12 Signs You’re Too Passive Aggressive

Are you pushing people away?

How do you know if you are passive-aggressive? Aside from the obvious wake of people who won’t get close to you, there are certain things to think about to determine if your behavior is passive-aggressive according to a life coach.

Good news, people are not passive-aggressive by nature. It’s their communication and conflict management patterns that are, and these are learned. Luckily, those patterns can change with some insights, skills and relationship help. So, if this post helps you see your passive-aggressive behaviors, you will understand why others find it difficult to be around on you, trust you, and respect you as you would like to be trusted and respected. You confuse them. People move away from folks who purposefully confuse them — if they are smart.

In order to make passive-aggressive traits abundantly clear to you, I’m offering you a very straightforward list. You may find it harsh. I hope you find it home-hitting and immediately revealing. If these traits describe you as you usually are, I invite you to sit up and take notice. You likely do not even realize you are doing these things. Once you read them and ponder your own behavior, you may finally understand why you are having difficulties having the relationships you most want, at home and at work.

More good news, the more willing to work on yourself you are, the greater your chances of having the life with others that you crave. When you realize how you are pushing them away by your crazy-making behaviors, you can change things within yourself. When you a trustworthy within yourself, you will be perceived as trustworthy by others.

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Although men and women express their passive-aggressive behaviors somewhat differently, generally, you are behaving in passive-aggressive ways if you are regularly:

1. Unwilling to speak your truth openly, kindly and honestly when asked for your opinion or when asked to do something for someone. How this shows up in communication is being “assertively unassertive.” You say “Yes” (assertive) when you really mean “No way” (unassertive). Then, you let your behavior say “No way” for you. People become confused and mistrusting of you.

2. Appearing sweet, compliant and agreeable, but are really resentful, angry, petty and envious underneath. You are living with pairs of opposites within, and that is making those around you annoyed and confused.

3. Afraid of being alone and equally afraid of being dependent. This is the case of “I hate you. Don’t leave me.” You fear direct communication because you fear rejection. You then often push away the people you care about because you don’t want to seem in need of support. All the while, you are afraid of being alone and want to control those around you so they won’t leave you. Very confusing!

4. Complaining that others treat you unfairly frequently. Rather than taking responsibility for stepping up and speaking your truth, you set yourself up as the (innocent) victim. You say others are hard on you, unfair, unreasonable and excessively demanding.

5. Procrastinating frequently, especially on things you do for others. One way of controlling others is to make them wait. You have lots of excuses why you haven’t been able to get things done. You even blame others for why that is so. It’s amazingly unreasonable, but you do it even though it destroys relationship, damages careers, loses friendships and jobs. And, you tell others how justified you are in being angry because, once again, others treated you unfairly.

6. Unwilling to give a straight answer. Another way of controlling others is to send mixed messages, ones that leave the other person completely unclear about your thoughts, plans or intentions. Then, you make them feel wrong when you tell them that what they took from your communication was not what you meant. Silly them!

7. Sulking, withdrawing and pouting. You complain that others are unreasonable and lacking in empathy when they expect you to live up to your promises, obligations, or duties. Passive-aggressive women favor the silent treatment as an expression of their contempt. Passive-aggressive men prefer the deep sigh and shake of the head, while walking away.  Both expressions say “You poor confused person. You’re not worth talking to.” when the real reason for their behavior is that they have not, cannot, or will not take responsibility for their own behavior.

8. Frequently feeling inadequate but covering it up with superiority, disdain or hostile passivity. Whether you set yourself up to be a self-sabotaging failure — “Why do you have such unrealistic expectations of me?” or a tyrant or goddess incapable of anything less than perfection, “To whom do you think you are speaking, peon?” you are shaking in your boots from fear of competition and being found out as less than perfect. (P.S. You likely picked this one up in childhood!)

9. Often late and/or forgetful. One way of driving people away is to be thoughtless, inconsiderate and infuriating. And, then, to put the cherry on top, you suggest that it’s unrealistic to expect you to arrive on time, or, in your words, “think of everything.” Being chronically late is disrespectful of others. Supposedly forgetting to do what you have agreed to do is simply demonstrating your lack of trustworthiness. Who wants to be around that for long?

