9 signs someone is being passive-aggressive, according to psychology

Spotting passive aggression is a bit like trying to nail jelly to a wall – tricky, slippery, and makes you question if you’re seeing things.

Now, passive-aggression is like someone expressing their bad vibes without just coming out and saying it, adding an extra layer of challenge to any relationship.

But hey, psychology gives us the lowdown on some key signs to catch when someone’s pulling the passive-aggressive card. And the cool part? Once you clock these behaviors, you can start tackling and handling them like a champ.

Et voila – nine signs, backed by psychology, that someone might be sliding discontent into the mix in a not-so upfront way.

1) They often use sarcasm

Now, we all use sarcasm from time to time. It’s a form of humor and can be a bonding experience. But when it’s used excessively or inappropriately, it can be a red flag.

Psychology tells us that individuals who frequently resort to sarcasm might be expressing hidden anger or resentment. They use sarcastic comments as a way to express their negative feelings indirectly.

If someone is consistently sarcastic, especially in situations where it’s uncalled for, they may well be expressing their discontent in a passive-aggressive manner.

Having said that, context and tone matter. It’s important to consider the overall relationship dynamic and not just isolated instances.

2) They tend to give backhanded compliments

Another sign of passive-aggression is the art of the backhanded compliment.

I remember a colleague of mine, let’s call her Ann. She often used to say things like, “Wow, you sure are brave for wearing that bold color,” or “It’s so good how you just speak your mind without thinking.”

At first, I was confused. Were these compliments or criticisms? It took me a while to understand that this was her way of expressing dissatisfaction or judgment without being direct about it.

Psychology tells us that this is a classic sign of passive-aggressive behavior. If someone is constantly giving you compliments that feel more like subtle digs, they might be expressing their negative feelings in an indirect way.

3) They often exhibit procrastination

There’s this interesting link between being low-key passive-aggressive and chronic procrastination.

Now, we’re all guilty of pushing things off now and then, but these passive-aggressive folks take it to a whole new level. They’re the masters of delaying tasks, especially the ones you ask them to do, as a sneaky way to let out some hidden resentment or anger.

What’s wild is they kinda mask their procrastination game, throwing in excuses like forgetfulness or being crazy busy. But if you notice someone dragging their feet every time you ask for something, it might just be their passive-aggressive side rearing its ugly head.

In this scenario, procrastination turns into this quiet rebellion, their way of taking control and maybe giving you a bit of a headache.

4) They frequently play the victim

Here comes a more elusive move in the passive-aggressive playbook – playing the victim.

Check this out: folks pulling off this move like to paint themselves as the innocent ones, always getting the short end of the stick. It’s like their go-to strategy to dodge owning up to their actions and pull some sympathy strings, according to research.  

Funny thing is, by playing the victim, they kinda sneakily take charge of the situation without actually tackling the problem head-on.

If you catch someone always pointing fingers and never owning up to their role in a situation, you might be witnessing their passive-aggressive side in action.

5) They’re experts at the silent treatment

These folks – they’re like masters at shutting down the convo instead of just laying it all out. It’s this sneaky emotional game where they’re trying to dish out some punishment without actually facing the issue head-on.

The silence they throw your way? It’s like a trick that leaves you scratching your head, feeling kinda confused, guilty, or just plain frustrated.

Therefore, if you’ve got someone hitting you with the cold shoulder out of the blue or dodging talks after a tiff, that might just be a sly hint of some passive-aggressive action.

6) They make you question your own perception

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and walked away feeling like you’re losing your mind? That’s what passive-aggressive individuals often do.

They have a knack for making you question your own perception of events and conversations. This is often referred to as “gaslighting” in psychology.

This behavior can leave you feeling off-balance and doubting your own memory or judgment. It’s a very subtle, yet powerful form of emotional manipulation.

If you’re always questioning your exchanges with someone, it could signal some passive-aggressive vibes. Keep in mind, it’s not about pointing fingers, but about grasping their behavior to navigate the relationship better.

7) They tend to express negativity through body language

I’ve always been a big believer in the power of non-verbal communication. I’ve noticed that sometimes what people don’t say speaks louder than what they do.

Passive-aggressive individuals often use their body language to express their negative feelings. They might cross their arms, roll their eyes, or have a closed-off posture when they’re not happy, but won’t openly express why.

I remember a friend who would often give me a cold shoulder, literally turning her back towards me when she was upset. It took me some time to realize that her body language was screaming what her words wouldn’t say.

If you observe a mismatch between someone’s body language and their words, it might indicate passive-aggressive behavior.

8) They’re often excessively late

Being chronically late can also hint at some passive-aggressive vibes. Here’s the scoop.

We all run a bit behind now and then, but making a habit of keeping folks waiting could be a sneaky move to let out some hidden frustration or anger. It’s like this subtle way of saying, “Hey, I’m calling the shots here.”

If someone’s constantly lagging for your hangouts or meetings without a legit reason, it might not just be a time management hiccup. There could be some passive-aggressive discontent brewing under the surface.

9) They use ambiguous language

The last, but certainly not least important sign of passive-aggressive behavior is the use of ambiguous language.

A passive-aggressive person often communicates their discontent indirectly through vague or misleading statements. Instead of expressing their feelings or needs directly, they leave room for interpretation, often leading to confusion or misunderstanding.

It’s their way of expressing negativity without taking responsibility for it. 

Final thoughts: It’s about understanding, not blaming

Figuring out human behavior can be a bit of a puzzle, especially when it comes to dealing with passive-aggressive vibes.

But here’s the deal – spotting these signs isn’t about playing the blame game. It’s more about getting a handle on how others let out their feelings and figuring out how to handle it in a chill way.

So, if you run into someone throwing off these signals, just keep in mind it’s their unique style of dealing with not-so-great feelings. Getting that can help you tackle things with some empathy and patience, making your relationships way smoother.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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