Is Passive-Aggressiveness a Personality Disorder?


You’re having a perfectly good morning,
and then you walk into the kitchen and see it:
the dreaded Post-It note. It’s stuck above the dishes you were totally
going to do or the trash you’re definitely planning
to take out. It has a smiley-face, but the real message
is clear. That thing you didn’t think was a problem? Yeah, apparently it’s a problem. We’ve all been on the receiving end of
passive-aggressive behavior… and maybe even been guilty of it ourselves. Honestly, it kind of feels like an unfortunate
but normal part of social interaction. But in psychology, the idea is a lot more
controversial. [INTRO ♪] Psychologists define passive-aggressive behavior as a deliberate but covert way of expressing
feelings of anger. And it’s not just Post-Its—this behavior
can take a lot of forms, from the silent treatment to sarcasm and pointed jokes. It can also include indirect violence—like
slamming around pots and pans— and unhelpful one-word responses…
you know, like: Sure.
Whatever.
Fine. But one of the weird things about passive-aggressive
behavior is how complicated its history is. The term “passive-aggressive” originated in the American military during World War II. It was used to describe soldiers who refused to comply with orders in a particular way. Rather than refusing outright, these soldiers
sulked, procrastinated, and were deliberately inefficient. And yes, it annoyed the heck out of the officers. So, when the first edition of the Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Disorders, or DSM, was published in 1952, psychologists
basically just copied-and-pasted this stuff in and called
it passive-aggressive personality disorder. And, at the time, it seemed to be a pretty
good working definition of a real condition. In 1966, passive-aggressive personality disorder
was diagnosed in 3% of patients in public psychiatric hospitals and 9% of those who visited outpatient clinics, where people don’t stay overnight. But by the time the fourth edition of the
DSM was published, it had become more controversial. It ended up getting pulled from the main text,
put into the appendix, tweaked, and renamed negativistic personality disorder. And in the DSM-5, it no longer appears at all. But psychologists still argue about it. Some papers even have dramatic titles, like
“The Demise of a Syndrome.” Those who criticize the idea of passive-aggressive
personality disorder think one of the big problems is that there’s
a difference between being frustrated by an annoying behavior and
pathologizing it. They argue that it’s a response to certain
situations, not an ingrained personality trait. Plus, they think the disorder overlaps too
much with other personality disorders and focuses on too narrow of a set of behaviors. And then there’s the fact that there aren’t
a whole lot of direct studies observing and measuring it, though, to be fair, that’s true of most
personality disorders. Still, there are some arguments for passive-aggressive
personality disorder as a thing. Studies published in 2009 and 2012 found that
the definition of passive-aggressive personality disorder
more accurately described the symptoms and experiences of the subjects than that of negativistic personality disorder. And even if this behavior only appears situationally, it’s possible that it’s based in a stable
personality trait. A paper published in 1970 followed up with
100 patients who were diagnosed with passive-aggressive
personality disorder after 15 years. And the researchers found that these patients’
symptoms were fairly stable over the long term. But whether or not it’s a personality disorder, psychologists seem to agree that there are
fairly strong theoretical underpinnings of passive-aggressive
behavior. At least one study has suggested that there
might be a genetic component to it. But more research seems to support the idea that it can be the result of things like ineffective
parenting, neglect, and abuse. Essentially, the idea is that if a child grows
up with situations where it’s not appropriate to express anger
or disagreement, they find ways to be defiant that are socially
acceptable and won’t result in bad consequences. Along these lines, a 2003 study had 62 heterosexual
couples keep daily diaries for three weeks. And the researchers found that people who
were more sensitive to rejection were more likely to use passive
strategies in a disagreement. Specifically, those people were more likely
to stay silent to avoid arguments, to withdraw rather than expressing hostility, and to be less loving to their partners after
they argued. So it seems like there are some consistent
reasons why people might act passive-aggressively. That said, all this isn’t great. Although passive-aggressive behavior may help
in certain situations, in most cases, it’s a frustrating and unproductive
way to deal with conflict. So what can you do about it? In terms of therapy and treatment… there isn’t enough research right now to
say whether counseling can really help people whose lives are seriously impacted by their passive-aggressive behavior. But for passive-aggressiveness in your day-to-day life, psychologists do have a few pointers. You can pay attention to whether you might
be triggering this kind of response by getting extremely upset or being passive-aggressive
yourself. And you can also try actively encouraging
open, honest conversations. But mostly, more research needs to be done
to better understand passive-aggressive behavior and to settle
the debates once and for all. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Psych! If you want to learn more about behaviors
that can be not so great in relationships, check out our
episode on codependency. [OUTRO ♪]

100 thoughts on “Is Passive-Aggressiveness a Personality Disorder?

