Passive Aggressive Relationships – When Is It Abuse?

Passive Aggressive Abuse in Relationships

Leaving you shaking your head in disbelief, it’s like a nightmare where you try to run away and all you ever find are dead ends with no escape. You may even be dealing with a Hijackal®!

It’s crazy-making. It’s infuriating. It’s passive-aggressive behavior!

It requires relationship help!

It’s covert, stealthy even! You’re really not sure when or if you were hit, or when you may be again. It causes you to question your words, your actions and your motives, as if something were always your fault. You’re probably dealing with passive aggressive abuse in relationships!

Trying to actually confront passive-aggressive behavior is also often crazy-making.  Passive-aggressive behavior is based in deep-seated anger and resentment. Unfortunately, the passive-aggressive person is often unaware of what s/he is doing, and when confronted, refuses to acknowledge either the behavior or its results. S/he can be quite upset that you would even think they were the problem, or contributing to it.

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You can take the free online Passive-Aggressive Checklist and you’ll be able to tell if the behavior you are concerned about is actually passive-aggressive. You can also visit to find out if you’re dealing with a chronically difficult person.


And, yes, passive-aggressive people can drive other folks around the bend. They lack the insight into their own behavior that would allow them to see what they are doing, and therefore they think others simply don’t understand them, continuously misunderstand them, or want more from them than is reasonable. Want to learn to recognize a passive aggressive person in a relationship?

What is Passive-Aggression?

Here’s the actual psychological definition from the DSM-IV,  the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:

A.  A pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

  1. passively resists fulfilling routine social and occupational tasks
  2. complains of being misunderstood and unappreciated by others
  3. is sullen and argumentative
  4. unreasonably criticizes and scorns authority
  5. expresses envy and resentment toward those apparently more fortunate
  6. voices exaggerated and persistent complaints of personal misfortune
  7. alternates between hostile defiance and contrition

B. Does not occur exclusively during major depressive episodes and is not better accounted for by dysthymic disorder” (a depressive mood disorder.)

It actually is a personality disorder that is documented in psychological research. You might recognize it when you’re affected by someone’s passive-aggressive behavior by the feeling of insecurity it creates in you, or by the person’s seemingly intentional inefficiency. They are late, forgetful, or punishing, all covert ways of trying to assert control over you or the situation.

Passive-aggressive people are fearful of competition, dependency, and, yes, intimacy. You might recognize that as the “push me, pull me syndrome.” Another way of expressing that is the mixed message of “Come close but stay away.”

Passive-aggressive behavior is based in anger and resentment. It is crazy-making!

A passive-aggressive person can make chaos out of thin air, and they are secretly delighted in their ability to do so. It feels like control to them, and that is what they long for. Because they cannot approach situations, feelings, relationships or communication directly, they do so indirectly. That causes the chaos.

Oh, yes, at work as well as at home? They make endless–seemingly rational (that’s the crazy-making part!)–excuses for why they cannot, or did not, do things that were expected of them. Because they have difficulty playing nicely with others, they tend to drag their feet in any work team project. From not feeling well to not feeling included, from not having the information given to them to not knowing what was expected of them, passive-aggressive people have a reason for everything. They believe these reasons and will actively work to disparage anyone who will not accept their reasons.

Not only are they obstructive, but they are also experts at procrastination.

Of course, they always have a reason. And, they love to play the victim. Passive-aggressive people will go to great lengths to avoid recognizing their own weaknesses, but love to blame others for their own failures. This is a hallmark of the passive-aggressive personality.

Passive-aggressive behavior is crazy-making! But, once you understand it, you can keep your sanity. Once you learn how to respond to and recover from it, you will feel more competent and confident when it arises, too.’

If you have a #Hijackal in your life, or think you might have, get my free ebook, How To Spot A Hijackal, at  Need help to know your next best steps?  If you would like more help, subscribe to my Tips for Relationships, and listen to my Podcasts. Start with an introductory session. Talk soon!

*Hijackal: a person who hijacks relationships for their own purposes while scavenging them for power, status and control. This term was coined by Dr. Shaler.

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