15 phrases passive-aggressive people use to hide their true feelings

Passive-aggressive people are hard to deal with. 

They’re easy-going and seemingly indifferent one moment and then on your case the next. 

They disguise how they’re really feeling and keep you stuck in a guessing game where you wonder what you did wrong. 

Among their many frustrating behaviors, passive-aggressive folks have a stockpile of phrases they use to hide how they really feel. 

Here are the top bait-and-switch passive-aggressive phrases to watch out for. 

1) “Tell us how you really feel”

This is a very passive-aggressive phrase. 

It’s sarcastic and lets a person know that their passion or strong feelings on a subject are overblown or extreme. 

By saying this, the passive-aggressive person distances themselves from admitting how they feel. 

They get to play the role of the detached observer laughing about how strongly others feel. 

This is a surprisingly common thing to hear and is supposed to be funny, which shows how passive-aggressive a lot of popular culture has become these days. 

Feeling strongly about something is not a crime. 

2) “Well, if that’s how you feel…” 

This is a throwaway statement that passive-aggressive people also like to use. 

It hides how they really feel about something and puts the focus on the person they’re interacting with. 

By making the focus on the other person, they shine a spotlight away from themselves and wriggle away.

This is usually said as a kind of pretend-compromise in order to appear to concede to someone. 

How do they feel? Well, it’s about how you feel, not them! 


3) “It’s no big deal, I guess…” 

This is a favorite phrase of the passive-aggressive individual because they get to appear relaxed while adding a hint of doubt. 

They keep everybody guessing about how they truly feel. 

By putting “I guess” at the end, the suggestion is that it might be a very big deal indeed. 

Why say this kind of thing? 

This is attention bait. 

4) “It’s whatever”

This is an example of a very passive phrase. 

The word whatever injects a hint of resigned anger, but it’s still fairly detached and hands-off.  

By saying this the passive-aggressive person obscures anything that they really feel. 

They indicate that they’re easy-going on the subject while still remaining very ambivalent. 

5) “It’s complicated, I dunno”

Many subjects are complicated indeed. 

But by deferring back to this, a person bows out of the conversation or debate. 

This can be a very passive-aggressive thing to say, because it is a way of hiding what they think. 

Just because something is complicated doesn’t mean a person can’t or shouldn’t have a view on it. 

Which brings me to the next phrase… 

6) “It depends on your perspective, I guess”

This is another version of “it’s complicated” or “it’s subjective.”

It’s true, but so what?

Everything depends on your perspective so it’s just a truism. 

It’s like saying “rain can be a positive or negative depending what industry you work in.”

Yes, for sure. And? 

7) “I’m sure people have a good reason for feeling that way”

Whatever reason a person has for feeling the way they do is their business, unless they choose to go into detail about it. 

By using a phrase like this, the passive-aggressive person implies there is some kind of disqualifying bias or particularism about a subject that makes it off-limits. 

They prefer to stay pure as the driven snow and exempt from the debate for now, because they are above it (supposedly). 

8) “I have mixed feelings about it”

Maybe they really do have mixed feelings about something. 

But by saying this, the passive-aggressive person is able to walk away from an interaction or conversation

They don’t have to reveal any more about how they really feel or what they really think. 

They can just say they have mixed feelings and then leave it. 

9) “Calm down, I’m just joking”

When a person is being told to calm down in a degrading way like this, it’s usually an attempt to control or moderate them. 

The passive-aggressive person will often result to the whole “I was just joking” defense, because it cloaks how they really feel. 

They can say something outrageous and then back off hands up when people get outraged. 

“Calm down, bro! I was just joking!” 

10) “Just a friendly reminder”

We now get to the more confrontational and aggressive phrases used by a passive-aggressive individual.

As we all know, a “friendly reminder” is usually anything but friendly. 

It’s often delivered by somebody in a position of authority or in an official capacity as an order. 

It’s all about the idea of “nothing personal, just doing my job” and that whole passive-aggressive vibe which can so quickly become a power trip. 

11) “Don’t take this the wrong way…” 

Passive-aggressive people use this as a caveat:

They then feel justified to say whatever kind of thing they want. 

They’ve already set conditions on how a person is supposed to take whatever they say. 

So now they feel they’re in the clear to say whatever they want and then put their hands up innocently if somebody gets upset.

12) “Are you joking, or…?”

This is a way for the passive-aggressive person to call somebody out with an implied confusion. 

They claim to be confused if the other person is joking or just having a laugh. 

What it really means is they think what’s being said or done is nuts. 

So why not just say that straightforwardly?

Because they’re passive-aggressive and need to throw out a barb like this…

13) “This subject’s getting kind of old” 

Passive-aggressive people tend to alternate between relaxed and bossy depending on their mood. 

But if they do decide to switch into some fairly provocative statements, this is one of them…

They let other folks know that they’re done discussing something and that it should be dropped by everyone. 

By acting like it’s the subject itself which is getting old (rather than them specifically who’s getting upset or bored by it) they hide how they feel.

They also inherently blame anyone who doesn’t find the subject is getting old and make that person out to be beating a dead horse. 

14) “I mean, you could go that route…”

This is another quite aggressive phrase that a passive-aggressive person will use to hide how they feel. 

It puts the spotlight all on the other person and implies the other person is misguided or deluded in some way. 

This is often done by a passive-aggressive person when they know that a larger group disagrees with somebody. 

They sense which direction the wind is blowing and then drop a comment like this to side with the majority. 

By doing so, they single out somebody who has said or wants to do something that most won’t find smart.

15) “Well, you would say that”

This again puts the focus on the other person for saying something. 

It implies this other person has a bias or issue that goes beyond what’s being discussed. 

The passive-aggressive person is accusing the other person of having a bias or being particularly prejudiced or blind in a certain direction. 

This therefore makes the other person’s comments or perspective unworthy or out of the range of meaningful discourse. 

It’s a very aggressive thing to say and is an “otherizing” tactic that passive-aggressive people love to use. 

Dodging the tricks of the passive-aggressive individual

When a passive-aggressive person uses phrases like this, it’s very easy to react in one of the following ways:

  • Get angry and lash out, falling into their cycle of passive-aggressive resentment;
  • Becoming more focused on calling them out and finding out what they feel, only to have them dodge even more;
  • Blaming oneself and internalizing the barbs and insults of the passive-aggressive person.

Instead the best course of action is to bypass and ignore the passive-aggressive person as much as possible. 

Because here’s the ugly truth:

They’re a troll. 

And the first rule of trolls is: 

Don’t feed the trolls!

When you feed trolls they get more fervent and deranged, coming around more frequently and insistently. 

Block, ignore, leave them in their own nonsense if possible. 

Passive-aggressive people will reduce their toxic behavior only if and when they are:

  • Made aware of it not working
  • Voluntarily choose to become aware of alternatives and more mature and respectful ways of engaging with others. 

You can play a part in that by ensuring that you don’t engage. 

If somebody wants to play mind games and not admit how they feel about a certain subject, so be it:

You don’t need to be an accomplice to that or waste your energy on it! 

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