It seems like there was a time not long ago when the phrase “passive-aggressive” was rarely heard in everyday language. However, these days it seems like it’s a part of everyday vernacular. But the problem is, passive-aggressive behavior is almost so common that it’s hard for people to pinpoint just what the behavior looks like exactly.

If there are people in your life that just seem to drain the life out of you, then there is a good chance you know some passive-aggressive people. But do you know how to spot the behaviors? Most people don’t. It’s helpful to know what to look for so you can know what to avoid!

Here are 7 ways to spot Passive-Aggressive Behavior

They won’t say no

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“Sure. That’s fine…I guess.” Sound familiar?

Passive-aggressive people love playing the part of the victim and martyr. Therefore, they can never just come out and say “no.” Instead they’ll go along with others’ plans and needs, and then sigh, shake their head and roll their eyes because they didn’t get their own way. Fun, huh?

They are chronic complainers

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Passive-aggressive people are chronic, low-key complainers who appear never to be satisfied.

Every other sentence out of their mouth seems to be some form of a complaint. However, they are usually low grade complaints as again, they try to consistently mask their real feelings. It’s always a guessing game with passive-aggressive people. Do you know anyone like this?

Backhanded compliment

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Can’t tell if that was a compliment or an insult? That’s a sure sign you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive person.

“That dress looks so much better on you than the last one that made your hips look big.” Suppressed resentment is their currency and it tends to come out with backhanded compliments.

They sabotage others efforts

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Watch your back around passive-aggressive people; they love to sabotage others.

Do you have a coworker who resents that they weren’t assigned to lead your project? Do they show up to work late? Work at a snails pace? Take long breaks? When passive-aggressive people don’t get their way, they throw their own special brand of a tantrum so everyone suffers.

They love getting a reaction out of others

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Poke. Poke. Poke.

If pushing buttons were an Olympic event, the passive-aggressive person would bring home the gold, silver and bronze medals. Once they know what annoys you, they can’t help but push, push, push. 

They “accidentally” withhold information


“Oh, gosh. I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize that was so important to you.”

Have you ever had a roommate, colleague, or partner take that call you had been waiting for and then “accidentally” forgot to give you the message? Accident? Hardly. This is to teach you a lesson: don’t ever ask me to do anything for you again!

They appear to be brilliantly absent minded

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Passive-aggressive people are stealth at suddenly becoming clueless.

Have you ever known someone who seemed brilliant in some instances, and yet, in a second, they become the Absent-Minded Professor? They suddenly forget where the very important documents are that you need for the meeting? Or the deadline for that big project at the office.

These are examples of someone who has deep-seated anger and resentment, but who can’t just come forth and confront you in a mature and direct manner.

Life is short. Dealing with passive aggressive people can make it feel like an eternity. If you don’t know what the signs to look for, you might be in for trouble. Find an awesome therapist you like and trust to help you navigate away from passive-aggressive behavior and into assertive, mutually respectful relationships. 

James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.