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Del Morrill, M.S. C.C.H


A Center for Counseling & Hypnosis
Tacoma, Washington, USA
(253) 752-1506

The Passive-Aggressive Personality

The Passive-Aggressive Personality

            My experience with the Passive-Aggressive person is that, when they aren’t getting what they really want, they’ll find a way, consciously or unconsciously, to set up a situation or crisis that demands action from the “other” person, so that they don’t have to take action themselves, and, thus, risk displeasure from another human being.  It allows them, as well, to place blame and guilt upon the other person, rather than seeing oneself as someone who is faulty, or guilty, or who actually caused the negative situation.

            The following are some of the characteristics of the P-A. Understand that these can be in varied degrees, and not necessarily always negative in the way they’re carried out.

            A Passive-Aggressive person basically is a “controller”.  Usually, this comes as a result of fear or getting distressed from the possibility of losing their own freedom to do as they please.  This may have developed as a way to cope in their particular family of origin. He, or she, often comes from a household where they had rigid restriction, or were prevented from ever expressing their own opinions and feelings.  Also, they can come from a hyper-critical parent. The child experiences, seemingly, being “right”. In other words, the child can never please the parent, no matter what they do.

            Many passive-aggressives have trouble working for others, because they hate any rules or guidelines that in any way control them or hamper their “freedom.”  They find rules stifling, and don’t respond well to people who are “demanding.”  It’s not uncommon for a P-A to disregard the commands of someone who is more aggressive in their style. They may not even respond, but may change the subject or answer the question that wasn’t really asked.  (Do you suppose they make good politicians?)

            On the other hand, P-O’s can be strong leaders, as long as they aren’t interfered with a lot. Probably, they would not make good consensus-builders. If they’re the over-conscientious sort, they may be workaholics or get so absorbed in their work that they exclude their family and other activities.  They may have a lot of difficulty relaxing, and lack certain spontaneity.   They can be perfectionists of themselves and seek approval and emotional support from others. They may have difficulty adapting to change, and have a low tolerance or understanding of other’s points of view or lifestyles.

            P-A’s seek the good will and support of authority figures, and will avoid, at all cost, responding to them in any negative way in front of the authority.  If they have issues with them, they’ll handle them either by talking about it with someone else who has an “in” with the authority, hoping they’ll be the ones who go to the authority; by writing their displeasure in a letter; or by doing something against the person which satisfies the P-A even if the other doesn’t know about it. In other words, usually they will do anything to avoid confronting a person directly.


            Often, the P-A is the type of person who will submit to authority, control or dominance of others, while hiding great resentment and anger.  Or they will resist their domination while trying to maintain the authority figure’s approval and acceptance. One way or another, they’ve found that to be affective is to assert themselves indirectly, such as not carrying out instructions exactly as requested.  In other words, they show displeasure by not conforming, yet not enough that it might sever a wanted relationship.

            At home, they often are submissive, even passive, preferring that the other person take the offensive in decision-making and socializing, including any discipline or reprimand of children. They will make sure they always come off as the “good guy.”  Instead of taking responsibility for the children, the extremist may even undermine the mate’s decisions and criticize their parenting style, often in front of the children. Also, they will complain regardless of whether the spouse or child has done what they requested.

            The extremist constantly criticizes their mate’s friends and other connections. Extremes “put down” the other parent in front of their children or friends. They may use humor (which isn’t really humor) to criticize their spouse or child in public.  Today we would refer to such an extremist as a verbal and psychological abuser.

            Rather than coming out directly with what they wish or how they feel, a P-A may be silent, even resentful, about something that bothers them, going for long periods, even years without letting a spouse or working colleague know how they feel about something that could have been easily repaired.

            If the relationship is one they no longer want, then they’ll find a way to give enough displeasure that forces the “other” person to act, thus, letting themselves off the hook as the “bad guy.” 

            When I lived in Japan, I found that most of the women are passive-aggressives and supreme controllers.  They have learned to be so in order to survive in a publicly male-oriented society.  If a Japanese woman wants you to do something, you will find yourself doing it, without knowing quite how they managed to get you to do it. I found them definitely persistent; yet, they never were overtly commanding about it.  In their homes, it might not be the same, methodologically, for some could be real shrews. We would hear the wife next door, frequently! In Japan, the public “face” is far more crucial than the private one. Thus, in a group-oriented, male society, methods are employed that can undermine or uplift, without being obvious or calling attention to oneself.



2005 © Del Hunter Morrill, M.S., N.B.C.C.H.






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