Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Passive-aggressive behavior drives me crazy, although I am sure I have been guilty of it in the past. After months of no contact, a friend once told me that he was upset about something I did months earlier. I had no idea that what I had done had upset him. I was completely caught off guard when he told me he was upset about it. I wish he would have just said something instead of passively showing anger by not talking to me.

The term “passive-aggressive” was introduced as a “personality disorder” in the third revised edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R) in 1987. In the current edition, DSM-IV-TR, Passive-aggressive Personality Disorder has been downgraded to the appendix. According to Wikipedia, the reason was that researchers have had difficulty defining the associated behaviors. As is, here are the criteria:

“A) A pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicted by four (or more) of the following:

- Passively resists fulfilling routine social and occupational tasks
- Complains of being misunderstood and unappreciated by others
- Is sullen and argumentative
- Unreasonably criticizes and scorns authority
- Expresses envy and resentment toward those apparently more fortunate
- Voices exaggerated and persistent complaints of personal misfortune
- Alternates between hostile defiance and contrition
B) Does not occur exclusively during major depressive episodes and is not better accounted for by dysthymic disorder.”

Basically, passive-aggression is when someone shows discontent through actions that may be contrary to their words. They tell you they want to do something, yet they drag their feet and complain, showing you they never really wanted to in the first place. They say they are not upset and then they do not talk to you for two weeks. They make conflict worse by avoiding any type of verbal expression of their feelings. I have a different term for such behavior: cowardice.

The Bible addresses this issue in many ways. In Matthew 18:15, Jesus said that if someone has wronged you, go to that person directly to solve the problem. He also said in Matthew 5:37 that we should let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no.” Finally, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 16 that we should be strong, have courage, and do everything out of love.  

It takes courage to confront someone, even if it is done in love (as it should be). It is sometimes uncomfortable to share your feelings directly.  Despite the inconvenience, it is worthwhile and the right thing to do. Think about it. Is there any resentment you have been trying to show someone, that instead you just need to tell them directly?

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