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Passive Aggressive Behavior Symptoms

By Ciele Edwards ; Updated June 13, 2017

Passive aggressive personality disorder was once a diagnosis given to individuals who displayed anger and aggression through resistance rather than openly displaying their displeasure. According to the National Institutes of Health, PAPD is no longer recognized by psychiatric professionals as an official diagnosis. An individual can, however, still display passive aggressive tendencies.

Deliberately Ineffective

When directed to complete a task, most individuals will either behave as directed or voice their opposition to the request. For the individual with passive aggressive tendencies, however, openly voicing his displeasure about the request may not be an option. These individuals may display their anger or frustration by deliberately performing the task incorrectly. This wastes the time of both the individual and the authority figure making the request. In this way, the passive aggressive individual can “punish” the authority figure for making the request without initiating conflict.


"Psychology Today" reports that sulking is a common indicator of passive aggressive behavior. Although not all instances of sulking can be categorized as passive aggressive, when an individual sulks from not getting what he wanted, yet agreed to the current circumstances, he is displaying passive aggressiveness. For example, if you and a passive aggressive friend were going to a movie, your friend may happily agree with your suggestion, yet sulk over the movie itself if it weren’t the one he actually wanted to see.

Frequent Forgetfulness

The passive aggressive individual may resent her responsibilities and, as a result, attempt to avoid them entirely. According to New York City’s Langone Medical Center, a history of frequent forgetfulness may signify passive aggressive behavior. The individual finds a way of avoiding the tasks she does not want to do while avoiding the blame for her intentional inadequacy by claiming that she innocently “forgot.” If you attempt to chastise her for her behavior, you become the villain because she “can’t help it.” In this way, the individual avoids both her responsibilities and the consequences for doing so.

Passing Blame

The passive aggressive individual is rarely willing to accept the blame when his actions make someone else unhappy—especially if that means admitting his errors to an authority figure. While most individuals would apologize to their bosses for a legitimate mistake, with the passive aggressive individual the mistake was likely intentional, and an apology will merely be a way for the individual to place the blame onto someone else.

Career Hopping

Seattle therapist Michael Samsel states that a characteristic of some passive aggressive individuals is the inability to hold down a job for a significant length of time. The passive aggressive individual may need and want employment, but because of her disdain for authority, she sabotages her job opportunities with procrastination, ineffectiveness and hostility.

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