12 Things Passive-Aggressive People Do — But Don't Realize

Dr. Rhoberta Shaler shares tips for recognizing passive-aggressive behavior.

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How do you know if someone is being passive-aggressive?

Well, is the person difficult to be around? Do you not trust or respect them the way you wish you could? Truth is, they may be exhibiting passive-aggressive behaviors that totally confuse the people around them — and turn them off to you.

In order to make these unseemly behavioral traits abundantly clear to you, I'm offering you a very straightforward list of passive-aggressive examples.


RELATED: 5 Immediate Signs Of A Toxic, Passive-Aggressive Person

The 12 examples of things passive-aggressive people do, but may not realize: 

1. They don't speak their truth openly, kindly or honestly 

How this shows up in communication is being "assertively unassertive." They say "yes" (assertive) when they really mean "no way" (unassertive).


Then, they let their behavior say "no way" for them. People become confused and distrust you.

2. Passive-aggressive people appear sweet, compliant and agreeable — but are really resentful, angry and petty

They're living with pairs of opposites within, and that makes those around them feel crazy.



RELATED: 5 Subtly Toxic Phrases Passive Aggressive People Use All The Time 


3. They're afraid of being alone and dependent

This is the case of "I hate you. Don't leave me." They fear direct communication because they fear rejection.

They then push away the people they care about because they don't want to seem in need of support.

All the while, they are afraid of being alone and want to control those around them so they won't leave. Very confusing.

4. They often complain that they're treated unfairly

Rather than taking responsibility for stepping up and speaking their truth, they set themselves up as the (innocent) victim.

They say others are hard on them, unfair, unreasonable and excessively demanding.

RELATED: 7 Red Flag Signs The Person You Love Is A Master Manipulator


5. They procrastinate, especially on things they do for others

One way of controlling others is to make them wait. They have lots of excuses for why they haven't been able to get things done.

They even blame others for why that is so. It's amazingly unreasonable, but they do it even though it destroys relationships, damages careers, and costs friendships and jobs.

And they tell others how justified they are in being angry because, once again, others treated them unfairly.



RELATED: How To Go From Procrastinating To Productive, Even When You're Incredibly Frustrated


6. Passive-aggressive people are unwilling to give a straight answer

Another example of how passive-aggressive people control others is by sending mixed messages, ones that leave the other person completely unclear about their actual thoughts, plans or intentions.

Then, they gaslight you by making you feel wrong when they tell you that what you took from their communication was not what they meant. 

7. They sulk, withdraw and pout

They complain that others are unreasonable and lacking in empathy when they expect the passive-aggressive person to live up to their promises, obligations, or duties.

Passive-aggressive women favor the silent treatment as an expression of their contempt while passive-aggressive men prefer the deep sigh and shake of the head while walking away. 


Both expressions say “You poor confused person. You’re not worth talking to,” when the real reason for their behavior is that they have not, can not or will not take responsibility for their own behavior.

RELATED: 5 Signs Your Man Uses Passive-Aggressive Power To Control Everything

8. They cover up their feelings of inadequacy 

Whether they set themeslves up to be a self-sabotaging failure — "Why do you have such unrealistic expectations of me?" or a tyrant or goddess incapable of anything less than perfection, "To whom do you think you are speaking, peon?" they're shaking in your boots from fear of competition and being found out as less than perfect. 

They likely picked this one up in childhood.




RELATED: The 3 Types Of Passive-Aggressive Parents — And What Their Anger Does To Kids Even Into Adulthood

9. They are often late and/or forgetful

One way of driving people away is to be thoughtless, inconsiderate and infuriating. And, then, to put the cherry on top, the passive-aggressive person suggests that it's unrealistic to expect them to arrive on time, or, in their words, "think of everything."

Being chronically late is disrespectful of others. Supposedly forgetting to do what's been agreed to is simply demonstrating a lack of trustworthiness.


Who wants to be around that for long?

RELATED: 5 Red-Flag Signs Your Partner Is Inconsiderate And Very Selfish

10. They drag their feet to frustrate others

Again, a control move somewhat like procrastinating, but the difference is they begin and appear as though they are doing what they said they would do. But, they always have an excuse for why they cannot continue or complete the task.

They won't even say when it will be — or even might be — done.

11. They make up stories, excuses and lies

Passive-aggressive people are the masters of avoidance of the straight answer. They'll go to great lengths to tell a story, omit information or even withhold love and affirmation in their primary relationships.


It seems that if they let folks think they like them too much, that would be giving them power.

They'd rather be in control by creating a story that seems plausible, gets people off their back, and makes reality look better from their viewpoint.

RELATED: How To Instantly Spot A Liar


12. They constantly protect themselves so no one will know how afraid they are of being inadequate

Seriously take a while to ponder this behavior, and if any of these traits describe someone you know, take notice.

This may help you may finally understand why you are having difficulties with personal and work relationship with this person. 

The good news is that people are not passive-aggressive by nature. And these behavior patterns can change with some insights, skills and relationship advice.

RELATED: What Is Passive Aggressive Behavior — And Why Do People Behave Like That In Relationships?

And if you've realized a few uncomfortable things about yourself in the list above, what now? 


Get some relationship help. We all come by our passive-aggressive "stuff" honestly.

There's no blame here. If you read the list and saw yourself, you have two choices: Recognize what's not working for you and change it, or continue to blow it off as other people's problems.

Choose the first so you can feel more accepted, loved, wanted, appreciated and respected immediately. 

RELATED: 6 Signs Of A Narcissist That Are Super Easy To Miss

Rhoberta Shaler, Ph.D., is a relationship consultant, author and speaker who has spent the past 30 years helping couples navigate challenging relationships.