“You cannot become a peacemaker without communication. Silence is a passive aggressive grenade thrown by insecure people that want war, but they don’t want the accountability of starting it.” – Shannon L. Alder, Author

Guilt trips:  Emotional abusers are often experts at making others feel uncomfortable or guilty, behaviour designed to make the victim doubt themselves or to feel bad, anxious or submissive. Guilt trips usually move the victim to feel a need to fulfil the manipulator’s desire while ignoring or sacrificing their own needs. 

Covert intimidation: Manipulators and abusers seek to put the victim on the defensive by using veiled (subtle, indirect or implied) threats. 

Playing the victim: The abuser presents him/herselfas the victim of someone else’s behaviour in order to gain pity. The manipulator often finds it easy to play on sympathy to get cooperation. 

Defensive: Challenging their behaviour often results in the manipulator becoming defensive, combative or aggressive.

Convenient or selective memory: Or dishonest denials of actual events employed to win arguments.

Feigning innocence: Tries to suggest any harm was unintentional and may fake a look of surprise or indignation. This tactic makes the victim question his or her own judgment or even sanity. 

Feigning confusion: Manipulator/abuser pretends he or she doesn’t understand what the victim is saying or is confused about an important issue.  

The Double Bind: This toxic tactic involves presenting the victim with a no win choice or proposal and whatever you choose or do the perpetrator will accuse you of being in the wrong.  Constant use of this strategy can leave the victim feeling as if they’re always ‘walking on egg shells’ in the relationship while doubting themselves or constantly trying to please.

Attack and control: Maintaining control of certain situations or people can be a very powerful defence and attack strategy. For example, someone who is constantly late intentionally may be using this to exert control or to punish. When there is a compulsive need to control others this can be motivated by the fear of being controlled. The need to dictate can be triggered by a situation that feels beyond the person’s control or by a memory of an unpleasant experience such as being controlled or abused by someone in the past. These types of memories can activate a compulsive reaction to prevent a repeat of the incident or an unwanted experience. Control defence strategy can be appropriate in certain circumstances but can also be dysfunctional and destructive. The attack and control tactic can be attempted by displaying passive aggressive behaviour or direct outbursts of anger.

Blame tactics include:

  • Attempts to avoid being blamed for his/her own actions and behaviours
  • Faulting-finding rather than problem-solving
  • Can be aggressive and attacking, especially when challenged
  • May try to gain control of his/her partner’s thinking 

When a person constantly seeks to blame others he/she cannot: 

  • Accept and deal with valid and constructive criticism from his partner
  • Resolve conflicts constructively – but instead escalates them
  • Accept responsibility for their own actions that have been inappropriate

The blame or victimization response is a pattern of blaming others for personal mistakes instead of taking responsibility. The defence mechanism of blaming others can be used to deflect responsibility where the abuser feels anxious or afraid of being held responsible for their actions. They seem incapable of resolving the problem, perhaps through fear of facing it. This behaviour is often triggered when someone is highly sensitive to criticism or tends to avoid responsibility after they have made a mistake. There can be a fear of being judged as a failure or being exposed as being inferior in some way and this fear may trigger the response. Highly effective passive aggressives always have a variety of excuses, justifications or explanations as to why something isn’t their fault.

Sulking, withdrawing and closing down: Sullen attitude or long silences are extremely common defence strategies. The person may appear submissive but watch out for passive-aggressive behaviours such as sulking or a negative attitude. This defence is often motivated by what might happen next in the situation or to avoid the possibility of being hurt again. Sometimes the withdrawal can simply be a strategy to avoid dealing with the issue, to try and feel safe from a perceived attack or to avoid further conflict. This mechanism of defending and coping is not constructive as withdrawing makes it almost impossible to resolve a situation and the person who pulls back can end up feeling isolated or alone.

Passive aggressive types often have a fear of competition or dependency but the biggest problem in their relationships can be difficulty trusting their partner. They can also have a fear of intimacy and often resist becoming too close or attached and may create chaotic situations in their relationships. A hardcore passive aggressive always has excuses or justifications. Passive aggression may leave you feeling one or more of the following emotions:

  • Emotionally abused
  • Frustrated
  • Inferior
  • Mentally abused
  • Demoralized
  • Insulted
  • Angry

The best way to identify if you have been a victim of passive aggressive behaviour is to pay attention to how you feel after a particular interaction because while you may not be able to pin down exactly what has been said, you will know if you feel in some way uncomfortable, bad or not quite right. Always remember that how you feel during or after an interaction with a passive aggressive is frequently a very reliable indicator psychologically abuse.

Reality Check

“Fruit of passive-aggressive people. These people resist demands by indirect tactics. They will not take responsibility for their own choices; instead, they turn around and blame someone else for making them do it. Or they will agree to do things that they don’t really want to do, and then gripe about the person behind her back.” – Henry CloudChanges That Heal: How to Understand the Past to Ensure a Healthier Future

While it can be helpful to understand why someone behaves like this, understanding what is happening doesn’t mean you should accept this kind of behaviour. A passive aggressive often believes the excuses he or she provides and will actively work to discredit anyone who disagrees with them; they often play the victim while seeking to blame others for their own mistakes or failures. Confronting a hardcore passive aggressive can be very difficult often due to them being totally oblivious to their own behaviour. When confronted they will usually deny their behaviour or become angry, upset childish sulking at any suggestion they are at fault.