Home » Psychology of difficult people – Aggressive and passive

Psychology of difficult people – Aggressive and passive

Posted on: October 27th, 2015 in Behavioral Health, Emotion, Mental Health No Comments


An angry person isn’t always a screamer or a puncher. Sometimes the most upset people are the whisperers down the hall or the glaring individuals across the room. Occasionally anger comes in the form of a mean sign on the refrigerator or the dreaded silent treatment. Combating these actions without elevating hostilities can be tough but necessary when attempting to reduce tensions and save mental health.

One popular arena for passive aggressive behavior is the workplace. Some workers may socially isolate or talk negatively about a peer, both examples of passive aggression. Such behavior can lead to distress in some individuals, causing high blood pressure, tension headaches and more. Half of the subjects in one particular survey reported a diagnosis of clinical depression after experiencing work place hostility.

Why do some people exhibit passive aggressive behavior? Signe Whitson, a licensed social worker and contributor with Psychology Today, listed several reasons why passive aggressive behavior thrives on the job and elsewhere:

  • Social acceptance – Whitson argues that passive aggressiveness is socially acceptable because anger is a socially unacceptable emotion. As a result, individuals seek an outlet for expressing this emotion without feeling shame.
  • Revenge with fewer consequences – For example, Bob wants to sabotage his allegedly unsupportive team at work so he calls in sick for a day during a crucial deadline. His coworkers are unable to deliver without Bob’s help and he achieves his passive aggressive goal of hurting those who slighted him. He can claim sickness and possibly escape retribution from his superiors.
  • It’s convenient – Whitson also finds passive aggressive behavior easier for people that do not like confrontation. Keep in mind that some people only display these kinds of actions when avoiding awkwardness or uncomfortable tasks.
  • It’s easily rationalized – Displaying passive aggressive behavior then labeling the reacting person as a villain is a common tactic for some people, Whitson points out.

Dealing with personal passive aggressive behavior may be desirable if it’s causing mental and social strife. Whitson, this time quoted by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., a Psych Central contributor, encourages individuals to feel the anger they have for other people. The emotion isn’t unseemly or necessarily negative, she asserts. During intense times, it’s best to make clear and concise requests for fair treatment.

Good listening also combats passive aggressive behavior. Truly hearing the other person and seeing him or her as a human being with a set of needs and wants can lower the chances of falling into passive aggressive behavior, opines Andrea Brandt, Ph.D., author of “8 Keys to Eliminating Passive Aggressiveness.”

Sovereign Health Group knows that communication is essential for tempering aggression and benefiting overall mental health. To learn more about our programs for mental health or for information on our programs for addiction and dual diagnosis, feel free to contact us at any time.

Written by Nicholas Ruiz, Sovereign Health Group writer

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