It’s no secret that passive-aggressive people are simply difficult to deal with. But how do you know that you’re dealing with one—or that you’re not one yourself?
Sometimes people can manage to hide it well, but they will nonetheless tell on themselves one way or another.
So to help you out, here are 10 subtle signs that you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive person.
1) They like dishing out criticism
They always have something negative to say about what others are doing, and it can even feel quite nitpicky at times.
You might show them pictures of your aquarium and they would say that it looks quite dirty and that you should be a more responsible pet owner.
Or perhaps a friend of theirs might have managed to get recognised at an art fair and they’d be talking about how their work is nice but that the style is kinda outdated.
But of course, the moment the tables are turned and they’re the one getting criticized, they will get mad at whoever dared to speak up.
2) They excuse their hostility as humor
They would say something mean about the way you look, or the way a colleague speaks, and then say “Of course, I was just joking!” when they get called out.
They would be quick to accuse people of being killjoys or not having a sense of humor simply because people take offense at what they have to say.
Make no mistake—they know what they’re doing. It’s perfectly possible to “have a sense of humor” and not insult people needlessly over it.
They are simply hoping that people will give them a free pass to insult people because they’re “just joking.”
And if you happen to push their buttons, watch out! They’ll keep “joking” about you.
3) They don’t seem to be paying attention
Talking to passive-aggressive people can feel quite awkward and even downright uncomfortable sometimes. And that’s because you can’t help but feel like they’re simply not paying attention.
Perhaps they might railroad a conversation, having already decided on what they want to say instead of actually responding to what you or others are saying.
Or perhaps they might only respond to some of the things you’re saying, completely ignoring details that might be important in context.
This is especially frustrating as it most likely means they’re also trying to paint you in a bad light.
And this stems from the fact that people who are being aggressive (whether actively or passively) aren’t interested in conversation. They just want people to listen to them, and to piss off (or insult!) those they hate.
4) There’s always a “but”
They might tell you that you’re good-looking… BUT you have attitude problems.
Or they might say that their friend is a hard worker… BUT they simply aren’t qualified at all.
Compliments from them are like candies stuffed with needles. At first you might think they are sweet, but you can’t help but feel that something isn’t quite right.
And the secret is that “but.”
There’s always a catch to anything positive they might have to say, be it a compliment or congratulations and well-wishes.
Somehow they simply can’t say anything positive without having to “balance” it out with something negative.
5) They use patronizing language
Passive-aggressive people would say unnecessarily formal language like “as per my last email” or “I should have expected better from you, but…”
Or perhaps they might try to go the other way around and use nicknames like “honey” or “darling” in a way that is transparently insulting.
Both of these things are intended to create a power dynamic of sorts (or remind people, if one already exists), with them being on “top”, looking down on everyone else.
Nobody likes feeling like they’re being talked down to. Passive aggressive people speak the way they do PRECISELY because they know people will hate it.
6) They like keeping score
That is to say, they would try to tally and compare the things they did for others to the things that others have done for them.
And for this reason, they might refuse asking for favors because they don’t want to be “indebted” to someone or feel like people have something over them.
On the other hand, when you do ask for a favor or if they do something good for you, they would hold it over your head.
Telling you things like “You know I helped you with your presentations, don’t you?” or “Well, now you’re kind to me because you need me.”
You might even think that maybe—just maybe—they don’t understand the concept of generosity and limitation. There might be truth to this, and this gets them acting passive-aggressive to the people around them.
7) They say sorry but they don’t mean it
Or, to be specific, they don’t ever say it sincerely.
People who have passive-aggressive personalities find it hard to admit they were ever at fault and will never say sorry unless it’s to be sarcastic.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t think they can ever be wrong, of course. It simply means when they make a mistake, they would rather bury it under the rug or do something about it quietly.
Passive-aggressive people in general have an ego problem, and the last thing they want is to look “weak” by saying sorry.
It takes a lot of strength and maturity to say “sorry” genuinely and without effort. But if people were strong and mature, then they would know better than to be passive-aggressive.
8) They engage in malicious gossip
Passive-aggressive people are often the ones to spread malicious rumors about the people around them.
They’re the kind of people who would treat you nicely but would say bad things about you the moment you’re out of sight.
Or perhaps they might be the person who tells you about all the juicy scandals there are, like how a common friend of yours had been “coming home late” and then say something like “I’m just saying!” when you call them out on it.
Gossip is a very good tool for destroying people—crushing relationships, even. They know this, and so they make good use out of it when they can’t confront or openly hate the person.
9) They are sparing with their words
Some of us are naturally less verbose than others. But the thing with passive-aggressive people is that unless it’s to tear others down through gossip or simple insults, they make it a point to use as few words as possible.
Ask them if there’s something wrong about the way you cooked dinner and they will simply respond with “yes”, without elaborating what and how.
If someone tries to ask them if they know when the next company meeting will happen, they will simply say “Dunno” and then leave.
Hell, they might even respond with an “Uhhhh” or “LOL” when someone they have bad feelings with tries to chat them up with something like “Hey, I heard you got a new job! Congrats!”
It makes one feel humiliated and awkward if someone responds to them with short dead-end answers if it’s a topic that should have been a much longer conversation. That is precisely the point.
10) They make you feel uneasy
Sometimes people simply have that “vibe” that makes others around them defensive, even if it’s not exactly clear why they make you feel that way.
Sometimes, they are just especially good at hiding their passive aggression—so good that even if you were aware of the signs and looking out for them, you might not even know it.
But if you’re an empath or you’re highly observant, you’d sense it.
All you have to go on are their vibes, and the fact that they make you feel the need to be on the defensive when they’re around, almost as if they could attack you at any time with their words and body language.
People who are genuinely nice and accepting won’t make you feel this way at all.
It might be frustrating having to deal with passive-aggressive people, especially if they’re people close to you.
The best way you can handle them is by staying calm. You can slowly defuse them by simply refusing to lose your temper or act out of frustration.
Now, it goes without saying that the more of these signs you see in a person, the more confident you can be that they are, indeed, a passive-aggressive person.
But even just one or two of these should raise alarms in your head, especially if it’s something they do constantly.
If you care enough about your relationship, confront them and ask them why they’re doing this to you. If they’re just an acquaintance, stay away and don’t let their behavior ruin your day.