Culturally, the ambiguous “passive-aggressive” label is misused by lay persons and professionals alike. It is badly defined and used as a ‘catch all’ by the lay person to define any behaviour the don’t like or can’t understand.
What is passive aggressive?
The term Passive aggressive was first defined by Colonel William Menninger during World War II in the context of men’s reaction to military compliance. Menninger described soldiers who were not openly defiant but expressed their civil disobedience (what he called “aggressiveness”) by passive measures, such as pouting, stubbornness, procrastination, inefficiency, and passive obstructionism due according to Menninger as immaturity in reacting to routine military stress.
Most of the behaviours labelled as passive-aggressive should often more correctly be described as overt aggression, or covert aggression
Which is the correct definition to describe subtle, deliberate, calculating, and underhanded tactics that manipulators and other disturbed characters use to intimidate, control, deceive and abuse others.
Covert aggression is a typical disruptive strategy, characterized by a pattern of dissonance between what is said, what behaviour is expected, common custom and practice and often accompanied by the avoidance of direct communication. Inaction where some action is socially customary.
It may be either by default or design, and tends to evoke exasperation or confusion. People who are recipients of this type of behaviour may experience anxiety due to the dissonance between what they perceive and what the perpetrator is doing or saying. People normally react within expected cultural; custom and practice norms and the discord occurs when there are differences between the words, custom and practice and the actions of the other person.
So, let’s call it its true name
The American Psychiatric Association dropped it from the list of personality disorders in the DSM IV as too narrow to be a full-blown diagnosis and not well enough supported by scientific evidence to meet increasingly rigorous standards of definition.
The removal of the passive-aggressive personality definition from the official diagnostic manual was in large measure because of the frequent misapplication and because of the often contradictory and unclear descriptions clinicians in the field provided.
Outdated definition rejected by the American Psychiatric Association and redefined correctly as covert aggression are characterized by a “habitual pattern of non-active resistance to expected work requirements, opposition, sullenness, stubbornness, and negative attitudes in response to requirements for normal performance levels expected by others”.
Most frequently it occurs in the workplace, where resistance is exhibited by indirect behaviours as procrastination, forgetfulness, and purposeful inefficiency, especially in reaction to demands by authority figures, but it can also occur in interpersonal contexts.
Other sources characterize covert aggression as: “personality trait marked by a pervasive pattern of negative attitudes and characterized by passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to complying with expectations in interpersonal or occupational situations. Behaviours like learned helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate/repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible”.
Other examples of covert aggression behaviour might include avoiding direct or clear communication, evading problems, fear of intimacy or competition, making excuses, blaming others, obstructionism, playing the victim, feigning compliance with requests, sarcasm, backhanded compliments, and hiding anger.
How does covert aggression behaviour relate to Conflict theory?
In conflict theory, covert aggressive [miss labelled as Passive-aggressive] behaviour can resemble a behaviour better described as catty, as it consists of deliberate, active, but carefully veiled hostile acts which are distinctively different in character from the non-assertive style of passive resistance.
How does covert aggressive behaviour impact the Workplace?
Covert aggressive [miss labelled as Passive-aggressive] behaviour from workers and managers is damaging to team unity and productivity. In the worst cases, covert aggressive behaviour involves destructive attitudes such as negativity, sullenness, resentment, procrastination, ‘forgetting’ to do something, chronic lateness, and intentional inefficiency. If this behaviour is ignored it could result in decreased office efficiency and frustration among workers. If managers are covert aggressive in their behaviour, it can end up stifling team creativity. Sadly, as quoted by Paula De Angelis PhD in her book ‘Blindsided’, “It would sadly make perfect sense that those promoted to leadership positions might often be those who on the surface appear to be agreeable, diplomatic and supportive, yet who are actually dishonest, backstabbing saboteurs behind the scenes.” i.e. covert aggressive
So call it what it is –