10. Dragging your feet to frustrate others. Again, a control move somewhat like procrastinating, but the difference is you begin and appear as though you are doing what you said you would do. But, you always have an excuse why you cannot continue or complete the task. You won’t even say when it will be —or even might be — done.

11. Making up stories, excuses and lies. You are the master of avoidance of the straight answer. You’ll go to great lengths to tell a story, withhold information, or even withhold love and affirmation in your primary relationships. It seems that if you let folks think you like them too much, that would be giving them power. You’d rather be in control by creating a story that seems plausible, gets them off your back, and makes reality look better from your viewpoint.

12. Constantly protecting yourself so no one will know how afraid you are of being inadequate, imperfect, left, dependent or simply human.

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Okay, so you’ve noticed a few things about yourself. What’s next? Get some relationship help — help with the relationship you have with yourself and with others. I’m happy to work with you to help you have the relationship you long for with others. Becoming conscious of your passive-aggressive behaviors is the first step. Changing them to positive-assertive ones is the second. The best way to do that is to work with an expert who can help you see and understand yourself, and your behaviors and how they affect others. Then, you can choose to respond and behave differently.

More from YourTango: Need a Life Coach? We Got You.

We all come by our passive-aggressive “stuff” honestly. There’s no blame here. If you read this and see yourself, you have two choices: recognize what’s not working for you and change it, or continue to blow it off as other people’s problems. Choose the first so you can feel more accepted, loved, wanted, appreciated and respected immediately. You cannot do it any younger!

By Rhoberta Shaler PhD, The Relationship Help Doctor, from YourTango

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97 comments

Katie T.
Katie T1 years ago

I know that this is an old post but about half of your points describe my mom. Yet, she is in denial and thinks it is me and I am just assuming things. When in reality she is passive aggressive and it is so hurtful and frustrating. She refuses therapy because she doesn't see anything as wrong. I just don't know how to handle her anymore. You have to walk on eggshells with her but it is always you and never her.

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Brittney M.
Brittney M.1 years ago

I didn't understand why I did the things I do. I am having a hard time being confrontational I rather not talk about it. I give one word answers just to say I'm not giving silent treatment. Actually it's the same. I so need help and this is therapy to read about this rude behavior I'm displaying.

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Magdalena J.
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you!

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Claire Jordan
Claire Jordan2 years ago

No 1 really depends on who you're speaking to. I often find myself unwilling to speak my truth openly because I know that the person I'm talking to is very fragile, and if I let on that I disagree with them they will either attack me or become distressed or refuse to speak to me for three years or any combination of the above.

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Rhoberta S.

I'm so happy to see that so many folks have found value in the article. Thanks for taking the time to comment! (and to Care2...lol)

My intention in writing the article was to give you some insights into behaviors that confuse others and cause conflict, upset, and loss. When someone is regularly passive-aggressive, it causes others to question their sanity and second-guess themselves...and they don't like it! It usually makes them angry and resentful.

Labeling people does not help anyone, but understanding behavior patterns can help everyone. Self-reflection is essential. It starts there. And, these twelve signs you've looked for yourself, can certainly help you become more aware of the behavior of others.

Passive-aggressive behavior is a defense mechanism--sometimes, even a survival strategy--that we learned while we were young. As grown-ups, we get to choose whether we need those patterns anymore.

Again, thanks for commenting. I wish you well.

Rhoberta Shaler, PhD
Author of KAIZEN FOR COUPLES: Smart Steps to Save, Sustain & Strengthen Your Relationship

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Barb Hansen
Ba H2 years ago

i don't see this in myself, but in traits of a coworker i dislike. now i know why. thanks.

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Autumn Perrotta
Autumn Perrotta2 years ago

Thank you.

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Harlee Mahmet
Harlee Mahmet2 years ago

Oops; just saw it. Sorry.

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Harlee Mahmet
Harlee Mahmet2 years ago

Near the end of the article it states, "I’m happy to work with you to help you have the relationship you long for with others." But who? Unless I missed it somewhere, there's no name attributed to the author or even how/where you'd contact this person. Is this for real?

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Cynthia no frwd B.
cynthia l2 years ago

We are all probably guilty of some of these sometimes. This is a really big label to be slapping on people. Oh, I do know my problems are mine and don't blame them on others. Right, I sure can't do it any younger

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