Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why Are Passive Aggressive People So Exhausting?

If you're picking a team, and you need a team player, try to take a pass on anybody with a passive aggressive personality. They have a personality style, a consistent constellation of personality traits, which exhausts everyone in close range. This includes family members, partners, and co-workers. It's like trying to accomplish the goal with a rogue player who will not work together with you.

How do you identify a person with passive aggressive personality traits? They must have four of these seven characteristics or behaviors:
  1. Passively resists fulfilling routine social or occupational tasks.
  2. Complains consistently about being misunderstood and unappreciated by others.
  3. Sullen, pouty, and argumentative.
  4. Criticizes unreasonably and persistently. Scorns authority.
  5. Expresses envy and resentment towards other people who are seen as happy, well-off, or successful.
  6. Exaggerated and persistent complaints about self as misfortunate. Sees self as always a victim, taking no blame.
  7. Alternates between hostile defiance and contrition.
All of these traits make me think of the Dr.Phil line,"How much fun are you to live with?" Answer: not very.

Passive aggressive (PA) people create mountains out of molehills. It's draining and exhausting to live or work with them, because they create tremendous drama. It is hard to make any simple request of them because they resent being asked and either stonewall you and "forget" to do the task, or rage at you. When you live or work with a PA person, you learn to do it all yourself because it's so fruitless to ask for help.

Eric Berne, a well-known psychoanalyst, wrote the classic book,"Games People Play" in the 1960s. It looked at the transactions and communication between people, and identified multiple games people play. One such game of Berne's often associated with people with the passive aggressive style is NIGYYSOAB, or Now I Got You, You Son Of A Bitch. It's a form of one- upsmanship where one person is always looking to fault-find with the other person they are in a relationship with. What a nasty game! Who would consciously want to play that?

In intimate relationships, passive aggressive types discount their partner's feelings. They divert and trivialize your reality and your concerns. They look for the negative in you, and in the children. They undermine you in subtle and not so subtle ways. They threaten you. They rage. They don't seem to know how to talk through disagreements in a direct, open, and non-confrontational way. They blame others. They fail to take personal responsibility. They procrastinate. They can't find anything good to say about anybody else.

Psychology researchers and writers believe that the passive aggressive personality has its roots in childhood. Parents may have been unavailable because of drugs, alcohol, illness, or work. One or both of the parents may have modeled handling anger this way. Somehow the passive aggressive person grew up unskilled about how to work through differences in core needs in a calm, open, and non-hostile manner. It is thought that these individuals are often conflicted about accepting authority, developing an interdependent, close relationship with an intimate other, and about sharing control. Sadly, they have trouble trusting. They have difficulty attaching. They create chaos and make excuses, while playing the victim. They don't know how to be positively assertive, or may choose not to. They might like being a bully relationally.

If you are hiring or dating someone who fits this pattern, you may want to limit your liabilities and end it. If you have someone like this that is a family member or already a coworker, prepare to take good care of yourself. Set limits. Write down agreements on tasks. Get to a therapist or coach who can help you build your skill set for not letting this passive aggressive person tear you into pieces. Require that they go with you to therapy to learn how to fight fairly, with openness and respect.

What if this is you? Stop the negative, critical flow of comments. Put yourself on a negativity diet. Begin to point out the good in others. This change alone will make you more pleasant to be around. Keep your commitments. Learn to be direct. Learn to assert positively without rage, threats, and bullying. Work on your fears of being known, intimate, and dependent on someone you love. These are challenges to become a better, healthier person. Why not start today? Only you can take inventory and realize you want to clean up this negative, draining personality style.


  1. End it right away and keep no contact no matter if it is at work or in a personal family relationship. Do not have any real relationship of any kind with them. They are poisonous. Run like you woukd from a deadly snake.