6 subtle signs you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive person

Aggression is unavoidable confrontation – it’s explosive and in your face; you’ll know when the other party is angry.

On the other hand, passive-aggression is a sneakier, more subtle form of protest. It leaves you wondering and confused but not in a good way. 

It comes in varying degrees as well, which makes it all the harder to identify – especially when some signs are more subtle than the rest.

Today we’ll look at some of the more common behaviors of passive-aggressive people so you can identify them the next time you come face to face with one of them.

1) They’re condescending towards you.

Condescension can be subtle. You may only realize it after speaking with the other person for some time. 

You’ll start leaving conversations feeling a bit off, wondering if you should feel offended yet at the same time, attributing it to overthinking. 

But observe carefully the tone that they use to speak with you or the words they choose

Where a simple ‘yes’ would suffice, they may choose to say ‘yeah, obviously?”

Or a ‘You should have known better’ in a reprimand, but they choose to say ‘I guess when it came to hiring you, we should have known better.’

Passive-aggressive people express their displeasure in a way that skirts around the issue yet intentionally hurts you

2) They give you the silent treatment.

Silence may be the absence of sound, yet it speaks volumes when wielded like a weapon. If you’ve offended a passive-aggressive person, they may give you the silent treatment.

But they will not do it overtly. Yes, they may still speak with you, but they’ll deliberately ignore you. 

For example – they may still respond to you in a group setting, just with less enthusiasm or words than normal. 

In a one-on-one setting, they may just cover the pleasantries, saying ‘hi’, ‘bye’ but will go all out to avoid anything else. When you ask them a question they may just shrug, or give a flippant reply. 

Avoiding conflict is the goal of a passive-aggressive person, yet one that does it subtly will not make it entirely obvious that they have a problem with you. 

They will not completely cut you off but will leave you wondering if you did something to offend them.

And this is punishment enough, because you may spend weeks playing back scenes, talking to others to get their views, and getting no peace from this nagging question that haunts you every time you see them – just what was it that you did to them? 

3) They give you backhanded compliments.

Receiving a compliment is great, but a backhanded compliment can leave you feeling uneasy. 

Remember that if it doesn’t make you want to thank them immediately, but instead, makes you clench your fist, it’s very likely they’re not intending to make you feel good.

Some examples of these are:

  • ‘This is good work, for someone of your calibre.’
  • ‘This turned out surprisingly well, given your track record.’
  • ‘What a nice dress! I think I wore this when I was in college.’

It’s clear that they’re out to hurt you, even though you may have actually achieved something. That dress may have even looked nice. They just don’t want you to know it. 

4) Their facial expressions don’t match what they say. 

Passive agressive with friend 6 subtle signs you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive person

This may be a bit harder to catch, because it’s all in their face. 

They may be praising you or telling you something positive. Yet, when you look at their expression, the moment the words leave their mouth, they grimace or roll their eyes.

The corners of their mouth may tighten or they’ll purse their lips.

All these expressions will not match the seemingly positive things they just shared with you. In a way, they want you to grasp their displeasure, but don’t want to make it obvious that something is wrong. 

Sometimes there’ll be deliberate pauses in their speech as well.

They may go ‘Yeah… I’m fine.’

Well, they’re certainly not fine. But the onus is on you to catch this! They’re never going to tell you outrightly that you’ve offended them.

5) They complain excessively.

Outwardly, they may show that they’re fine with the situation. You may have even asked them before about what they feel about it and these passive-aggressive people will tell you that they’re completely fine with it.

But you’ll hear a scattering of complaints, sometimes to you directly, or to others – who will tell you.

Yet even after confronting them about their feelings, they’ll tell you that ‘it’s fine, I’m just having one of those days.’

But they seem to always have such days.

There’s no constructive step to address the problem, even though you’ve initiated discussions from time to time. And complaining may seem like an obvious sign, but passive-aggressive people know how and when to do it.

They may even express their disagreement with a group of people, and in an office setting, whispers will eventually reach you. 

6) Selective forgetfulness

This can manifest in situations where they’re expected to complete a set list of tasks.

In the workplace, a project would deliberately be sent after the due date, or with some information missing.

At home, as a form of protest or response to an argument, your family member may refuse to finish washing the dishes. They may intentionally leave their shoes out despite multiple reminders from you. 

In a group of friends, the passive-aggressive person may refuse to show up for meetings until halfway through the gathering. They’ll pop by and tell you that they didn’t even know the activity would be going on (even though the group chat had confirmed this multiple times).

All these in a bid to (subtly) protest whatever offense you may have inflicted on them. And this is their way of disagreeing and going against what you did to them.

Concluding Thoughts

Handling passive-aggressive people is not easy. In fact, it can be extremely trying and stressful, because you’re in a constant state of worry about whether you did something wrong and how you can go about correcting this.

Just like that, they’ve successfully managed to occupy the majority of your brain; which isn’t a good thing.

Hopefully, this article will come in handy the next time you try identifying passive-aggressive people. If you’re able to avoid them, try to do so. If not, remember that no one is important enough to lose your peace of mind over. 

If you feel that you’ve done your best to rectify the issue and they still insist on behaving this way – let it go and walk away.

Picture of Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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