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Are You a Victim of Passive-Aggression? Identifying Covert Conflict in Relationships

We often believe we can completely understand someone's opinion about us or the nature of our relationship with them based on their spoken words. However, relationships are not always that simple. The true dynamics of our interaction with others aren't always reflected in their verbal expressions.

Regrettably, there are instances when we must decipher the hidden meaning behind their words to uncover the truth. Imagine how much simpler life would be if people expressed exactly what they meant and genuinely stood by their statements. But, this is not always feasible, especially in the context of passive-aggressive behavior.

Passive aggression is a hidden form of showing resistance towards a command or an individual. They don't display aggression openly. Although they may harbor feelings of anger, they are unable to express it directly. Therefore, they resort to other ways to convey their anger or disappointment.

While it might seem like the person is merely trying to avoid conflict, passive-aggressive behavior can be very detrimental to relationships.

It's worth mentioning that passive aggression is a typical response to situations we encounter frequently. An occasional passive-aggressive act is not as impactful as persistent and regular passive-aggressive conduct.

If passive-aggressive conduct turns into a recurring pattern, it transforms into a personality disorder.

To provide further insight into this damaging conduct, let's explore the most frequent indicators of passive-aggressive behavior.

The Silent Treatment

Among the most prevalent signs of passive-aggressive behavior is the ‘silent treatment'. This is when an individual deliberately ignores someone in person while engaged in conversation or when being approached. It also includes intentionally not answering phone calls or responding to messages or emails.

This conduct is widespread and can cause significant harm to the other party. Those subjected to the silent treatment often feel disregarded and dismissed. It can be particularly damaging to someone deeply committed to the relationship as it feels like a form of punishment. Instead of expressing their concerns, they choose to remain silent.

Backhanded Compliments as Indirect Insults

There are moments when someone compliments you unexpectedly, and you begin to question their intentions and underlying meaning. Suddenly, you realize that the compliment was, in fact, an insult. These backhanded compliments usually target people's vulnerabilities.

If someone delivers backhanded compliments, it usually stems from a sense of superiority, jealousy, or insecurity. Backhanded compliments often expose the individual's true hostility more than anything else.

Stubbornness with a Vengeful Intent

When stubbornness is combined with the intention of inflicting punishment, it's due to strong feelings of aggression that cannot be explicitly expressed, except through clearly punitive actions. The offended individual will vehemently and passionately defend themselves, primarily to irritate and inconvenience the other party.

It may seem like this tactic is only used by children, but it's a widespread passive-aggressive behavior among adults.

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Persistently Neglecting Assigned Tasks

Another indicator of passive-aggressive behavior is when an individual consistently procrastinates and neglects to complete tasks assigned to them. They frequently use the excuse of being unaware or completely forgetting their responsibilities. While this might be a valid excuse occasionally, when it becomes a behavioral pattern, it's considered a form of passive aggression intended to convey hostility.

Deliberate Sabotage

An extreme manifestation of passive-aggressive behavior is intentionally sabotaging someone to ensure their failure or subjecting them to failure through someone else's actions. Sabotaging someone can vary from intentionally excluding them from a situation to deliberately misleading them into a disadvantageous situation.

This is a manipulative and contemptuous way of setting someone up. The moment the person discovers the truth, they feel a deep sense of betrayal and hurt. Deliberate sabotage is one of the most damaging passive-aggressive behaviors.


All types of passive-aggressive behavior communicate hostility towards another person, but its covert nature can inflict severe damage. Passive aggressiveness is sometimes the only comfortable way for some individuals, who are not accustomed to expressing emotions healthily, to communicate their genuine feelings.

The reality is that expressing yourself through passive-aggressive methods is neither healthy nor emotionally mature. Individuals who resort to these tactics only further isolate themselves and hinder their emotional growth due to their reluctance to learn how to express their emotions in a safe, non-toxic way.

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