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Neurosciences and Behavioral Health Center

Passive-Aggressive Behavior

A person with a passive-aggressive behavior pattern may appear to comply or act appropriately, but actually behaves negatively and passively resists. There may be environmental and genetic factors that contribute to the development of this behavior pattern.

Factors that may contribute to passive-aggressive behavior include:

  • Childhood abuse or neglect
  • Harsh punishment


Symptoms include:

  • Contradictory and inconsistent behavior — A person with this behavior pattern may appear enthusiastic to carry out others’ requests, but purposely performs in a manner that’s not useful and sometimes even damaging.
  • Intentional avoidance of responsibility. Some behaviors that may be used to avoid responsibility include:
    • Procrastination to delay or postpone needlessly and intentionally
    • Deliberate inefficiency, purposefully performing in an incompetent manner
    • Forgetfulness
  • Feelings of resentment toward others
  • Stubbornness
  • Argumentative, sulky and hostile, especially toward authority figures
  • Easily offended
  • Resentful of useful suggestions from others
  • Blames others
  • Chronically impatient
  • Unexpressed anger or hostility

Diagnosis & Treatment

Your doctor can diagnose you through a psychological evaluation. This may include a range of mental health and neurological tests to assess how the brain is functioning.

There is no medication available for passive-aggressiveness. If anxiety or depression is also involved, your doctor may prescribe antidepressant medication.

Counseling can help you become aware of the problem and acknowledge the need to change.


Call 434.243.3675.

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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