Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of behavior where instead of expressing negative feelings directly, an individual communicates them through subtle actions. There’s a dissonance between what they’re saying and what they’re doing. One common example most are familiar with is saying, “I’m fine,” or “It’s fine, I don’t care,” but then continuing to act upset and behave with anger or coldness. A more difficult-to-spot form of passive aggression might involve an individual purposefully sabotaging a plan they said they supported. Passive aggression tends to come with hostility and bitterness toward the requests of others, intentional mistakes or delays when completing these requests, a cynical and pessimistic demeanor, and frequent complaints about being deceived or underappreciated. While this behavior isn’t considered a distinctive mental illness, it can be a sign of multiple mental disorders.
Anxiety disorders have been linked to passive-aggressive behavior. Individuals with heightened anxiety often have a difficult time with direct confrontation. They may exhibit passive-aggressive behavior because they’re too anxious to have a frank discussion about feelings. There’s even an anxiety disorder called avoidant personality disorder, which is characterized by an affected individual avoiding conflict at all costs, even at the cost of their own physical and mental wellbeing. Individuals with heightened anxiety may also have a more generally negative outlook on life. In some, a neurochemical imbalance causes the brain to acknowledge bad things far more sharply than good things. Neurochemical imbalances can usually be treated with mental health medication. For individuals whose passive-aggression is interfering with their lives and the lives of those around them, it’s a good idea to pair medication with talk therapy. In therapy, patients learn how to communicate effectively, keep a positive outlook, and deal with the anxious feelings that confrontation causes.
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