Ajay was a very creative person. During his school days, he won several medals in various art competitions and aspired to become a renowned painter.

However, Ajay’s father wanted him to become an engineer as he felt that engineers earn more. Ajay managed to clear the engineering exams but he felt deeply resentful about not being able to pursue his passion.

Subsequently, when he got into the workforce, he was unable to focus on his career and frequently lost jobs due to underperformance. He secretly enjoyed seeing his father’s disappointment whenever he would lose a job and considered this his way of getting even with him.

Such behavior, where the aim is to show aggression and cause damage to others indirectly, is known as passive-aggressive behavior.

Causes of passive-aggressive behavior

Passive-aggressive behavior is a form of concealed hostility. A passive-aggressive person doesn’t explode in anger, but their actions can cause more damage to others than those of a violent person. A passive-aggressive approach can affect your relationships drastically.

It’s possible to become passive-aggressive towards your family members or colleagues without realizing it.

Here’s another example. Sumit would always react angrily towards his sister when she called him on the phone or went to meet him. He didn’t hate her as such, but he had unresolved issues with her, which made him behave nastily with her. Eventually, his behavior created a distance between them and she stopped communicating with him.

Usually, there are specific causes that lead to passive-aggressive behavior. Here are some of these causes.

Family influence: 

In many households, emotional behavior and expressions are not encouraged. Children growing up in such families end up suppressing their feelings. This leads to passive aggression and channeling their emotions such as anger or hurt indirectly.

Lack of social acceptance: 

In scenarios where aggression or angry outbursts are not a socially acceptable option, passive-aggressive tendencies take over. Ajay’s and Sumit’s examples are cases in point.

No room for confrontation: 

Sometimes, it may be challenging or harmful for you to express your resentment by confronting the other person. Your personal relationships or other concerns can make you channel your aggression indirectly. This is also a significant cause of passive-aggressive behavior.

Managing passive-aggressive behavior

To treat any condition, we first need to identify the symptoms. The same principle has to be applied before making efforts to resolve behavioral problems such as passive aggression.

Identifying passive aggression

We find it much easier to identify behavioral disorders or related problems in others. However, the task is not that simple if you happen to be the one with a problem like passive aggression. We often tend to overlook our own behavior due to hectic lifestyles or ignorance.

It’s not easy to pause and review your behavior in an unbiased and objective way. Asking the following questions from yourself can give you an idea about your own behavior.

  • Do you become grumpy and sulk in silence when someone makes you unhappy?
  • Are you in the habit of avoiding people who upset you?
  • Are you in the habit of not talking to people when you are angry with them?
  • Do you like to not do or delay things to settle scores with others?
  • Do you use sarcasm as a tool to avoid having meaningful conversations at times?

If the answer to any or all of these questions is ‘yes’, then you may have a passive-aggressive behavior problem.

Course Correction

Such behavior is damaging to healthy relationships in all spheres of life. So once you identify your behavioral patterns as passive-aggressive, you should try and correct things. Read on to know how this can be done.

Improving self-awareness: 

One of the main reasons why we indulge in passive-aggressive activities is our inability to understand what upsets us. Mark always felt grumpy and rarely found any reason to genuinely feel happy. He would procrastinate and deliberately delay completing tasks as a form of rebellion. Quite often, he ignored communicating messages to others and when confronted, he would simply say, “I am sorry, I forgot.”

Such behavioral patterns can be changed by paying attention to everyday events and analyzing your behavior towards different people. It would help if you also relook at how you respond to certain situations.

Giving it time: 

Identifying what is going wrong with your behavior is a great thing. However, it is just the first step in the process of changing your behavioral patterns and responses. You need to understand that such changes take time. Focus only on steady improvement rather than expecting overnight change.

Being expressive: 

Understanding your emotions and knowing what you want is of critical importance. However, you need to also realize that hiding your emotions to avoid conflict is unhealthy. Conflicts, arguments, and disagreements are all components of life. You need to learn to focus on being assertive in a way that helps your cause and resolves the conflicts.


Passive aggression is an outcome of bottled anger or emotions. When people are not able to express themselves, they channel their frustration indirectly through other actions or words. Some people become socially disinterested and sullen, while others resort to things like deliberate underperformance.

Understand that passive aggression can be harmful to your growth and relationships. Hence, instead of adopting such tactics, you need to find the causes of your frustration and address them.

It is important to not feel disheartened or hurt when one is a victim of passive aggression. Through changes in behavioral patterns and analysis, you can change your passive-aggressive nature.

Harappa Education’s Embracing Change course is designed to help you overcome setbacks and challenges.

Explore blogs on topics such as anger managementaggressive behavior, and how to control anger in our Harappa Diaries section to learn how to handle intense situations calmly.

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