Mayo Clinic Health Library

Question

Passive-aggressive behavior: What are the red flags?

What is passive-aggressive behavior? What are some of the signs?

Updated: 07-16-2013

Answer

Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. There's a disconnect between what a passive-aggressive person says and what he or she does.

For example, a passive-aggressive person might appear to agree — perhaps even enthusiastically — with another person's request. Rather than complying with the request, however, he or she might express anger or resentment by failing to follow through or missing deadlines.

Specific signs of passive-aggressive behavior include:

  • Resentment and opposition to the demands of others
  • Procrastination and intentional mistakes in response to others' demands
  • Cynical, sullen or hostile attitude
  • Frequent complaints about feeling underappreciated or cheated

Although passive-aggressive behavior can be a feature of various mental health conditions, it isn't considered a distinct mental illness. However, passive-aggressive behavior can interfere with relationships and cause difficulties on the job. If you're struggling with passive-aggressive behavior — or you think a loved one is — consider consulting a therapist.