and emotionally. A strong relationship survives on both forms of intimacy that has grown and evolved over time, thriving on a slow release of trust and self-disclosure.

As a basic need, we require love and affection, both in spoken word and in gentle touch, cuddles and hugs. A lack of intimacy can bring problems for a couple, particularly if it was once an important role in the relationship or if one partner is more intimate than the other.

Intimacy builds strong foundations for couples to survive through the toughest of times, an anchor for when the going gets tough and the constant reassurance that you aren’t alone. It’s the need to be as close as emotionally possible to the one person we’ve promised to spend the rest of our lives with.

Couples counselling can provide support during these very difficult times.

Physical and emotional intimacy

Physical and emotional intimacy go hand in hand: for a long standing relationship, you can’t create a physical connection without inducing emotional intimacy.  Lacking emotional intimacy whilst the physical connection is thriving can develop complications with trust, anger, frustration and confusion for couples.

In a similar breath, possessing a fiercely unique emotional intimacy without having physical intimacy, is incredibly difficult to maintain a relationship that has both individual and collective needs.

  • Emotional intimacy

If you know you can give your partner a ‘knowing’ look from across the room, and that they’ll respond with that special wink or smile, then you’ve developed an emotional intimacy in your relationship.

  • Physical intimacy

It’s in a human being’s nature to require physical intimacy – this is why simple physical affection, such as hand-holding, cuddling, hugging and kissing is important to your relationship – alongside emotional understanding and capability.

“Communication is at the heart of sexual intimacy. In the early days of the relationship, lust can often carry you through, but over time, sexual relationships can change. In healthy relationships, although the level of passion may decrease, the emotional connection gets deeper and more fulfilling; partners who are able to talk openly feel no inhibitions about sharing any concerns and expressing their needs and responses.

However, some couples, especially those who have never really discussed their sexual behaviour, struggle to accept and embrace change and may harbour feelings of disappointment or loss. Rather than talking about issues which they find uncomfortable or embarrassing, they can get into a routine in which lovemaking is in danger of becoming a routine chore and thus less rewarding for one or both partners.”

– Jenny Oyston, Counsellor

What happens when one partner is more intimate?

It’s very common for one type of intimacy to be more important to one partner than the other or one partner more comfortable with intimacy. In this instance, couples often find themselves thinking all is well until one partner finally speaks up and lets them know that the intimacy levels are not what they should be. Or, even more tragic, neither partner says anything and they find themselves ending the relationship without really knowing the true cause.

If you can’t be intimate with your partner, whether physically or emotionally (or both), it will make having a lasting relationship with your partner difficult. The reason for this is quite simple: without the emotional and physical bond between mates, there’s nothing to hold onto when things get rough and both partners find themselves feeling as though they haven’t an anchor to keep them safe in the rocky ocean of life.

A lack of intimacy

Without intimacy, there isn’t the security in the relationship of knowing that the other person is there for you, or of knowing that they truly love you. Where intimacy is lacking, most partners don’t intend to hurt their significant other, or are even unaware of the lack of intimacy which is why a lacking relationship, whether emotionally or physically, doesn’t have a promising success rate.

This lack of intimacy can cause support, understanding, loneliness and anger issues between a couple.

Keeping intimacy important

A relationship can survive without intimacy, but it will become a real struggle for both partners as time goes on; neither partner will be happy or feel secure in the relationship. Without happiness and security, the basis of a relationship is complicated. Once intimacy is lost or if it never existed in the relationship, it takes a lot of determination and commitment to get intimacy back in the relationship, but it’s not impossible if both couples are committed.

To form a strong, long-lasting bond, intimacy is required to fulfil a human’s basic need: it’s what human beings crave in order to create a safe, loving and happy relationship, and intimacy is a key ingredient.

How to improve intimacy?

“To improve intimacy in your relationship, think of it as a living thing that changes throughout your life. As you mature, both you and your partner’s needs change, so be open to that and acknowledge it in your relationship.”

  • Read more on Happiful from counsellor Graeme.

If you feel that intimacy is lacking in your relationship and you once had a strong bond, it’s important to try to be as open as possible and communicate with your partner. Intimacy is an important aspect of developing as a couple and you aren’t criticising your partner or their capabilities as a partner.