  1. "They find ways to be defiant that are socially acceptable and won't result in bad consequences"

    Just… beautiful

  2. Let's be honest, the only person you would most likely leave that sticky note for is probably a friend or family member as more of a comical way to express your annoyance rather than appearing to overreact about the dishes by storming up to the offender and deciding to have an in-depth conversation about it. Honestly I find certain forms of passive aggression more amusing than anything else.

  3. I'd watch this, but I already am smarter than whatever they are going to say and I know they are wrong anyway. 😛

  4. This is me. Not too great extent I hope. And I have been trying to work on it before I even saw this video. Thank you this might help.

  5. I did not even know what passive aggressive meant when my boyfriend pointed out I do it a lot with my little notes about please do not feed the wild cats outside to his mom. >_<; oops… Now I know and honestly I am quite passive aggressive with almost everything now that I notice it myself. XD I get super upset but never tell anyone so I do strange things and get heated up super quickly.. I know it's horrible to bottle up anger and it comes out in different ways. But how do I stop being like that? Isn't it what all humans do at times? Especially those who hate their jobs I don't know if there is a quick fix to this.. and even if I know I have this bad behavior I don't know I'll stop it though. But if there is a way to.. maybe I'll try. >_< I am full of selfishness lol

  6. crazy people love passive aggression,by crazy I mean narsisists,crazy is what they think themselves as so I'll use it,ive been fighting this war passively for years,a warp war if you will.

  7. I have bpd and have the symptoms of this passive aggressive personality disorder. The doctors think that it's part of bpd rather than a separate disorder. They really are dismissive of it being an actual disorder on its own.

  8. i was accused of being passive aggressive once by my mom, and yes i know that is not necessarily definitive. there is a very strong trend in people i have encountered to be very passive in their attitude, while on the other hand i can feel the depth of my aggressiveness. i do not show it for the simple reason that their are things i want that can only be found by getting along with people as a whole, or at least trying to, displaying the full nature of my temper would derail that goal. perhaps, those who maybe are passive aggressive are similar in that, and it is not a defect but a subtle reminder of the difference between at least two types of people, the ones favored by society and a remnant of how our nature was.

  9. Passive aggressive comments are the roommate killer. The moment you start throwing sarcastic shade and leaving notes cuz you don't have the nerve to just talk, it's done, you're gonna hate each other if you don't move.

  10. I've got a good one; When asked to do too much at work I used to agree to everything and then overwork myself half to death, becoming a victim. Then I'd feed off pity and hope my superiors would see they'd given me too much work without my having to actually say so. It was totally disgusting behavior on my part and very VERY passive aggressive!

    I think people pleasers are often passive aggressive because they're too afraid to refuse requests or assert their own boundaries, even when it is safe to do so.

  11. Passive aggressives are manipulative narcissists. Its rude and disrespectful and the worst part is you can't even call them out on their bull because the second you hold the manipulative narc accountable for themselves, they try to make it look like you're the bad guy so you have to stoop to their slimy level just to protect your own interest.

  12. What about passive aggressive behaviour as a symptom of other disorders like narcissistic personality disorder?

  13. I recommend getting rid of the passive aggressive personalities in your life. I used to take joy in cussing them out, but in the end, it's an exercise in futility, for they will never change.

  14. My mother is one of the most passive aggressive people I've ever met, for her it probably stems from the fact that she got slapped if everything wasn't up to Grandma's standards, didn't do that chore I forgot to mention? Slap, brother locked you outside so you couldn't do your chores? Slap, trying to explain why you couldn't do those chores? Extra slap. My father on the other hand expresses anger too readily, but almost never in the direction he should. Probably because his mother made a point of telling him she wished he'd never been born regularly. But yeah he and mom would get in an argument, which mom passive aggressively exited out of, so instead he'd turn to us kids and find something to punish us over even if he had to invent a rule on the spot and apply it retroactively. Yeah, I'm bad at expressing myself properly. With anger in particular I usually just bottle it up until I can't and go into a rage going to town on inanimate objects and then just act like it's normal to have always bruised and bloody knuckles on top of layers and layers of scar tissue. shrugs at least no one else experiences my inability process things properly.

