• Passive-Aggressive Behavior


    When a person has a passive-aggressive behavior pattern, he may appear to comply or act appropriately, but actually behave negatively and passively resist. In the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders , passive-aggressiveness is not officially characterized as a personality disorder. Instead, passive-aggressiveness is labeled as an area that needs further study. But, if you think that you have this behavior pattern and it is affecting your day-to-day functioning, it is important that you seek help from a mental health professional.


    The cause of passive-aggressiveness is unknown. There may be environmental and genetic (or biological) factors that contribute to the development of this behavior pattern.
    Prefrontal Cortex
    Prefrontal cortex brain
    This part of the brain is believed to control our ability to act in a way that is socially appropriate. Biological changes to this area may contribute to behavior patterns.
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Risk Factors

    There are no established risk factors for passive-aggressive behavior. However, genetics may play a role.


    Symptoms include:
    • Contradictory and inconsistent behavior—A person with this behavior pattern may appear enthusiastic to carry out others’ requests, but he purposely performs in a manner that is not useful and sometimes even damaging.
    • Intentional avoidance of responsibility—Some behaviors that may be used to avoid responsibility include:
      • Procrastination—to delay or postpone needlessly and intentionally
      • Deliberate inefficiency—purposefully performing in an incompetent manner
      • Forgetfulness
    • Feelings of resentment toward others
    • Stubbornness
    • Argumentative, sulky, and hostile, especially toward authority figures
    • Easily offended
    • Resentful of useful suggestions from others
    • Blames others
    • Chronically impatient
    • Unexpressed anger or hostility


    A mental health professional diagnoses passive-aggressiveness after doing a psychological evaluation. This may include a range of mental health and neurological tests (to assess how the brain is functioning).


    There is no medication available for passive-aggressiveness. If anxiety or depression is also involved, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants. Antidepressants are medicines that ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
    Counseling can help you become aware of the problem and acknowledge the need to change.


    There are no known ways to prevent passive-aggressive behavior.


    Mental Health America http://www.nmha.org/

    American Psychological Association http://www.apa.org/


    Canadian Psychiatric Association http://www.cpa-apc.org/

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/index%5Fe.html/


    Berkow R, Fletcher AJ, Bondy PK. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. 16th ed. Rahway, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories; 1992.

    Kopeikin H. Personality disorders. Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences website. Available at: http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/~kopeikin/103lec7.htm . Accessed September 28, 2011.

    Mental Health America. Personality disorders. Mental Health America website. Available at: http://www.nmha.org/index.cfm?objectId=C7DF8E96-1372-4D20-C87D9CD4FB6BE82F . Accessed July 27, 2009.

    Passive-aggressive personality disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/ . Updated November 30, 2009. Accessed August 10, 2011.

    The passive-aggressive (negativistic) personality disorder (PAPD). Depression Forums.org website. Available at: http://www.depressionforums.org/forums/topic/3672-the-passive-aggressive-negativistic-personality-disorder-papd/ . Published January 2006. Accessed September 28, 2011.

    Personality disorders. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/personality-disorders/DS00562 . Updated September 10, 2010. Accessed September 28, 2011.

    Personality disorders. Mental Health America website. Available at: http://www.nmha.org/go/information/get-info/personality-disorders . Accessed September 28, 2011.

    Psychology website. Personality disorders: passive-aggressive personality disorder. Psychology website. Available at: http://psyed.org/r/pers/pt/passive-aggpd.html . Accessed November 10, 2010.

    Tierney LM, McPhee SJ, Papadakis MA. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment. 38th ed. Stamford, CT: Appleton & Lange; 1999.

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