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Passive-Aggressive Personality

A pattern of behavior formerly classified as a personality disorder.

Formerly listed among the personality disorders in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the passive-aggressive personality type has been described by a number of psychologists and psychiatrists, including Karen Horney, Karl Menninger, and Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957). Its main distinguishing feature is indirect resistance to the demands or expectations of others through stubbornness, forgetfulness, inefficiency, procrastination, and other covert means. Rather than refusing outright to perform a task, the passive-aggressive person will do it badly or procrastinate until the deadline for its completion has passed. Passive-aggressive people, at one time called "ill-tempered depressives," are also generally moody, discontented, and critical of others, and they tend to see themselves as victims, feeling that they are singled out for bad luck and ill treatment by others. In their inter-personal relationships, they are unable to find a healthy balance between dependence and assertiveness.

Passive aggression also refers more generally to a type of behavior not limited to a certain personality type and characterized by the covert expression of aggressive feelings one is unable or unwilling to express directly. Passive aggression may be expressed in a variety of ways, including tardiness for an event or job about which one has negative feelings or poor performance of a task one resents.

Further Reading

Cicchetti, Dante, and Donald J. Cohen (eds.) Developmental Psychopathology. New York: J. Wiley, 1995.

Eysenck, Michael W. Individual Differences: Normal and Abnormal. Hillsdale, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates, 1994.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaDiseases, Disorders & Mental Conditions