  15. Passive aggression is for people too scared to face someone in person. It’s like leaving toxic mean comments online. I prefer regular aggression because it’s more honest

  16. One of my caregivers is passive aggressive and it's getting to the point where I want to throttle her! I don't call it a disorder but it is definitely her behavior.

  17. The notes aren’t even aggressive. I’ve never got how a note can feel aggressive. There are so many worse ways to be aggressive indirectly.

  18. I use passive aggressive notes because 1, my mom does it and I learned by example and 2 because it helps me avoid conflict

  19. The epitome of passive-aggressive is glados from Portal. So polite and profession while being snide and very hostile.

  20. I think the office/workplace environment has also trained us to be passive aggressive, as one usually cannot express aggression or confrontation without facing disciplinary measure.
    Could you do a video on this topic?

  21. Passive-aggression is just a response.
    It is not a personality per-say.

    It is like calling flirting a personality.
    Both are responses to the situation a person is facing.

  22. I usually do this to my mom when we argue, she's the type that doens't want to hear explanations and would totally ground me if I yell at her, and things alike. So since the problem couldn't be solved and I am also very frustrated, I turn totally passive-agressive. So when she asks me to do something I do it literally, but with mistakes that make her absolutly mad. Like if she says 'Pass me the salt' if would give it to her but a little far from her reach. And so on.

  23. Speaking from "inside" the problem (I've been told that I have this problem and can sometimes even recognize it as it's happening)…
    For myself, when I do get upset or angry or frustrated – I also get incredibly anxious. I don't feel like I can express my upset at all, that it isn't safe for me to do so, and I have severe problems with articulating those negative feelings in any non-destructive way.

    I had a bad childhood, abuse all over the place. I figure that is probably where some of my fear reaction comes from.

    The problem that I have isn't "why," though. It's learning more, and better, ways of handling the feelings and the situations.

    I've gotten better at asking for space, and for time to get my head straight, so that I'm not reacting with a maelstrom of negative feelings. It doesn't work all the time, and if I can't find a way to back off from whatever is upsetting me, sometimes I still cause a lot of trouble for myself and others. Nasty comments, one-word answers, all of that and worse.

    I suspect this is one of the most difficult "disorders" to study, because a huge part of it involves a kind of lying to yourself about how you're feeling or why you're doing certain things.

  24. I think that it is a personality disorder because it’s not a coincidence that passive aggressive is almost a normal or better put common trait that is threaded into the fabric of the lgbtq community

  25. Would you prefer active aggressive? I thought not! This is where psychology proves to be a squishy "science".

  26. If your mom wants you to do dishes does that give her this label? Is it a better alternative to be aggressively yelling at inconsiderate individuals to do their dishes instead of being polite? Hmmmm. Is this a good analogy as an opening?

  27. To some extent, I feel that passive aggressive disorder is just introversion. Rarely do I outright say I'm upset because (reason). I would rather avoid further conflict with the person. Instead of yelling and debating who's right, I just avoid them and spend some time alone to think it over.

  28. I use passive-aggressive statement a lot, it's not because of something, it's because i'm a pussie that afraid of the consequences.

  29. I feel like i usually get passive aggressive when i don't understand how someone doesn't understand my point or what i'm saying which can lead to me raising my voice slightly and start talking in a more sharp and sarcastic way. I don't notice i'm doing it a lot of times lol

  30. Washington and Oregon states have pride in being 'entitled' to be passive aggressive alienating, mean bigots towards any co-worker/customer/neighbor that is 'different' -then this has now become the typical Millennial attitude, regardless of one's ethnicity, or whether that 'entitled' Millennial is 'liberal' or 'conservative' today. The phone today is used as a means to passive aggressively avoid acknowledging anyone 'different'.

  31. Man I really dislike passive-aggressiveness. Just communicate your emotions in a direct but understanding way. It's exhausting trying to navigate the tripwires of someone's emotional minefield.

