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

A licensed psychologist explains how to spot passive-aggressive signs from childhood.

Last updated on Oct 19, 2022

types of passive aggressive families Nickolas Nikolic on Unsplash

Every family has anger. It’s unavoidable in life and in a family, simply because it is literally wired into our brains. Find me a family that believes it has no anger in it, and I’ll dig out their anger and show it to them. 

There are many ways that families can handle anger, depending on how comfortable they are with the emotion and, of course, the origins of the anger. Parents sometimes wield anger as a weapon, figuratively hitting each other over the head with it.


They also might hide it or ignore it and pretend it does not exist. 

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

But here's the thing about anger — when hidden beneath the surface of a relationship, it often goes hand-in-hand with passive-aggressive behavior. 

Left unexamined and unchecked, simmering anger can lead to a passive-aggressive family environment for kids that leaves emotional scars for a lifetime.

Anger also can serve an important purpose in the family. Members can use it to drive truth and connect other family members in a genuine, real and meaningful way.


If channeled in an unproductive direction, though, unexpressed anger can become fuel for passive-aggressive behavior.

RELATED: How To Recognize If Your Childhood Trauma Is Affecting You As An Adult (& How To Heal)

There are three types of passive-aggressive families and how their behavior affects their kids, even into adulthood: 

1. The 'anger as a weapon' family

In this family, anger is used by one or more members as a source of power. Anger may be expressed in a variety of aggressive ways, such as yelling, insults or barbed comments; by throwing things, breaking things, or other physical intimidation or threats.

The lesson their children learn: 


The angriest person wins.

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2. The 'underground anger' family

This family views anger as unacceptable or even bad. Angry feelings are viewed as unloving, uncaring or rebellious, and are met with negativity or punishment.

The lesson their children learn: 

Anger is bad. If you feel angry, you are bad. Do not talk about it.

RELATED: 6 Things People Don't Realize You Do Because You Were Raised By A Toxic Mother

3. The 'ignoring anger' family

This family treats anger as if it doesn’t exist. When a member of the family shows anger, it receives little reaction. Anger is invisible.


The lesson their children learn: 

Anger is useless. Don’t bother with it. Do not talk about it.



None of the children growing up in these three types of families has an opportunity to learn much about anger: How to listen to its message, manage it, express it, or use it in a healthy way. By definition, all of these children are growing up in an emotionally neglectful families.


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But let's focus in particular on the "underground" and the "ignoring" families.

These two family types are similar in that all of the children growing up in them are receiving this message: When something upsets you ...

Don’t talk. Don’t talk. Don’t talk.

That’s what makes both types of families breeding grounds for passive-aggressive behavior.

Because anger is wired into the human brain, it exists in every human being. When you are in an environment that is chronically intolerant of this particular emotion you naturally, automatically suppress your angry feelings whenever they arise.


RELATED: 7 Signs You Were Emotionally Neglected As A Child (And It's Affecting You Now)

Pushing anger down is like pushing water down. It has to go somewhere.

So it may seep underground and sit there, or it may go slightly under the surface, and ripple and roil, waiting for a chance to erupt.

In these two types of anger-intolerant families, the anger goes underground, but it does not disappear. It stays there. And it has to come out somehow, sometime, in some way, and probably directed at someone.

Enter passive-aggressive behavior

Passive-aggression: The indirect expression of anger and resentment, fueled by feelings that are not talked about directly.


A 2016 study on parental conflict's effect on children showed that kids who grew up in an environment of indirectly expressed, unresolved hostility are more insecure, and take less responsibility for their own problems. They are also more prone to depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal.

Another difficult aspect of passive aggression is that most people are completely unaware of their own passive-aggressive behavior. They are often, also, unaware of their own underground anger and the resentment that’s fueling it.

RELATED: Life-Changing Anger Management Techniques To Use When You Feel Like You're About To Explode


How to manage passive-aggressive behavior stemming from family

1. Accept that you have anger

Accept that it’s normal and healthy. Accept that it’s valuable and that you can use it to make your relationships better.

2. Increase your anger awareness

Watch for anger in other people. Watch for it in yourself. When you start trying to feel your anger, you’ll start breaking down the wall that blocks it.

3. Read everything you can about assertiveness

It’s a skill that allows you to express your anger in a way that the other person can take in your message without becoming defensive. Buy a book on it if you can. Then read it!

4. When something happens that makes you feel angry, notice the feeling

Practice sitting with it and tolerating it. Apply what you’ve learned about assertiveness.


And when something upsets you ...

Talk. Talk. Talk.

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

Jonice Webb has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and specializes in childhood emotional neglect. She is the author of the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. She shares more resources on her website