Passive-aggressive people act passive but express aggression covertly. They’re basically obstructionists who try to block whatever it is you want. Their unconscious anger gets transferred onto you, and you become frustrated and furious. Your fury is theirs, while they may calmly ask, “Why are you getting so angry?” and blame you for the anger they’re provoking.
Passive-aggressive partners are generally codependent, and like codependents, suffer from shame and low self-esteem. Their behavior is designed to please to appease and counter to control. You may be experiencing abuse, but not realize it, because their strategy of expressing hostility is covert and manipulative, leading to conflict and intimacy problems.
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According to the American Psychological Association passive-aggression was considered a personality disorder in the DSM-IV:
This behavior commonly reflects hostility which the individual feels he dare not express openly. Often the behavior is one expression of the patient’s resentment at failing to find gratification in a relationship with an individual or institution upon which he is over-dependent. (APA, 1968, p. 44, code 301.81)
After nearly 40 years, it was dropped in 1994. There’s renewed interest in studying passive-aggression. Passive-aggression was found to be related to borderline and narcissistic personality disorders, negative childhood experiences, and substance abuse.