  32. passive-aggressive behavior is the tool of the ones who assume they can't win the open confrontation, it's partly genetic as the Y chromosome shows to provide a certain level of protection against this mental illness. As for your closing thoughts on the "remedies": "pay attention" is a passive-aggressive victim blaming in itself, and the "encourage" one just reinforces the behavior as you'd actually reward it. Open aggression as a response to passive-aggressive behavior is shunned upon, but it shouldn't be. Who can't be reasoned with, can be trained.

  33. Solution:

    Just start saying "fluck this" & phuk that" all the time, like that SNL video where that idiot would "THROW IT ON THE GROUND", and then play some 90's sliminem music , then realize Marshall is mediocre as a rapper which is why your nostalgia (delusion, hallucination, daydream believing) is a menstral disorder, so you can just blame your mom, then realize she is the only reason you exist at all, hopefully while she is still alive, force yourself to be kind to her, otherwise yoy will hatr yourself when shes gone… 🤐

  34. I think passive aggression gets a bad wrap. Passive aggression is a healthy way of conveying a message without turning to violence or rudeness. I'll agree that it's not perfect but it's often better than some alternatives given certain situations.

  35. Its not a disorder its part of someones personality and everyone expresses things differently. Im so tired of the lavels brought on certain people just to bring them down because they are different. Its wrong

  36. But is it passive aggressive disorder to leave a note expressing your dissatisfaction because of dirty dishes or is passive aggressive procrastinating washing them?

  37. Passive aggressive person opens up to their partner: "I am 90% sure that I am completely tired of you for ever because you might have exhausted my patience in an irreversible way. I haven't acted on it just yet, in case I might be mistaken or you change into a different person. Thank you for listening to me".

  38. Dsm is and has been extremely flawed and agenda/bias towards med and pharma and we still misdiagnose but great vid knowledge is key

  39. SERIOUSLY Genes again ITS ENVIRONMENT ,BROUGHT UP AND TAUGHT PEOPLE ARE SO STUCK ON GENES AS A EASY OUT WATCH BRUCE LIPTON also we can change our gene expression just by thought alone . Sick or heal placebo and nocebo

  40. wow… feels like all the puzzle pieces just connected. i can totally relate to the turning their back thing to their partner in bed. I use to do that when she made me upset

  41. Passive aggressive sums my mother's behavior towards me growing up. Silent treatment is now my way to deal with things and not get more hurt.

  42. Not a single doctor in your list of credits. Are you one? If not, you are not qualified to talk about mental health issues. Unqualified dribble is misleading, confusing, and harmful. It gives wrong information to others about a personality disorder. If this were a physical disorder you could be sued for practicing medicine without a license.

    With regard to the dishes, and notes, there is nothing passive or aggressive about leaving a note for a slob who is not doing their share of chores for a tidy living space. Do you flush the toilet after use? Flush the sink of your dishes as well. And don't practice medicine without a license!

  43. Would you call it passive aggressive if, for years, you asked your husband to come home after work, and be sober, because you have 4 kids, and he just cannot manage it? Or would you call it just being a rude, careless, clueless jerk. What if he forgets to tell you important things going on in his family, over and over and over and over again, for years, and just can't seem to realize that if someone dies, or there is a party, you might like to know? What if he just can't seem to hear his cell phone when you call, although he has no problem when others call? I just cannot figure out how a man who supposedly loves me can treat me this way. I was such a young, naive and dumb and trusting bride. But I am not young anymore, and not as naive. I think I am ready to go. I talked to him about it, but he just can't understand why that stuff is hurtful, and he sure did not mean it. Then he throws in a load of wash for me, and thinks now everything is okay. It is baffling. I am about to have a nervous breakdown.

  44. If someone treats you with this trash behaviour give them the middle finger and never pay any attention to them anymore… No time for cowards in life, if you have a problem be vocal about it so we can solve it, if you don't want to then stay down I'll do as I please.

  45. How does one demonstrate dissent when there is an imbalance of power in a relationship? Aren't those the situations where supposed "passive aggressiveness" comes into play? It's when a leader resents not having absolute, unquestioning control over a subordinate, as in the example of officers with drafted soldiers?

  46. Sounds like anyone who refuses to conform to certain social standards is given this label unless they are rich then they are just eccentric …..

  47. A ex-friend of my was complete dickbag to me on her 50th Birthday as well other times in 6+ years we'd known each other…not speaking to her for the past 3 years has been one the smartest decisions I ever made. Passive-aggressive? Nahhhh, I just got bored of her shite.

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