Dealing with someone’s passive-aggression can be a serious pain. Even those closest to you aren’t exempt from displaying the indirect behaviour at some point.
Although it might be subtle when someone is giving you the passive-aggressive treatment, these signs will help you notice it so that you can address it.
They continuously make you feel confused.
If you’ve ever dealt with a passive-aggressive person, then you know that their actions very seldom match up with their words. It’s because of this that people are usually left feeling extremely confused when attempting to confront them with issues.
“One sign that someone is being passive-aggressive with you is if you feel confused. The words that are coming out of their mouth don’t match how you feel in response,” said Shereen Thor, executive life coach and founder of Awaken The Rebel.
“They are saying something ‘nice’ but you feel like they mean something else. This is the first sign someone is being passive-aggressive – the feeling that you are getting mixed messages.”
They have been verbally hostile toward you.
Anyone who has been the victim of passive-aggression knows that it can be shown in the way that people talk to you. Steve Pritchard, an HR consultant for Ben Sherman, told INSIDER that this is a very common sign.
“Subtle verbal hostility is a telltale sign of passive-aggression,” he said. “For example, speaking to you in the third person, such as saying, ‘Somebody hasn’t completed this,’ when they know that it was you who didn’t complete the task.”
Your ideas are constantly being criticised.
Another sign that should raise red flags is the amount of criticism the person is giving you on something. Although constructive criticism can generally be a good thing, if the criticism comes from a passive-aggressive place it can be flat-out rude.
“The intention behind all of this is for the individual to make the other person feel inferior and insecure about themselves,” Pritchard said. “In turn, this makes them feel more dominant and superior; this kind of passive-aggression is often a result of insecurity.”
You’re being mocked and you know it.
Much like being criticised, David Barbour, co-founder of wellness company Vivio Life Sciences, told INSIDER that the aggressor will most likely mock you, too.
“This is a particularly easy sign to notice if you know the person well and have a knowledge of their baseline conversation for comparison,” Barbour said.
“Passive-aggressive behaviour usually manifests in non-committal manners, since by definition passive-aggressive behaviour is indirect indignation or hostility, it is usually subtle changes in regular actions, body language, speech, and attitude. Another simple sign is crossed arms and being deliberately obtuse or difficult to personally deal with.”
The person disrespects your wishes to exert their dominance.
Though we often call small acts of disrespect “petty,” founder of Women’s Therapy InstituteMabel Yiu, MFT, said that it’s a little more serious than that. And, just because it’s not really in the aggressor’s norm, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
“Good examples [of this] would be your roommate’s alarm clock going off early on a Saturday and rather than turning it off themselves, you have to physically get up and do it,” she said. “Something else could be turning lights on during the wee hours of the morning to study and refusing to go to the library. This person might have a positive reputation outside of living with you, making it hard to get sympathy and support for such issues.”
They keep denying their obvious feelings.
Perhaps one of the biggest signs that someone is being passive-aggressive is them denying that they’re upset. Though it sounds counterproductive, it’s a way of expressing aggression.
“For example, you might have wronged them somehow and they obviously look frustrated,” psychologist and founder of The Power Moves, Lucio Buffalmano told INSIDER. “However, they still say, ‘It’s OK.’ And if you ask them if they are angry they will push back and say that they’re not angry.”
The person is still not happy after you’ve come to a resolution.
If you’ve gotten into an altercation with someone, the natural thing to do would be to make an attempt to resolve it. When you’re dealing with a passive aggressive person, however, they may still have an issue if it doesn’t go exactly how they want.
“Since passive aggressive people don’t really express what they need, you will often end up with a resolution that doesn’t really satisfy them,” Buffalmano told INSIDER. “On the outside, they will say they are happy with it, except then showing body language signs and facial expressions of frustration and resentment.”
And as a result, they become defiant.
Parents and those in authoritative positions can all attest to how quickly passive-aggression turns into insubordination. And in some cases, if the resentment is so strong, the aggressor may be unaware that they’re being defiant.
“Once a passive-aggressive person is resentful towards you – and it happens often because they won’t tell you what’s bothering them – they will start secretly undermining you. Acts of insubordination include: delayed execution on a task you agreed on, sloppy execution, silent treatment, back-handed compliments, and criticism,” Buffalmano told INSIDER.
They try to pass off hostility as humour.
According to Psychology Today, someone is probably being passive-aggressive when they say something that could hurt you but when “you show that you are offended by biting, passive-aggressive sarcasm, the hostile joke teller plays up his or her role as victim, asking, ‘Can’t you take a joke?'”
Simply put, they won’t talk to you.
Although some people will deny how they feel, others will decide the silent treatment works best.
And, it might be subtle. Psychotherapist Katherine Crowley told The Washington Post that one common sign of passive-aggression is if someone’s checking their phone while you’re speaking to them.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.