14 warning signs you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive person

Sometimes you can’t quite guess why an interaction with someone is so draining, uncomfortable, or downright soul-crushing.

Well, it’s possible you’ve been dealing with a passive-aggressive person.

They’re experts at keeping things subtle and vague, but once you know the signs, they’re impossible to miss.

So if you’ve wondering if you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive person, here are 14 warning signs you should definitely keep an eye out for.

1) They give backhanded compliments and sarcastic jokes

Rather than addressing a concern, they’ll say things like “Wow, you’re here early…that’s a surprise!”  

Worse, they’ll tell sarcastic jokes, “Hey Turtle team, how’s the project going? I’m glad you’re actually moving.”

This one is at the top because they’re not the easiest to notice and even if you do, they can just easily gaslight you.

The passive-aggressive person has the ready defense of “but that was a compliment! or “It was just a joke!”. 

It can make you look like a petty, oversensitive person if you tell them what they did was hurtful or offensive. And sometimes, it’s hard to win with these people because they’re usually charming.

2) They sigh, sulk, and show negative body language

By far the easiest to spot is the passive-aggressive person who will roll their eyes when you are talking, sigh when they pass you by, or sulk when you are in the same room as them.

They may also drop things, slam cabinets, stomp their feet, almost anything else other than say what is actually wrong.

And what’s annoying is that even if you do ask them or comment on how they’re acting strange, they’ll pretend that they haven’t heard anything.

You still won’t know what specifically is wrong because they won’t tell you unless you beg and chase. Of course, this is very exhausting and you’d have to be the “bigger person” often.

3) They weaponize the silent treatment

Silent treatment is withholding attention and emotional abandonment to express displeasure or dissatisfaction. 

A passive-aggressive person uses it to attack someone’s self-esteem and causes harm by creating an environment of fear, anxiety, and sadness.

There are times when someone just needs to distance and disengage from a conversation in a healthy way. They may say, “I’m feeling upset so I will just need space.” 

The passive-aggressive person, however, isn’t like this. They refuse to say what is wrong and only start speaking once you are finally manipulated into doing what they want you to do.

4) They are always “fine” and “okay”

The passive-aggressive person has a difficult time expressing what they really think and feel and will often say everything is fine even when it is not, while at same time building resentment. 

They will say things are okay between the two of you but of course they keep on acting cold and aloof.

It’s difficult to always guess what someone is feeling but if it reaches the point where you are second-guessing yourself—always wondering “Did I do something wrong?” —then that’s a warning sign that you’re likely dealing with a passive-aggressive person.

 5) They have a fake auto-smile

people who are good at reading others usually share these traits 2 14 warning signs you're dealing with a passive-aggressive person

While there’s the sulking passive-aggressive, what you’ve really got to watch out for are the ones who try to exaggerate that everything’s a-ok.

These types of passive-aggressive have years of built-up anger and resentment hiding behind smiles and can be the worst kind because they have often learned manipulative ways to get what they want.  

No matter how much they disagree or dislike what they see or hear, they will still put on a big smile. 

6) They never tell you what they really think or feel

The passive-aggressive person doesn’t really express what they like or don’t like, or what they honestly feel about the situation. 

Whether the context may be as simple as where to eat, or as big as deciding where to buy a house, they’d just pretend everything’s fine.

They’ll often act like they agree with people’s choices but at the same time, they “can’t help” but send out negative energy.

They’re hoping that those vibes will help others get a clue of what they truly feel. 

They simply don’t like it that their disagreement has to come out from their mouth. And if others just don’t “get” their clues, they feel unloved or even insulted.

7) They make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells

They won’t say what’s wrong but you can FEEL there’s something definitely wrong. And if you’re a highly sensitive person, this can make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells.

When it gets to the point that you can’t do anything comfortably, you’re feeling stress even just walking around them, that’s a red flag!

You’re most likely dealing with a passive-aggressive person.

8) They ghost and distance without saying why

The passive-aggressive person may suddenly avoid seeing you and decline invites citing being “busy” as a reason. 

When you invite them, they may give vague answers like, “I’ll try…or I’ll see if I can make it.” Or they will say yes, then suddenly not show up.

And when you confront them about it, they will still pretend that they’re just indeed busy. They’ll even be annoyed that you asked. They’ll say “Can’t I be busy? Why does everything revolve around you?”

Some of them just want some space, but then there are some who want you to feel that they’re out of your life…hoping that you’d beg them back and do whatever it is that they want you to do.

9) They find other people to hate with

Compared to those who ghost, there are really toxic passive-aggressive persons who consciously find other people to hate with.

They will nitpick small interactions and make a compilation of things they hate about a person. 

Terrible if it happens to be you, especially in a work environment because they will sometimes even have friendships based on hating together and cultivating resentment.

10) They don’t apologize 

No matter what happens, the passive-aggressive person always finds someone else to blame or always has an excuse for doing what they did.

They’d even say “Well, you made me do it” or “I’m only human.”

The passive-aggressive person never takes responsibility. And even if it’s very clear that they’re at fault, you can never hear the words sorry come out of their mouth.

Or they’ll say sorry, but they’ll make it sound like it’s obviously not genuine.

11) They often give unsolicited advice 

how to thrive under pressure 14 warning signs you're dealing with a passive-aggressive person

You can’t explain it but whenever they give you advice (that you didn’t ask for, by the way) it always ends up making you feel terrible about yourself. 

This is because the passive-aggressive person is only pretending to speak out of concern or goodwill when they are really just putting you down while feeling superior. 

The passive-aggressive person may not be able to directly say what they don’t like but they do enjoy the feeling of telling other people how to be, even when it is hurtful. 

Watch out for the ones who feign good intentions as these are the ones who look for opportunities to take a hit on your self-esteem.

12) They don’t respect boundaries

The passive-aggressive person is usually not assertive, and so they get offended when others are assertive towards them.

For instance, when you tell them that you don’t welcome unannounced visits, they’ll keep finding excuses to drop by because they don’t really want to honor your boundary in the first place.

Whether unconscious or not, they are harboring resentments for your assertion of boundaries because they can’t assert for themselves.

What’s worse, even when you do your best to be polite and kind when asserting boundaries, they’ll make you feel like a terrible person for having needs and limitations.

13) They often put other people on the spot 

You clearly tell your friend that you are on a restricted diet for your health but they suddenly bring you to a restaurant with no other options. 

Then they make a joke about it expecting you to just order what’s available.

Or you tell your staff the budget for the project is tight and they suddenly hire other people in without consulting you, expecting you to still pay up.

The toxic passive-aggressive person knows that asserting what they want may be a losing game but putting you on the spot means they might one up you still.

14) They constantly rant to you about other people

If your friend or family member is always ranting about someone else —and their situation never ever gets resolved—you are likely dealing with a passive-aggressive person.

A passive-aggressive person is endlessly offended by other people but doesn’t ever bring it up to the appropriate person for resolution.

So if they rant about other people to you, it’s highly likely they are ranting about YOU to other people, too.

Last words

Passive-aggressive people are usually the way they are because they have low self-esteem and so they struggle dealing with conflict.

Before you judge them and end the relationship, give them several chances to practice honest communication with you. 

It may take time but it’s worth a shot and may help you expand compassion to know that passive-aggressiveness is often inherited in family relationships. 

But also know your limits around toxic ones. Know that while you should be patient, it isn’t your job to fix them.

And if you realize that you have some passive-aggressive traits yourself, you can slowly take the steps to learn how to be more assertive and authentic.

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Picture of Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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