Passive-aggressive personality disorder is categorized as an unspecified personality disorder, along with haltose, depressive, self-defeating, psychopathic, and sadistic personality disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), passive-aggressive personality disorder as a “pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance in social and occupational situations.” To avoid direct confrontation, they may procrastinate, pout, or use sarcasm.

People suffering from passive-aggressive personality disorder will find it very difficult to say what they truly mean and will instead act as if they are happy with the status quo when such a reaction is actually the antithesis of their true intentions. They will likely go along with what other people say by using stern sarcasm or by having a convincing demeanor.

The act that they will put on is likely due to them wanting to ward of confrontation with other people. However, doing so will likely leave them with built up resentment and anger toward the person or people whom conflict with their desires.

Someone with passive-aggressive personality disorder may have difficulty with maintaining healthy relationships with others due to the extent in which they will struggle with effectively communicating with whomever opposes their desires. If someone were to come to them with very disappointing or abysmal news, they will be unable to express their true feelings and will instead behave as if the unexpected news has no effect on them or is even better than the way it was before.

Symptoms of Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder

Passive aggressive behavior sits at the forefront of people suffering from passive-aggressive personality disorder. When people with this condition use their passive aggressiveness to get them through arguments, disappointing news, and just everyday stressors, they will also be inadvertently increasing their stress and anxiety in the long run.

This may seem counterproductive for someone suffering with passive-aggressive personality disorder as they may believe that by being passive aggressive in stressful situations with others, then they can ward off the greater amount of anxiety that they would experience with speaking their mind.

Though they may experience more anxiety when confronting the person they disagree with, they will likely feel much better after the conversation is over and they will then be able to move on from their anger thoughts. On the other hand, when they behave passive aggressively, they are much more likely to hold on to the anger thoughts and many emotions associated with those thoughts long after the incident is over. This will likely increase their daily anxiety and overall irritability.

Bad news and disappointment from other people is a part of life and people suffering with passive-aggressive personality disorder will have an extremely difficult time with coping in such situations. Their go-to coping mechanism (passive aggressive behavior) is the very thing that is causing their mental anguish.

Below, you will see some more common symptoms of passive-aggressive personality disorder:

  • Passive aggressive behavior that greatly hinders their life
  • Unable to effectively cope when given bad news
  • Acting nice (being fake) to someone they dislike
  • Avoiding confrontation at nearly all costs
  • May appear sincere with their convictions when the opposite is actually true
  • Sarcasm and pouting will likely be very common behaviors

Causes of Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder

Passive-aggressive personality disorder may be caused by environmental factors such as growing up with abusive parents in a household where expressing one’s emotions such as frustration or anger was very taboo and frowned upon. In such an environment, merely disagreeing or having a unique opinion may leave them being scorned, ridiculed, or physically abused.

Though environmental factors such as the one in the foregoing example is a very plausible way for someone to develop passive-aggressive personality disorder, their genetic makeup may be just as pertinent. For instance, someone who has a genetic predisposition to develop mental illness will likely have a much higher chance of developing passive-aggressive personality disorder than someone without such a genetic predisposition. Someone with a family history of mental illness may have a higher chance of being genetically predisposed to developing mental illness in general.

Though we do not definitively know what causes passive-aggressive personality disorder to develop, there is a consensus among most mental health professionals that both genetics and environmental factors plays a significant role in the development of virtually any given mental disorder. Taking a close look at your family’s mental health history, as well as your past and present environment may shed some light as to whether or not you are at risk for developing passive-aggressive personality disorder.

Diagnosis According to DSM-IV

Passive–aggressive personality disorder was listed as an Axis II personality disorder in the DSM-III-R. However, it was moved in the DSM-IV to Appendix B (“Criteria Sets and Axes Provided for Further Study”) because of the amount of controversy surrounded around this disorder, as well as the need for further research. According to DSM-IV, Passive–aggressive personality disorder is “often overtly ambivalent, wavering indecisively from one course of action to its opposite. People with this disorder will have characteristics of “intense conflict between dependence on others and the desire for self-assertion.”

Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder Treatment

There is not much information about how to treat passive-aggressive personality disorder, however cognitive behavioral therapy may be able to help with some of the symptoms associated with this condition. Medication is typically not used to help treat people suffering from personality disorders, but this will be something that you will want to first discuss with your doctor.

For instance, someone suffering from this personality disorder may also be experiencing severe symptoms of depression or they may have obsessive thoughts that give them a great deal of anxiety throughout their day to day life. So, in such an situation, medication may be used to help soothe those symptoms, which may also inadvertently help their passive aggressive behavior insofar as they can become less irritable or less anxious because of the medication.

If you think you may have passive-aggressive personality disorder or if you are suffering from some of the symptoms outlined in this article then you should talk to your doctor as soon as you can so that you can be properly diagnosed and treated. Upon seeing your doctor, she may refer you to see a specialist such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist for further treatment.