Credit Paul Downey CC-BY

Credit Paul Downey CC-BY

Can anyone tell me what the pop psychology phrase “passive-aggressive” means? I see it everywhere, but everyone seems to assume that everyone knows what it means, so they don’t bother trying to explain it. I’ve tried to figure it out from context, but I don’t think I’m getting it. The closest I can come is, person A wants to get person B to do something. Person B doesn’t do it. Person A accuses them of being passive-aggressive. Apparently that’s supposed to settle things.

Oh, and I think it’s supposed to be an insult.

So, am I close? What does passive-aggressive mean?


About arjaybe

Jim has fought forest fires and controlled traffic in the air and on the sea. Now he writes stories.
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10 Responses to Passive-Aggressive

  1. emmylgant says:

    It’s a way to be non confrontational and hostile at the same time.
    ex. You’re having a discussion with your spouse and somehow she gets upset and you don’t know why , so you ask her. And she says obviously seething: ” Mad? I’m not mad!” How can you fight that statement without calling her a liar? She has just taken away your power to engage and move forward.
    Sarcasm is often passive agressive.
    So are backhanded compliments
    an angry smile is passive agressive.
    does that help?

    • arjaybe says:

      So it’s kind of like ju-jitsu, where one passively deflects aggression? Or it’s a way of being aggressive without giving the victim anything they can get a grip on. No wonder people don’t like it.-)

      • emmylgant says:

        Exactly there is nothing to grab on to !
        Teens are really good at it normally with comments like :”Whatever” or “I didn’t know you meant now!” And a body language that says “keep talking, I stopped listening before you opened your mouth.”
        Back handed compliments are special too. They leave me wondering what happened in the first place to cause the verbal blow.
        “This looks good on you, considering. ”
        “You did well for someone of your background”
        “After meeting his ex,I’m surprised he noticed you at all.”

        You heard a few I’m sure. We used to call that behavior rude; but it’s more . Yes. People don’t like being on the receiving end of this.

        • arjaybe says:

          That’s a lot. It sounds as if passive-aggressive is a bit of a catch-all. Say, if I’m accused of being p-a and I ask them to explain, would that be p-a?

          • emmylgant says:

            I don’t think so unless you are attacking the person in the wording.
            if you ask “in what way am I p-a, because I don’t mean to be” it sounds pretty straight forward.

          • arjaybe says:

            I see. I thinking more of using the question to evade their criticism. Not as a form of attack, but as a ploy. Because I’ve seen the epithet used when someone is just dodging the other person’s gambit.

  2. emmylgant says:

    A bit late with this, but.
    I don’t think it works as a dodge, because the ball is tossed right back in denial, sort of ” you read what you want, it’s in your head, you crazy person.” And you are still frustrated in front of non verbal and hostile communications.

  3. arjaybe says:

    Okay, I think I’m going to settle on aggression disguised as something harmless, which denies the other party a clear target, thus neutering any response. While it’s probably despicable in most cases, I can see where it might be the only option for people who can’t, for whatever reason, engage in the open aggression preferred by many. So I eschew the universal contempt for p-a.

  4. I am late on this, but essentially the examples given by emmylgant have been correct.
    When I was a teenager, passive aggressive was explained to me, by a therapist, as the act of being defiant or indirectly resistant.

  5. arjaybe says:

    I’m late on this reply. I make myself wait until I’ve finished the busy-work. Welcome to Green Comet, invisiblevoice! I hope it’s the first of many visits.

    I like that phrase – “indirectly resistant.” It describes it well, while leaving open the fact that the person might just resent being resisted.

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