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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Five Levels of Passive Aggressive Behavior

In The Angry Smile, we define five distinct and increasingly pathological levels of passive aggression:

Level 1: Temporary Compliance, in which the passive aggressive person verbally complies with a request, but behaviorally delays acting on it. Temporary compliance is the most common form of passive aggressive behavior and sounds something like, "I'm cooooooming!"

Level 2: Intentional Inefficiency, in which the passive aggressive person complies with a request, but carries it out in an unacceptable manner. Intentional Inefficiency looks something like my husband unloading the dishwaser by putting everything out on the counter and claiming, "I wasn't sure where these went!"

Level 3: Letting a Problem Escalate, in which the passive aggressive person uses inaction to allow a forseeable problem to escalate and takes pleasure in the resulting anguish. Passive aggressive kids are at this level when they return a car with an empty gas tank, even when they know their parent will be late for work if they have to stop for gas.

Level 4: Hidden but Conscious Revenge, in which the passive aggressive person makes a deliberate decision--and takes hidden action--to get back at someone. This more serious level could involve stealing field trip money from the purse of a teacher who they feel has mistreated them, sabotaging the presentation of a colleague who they feel was unfairly promoted over them, or slashing the tires of a resented step-father's car.

Level 5: Self-depreciation, in which a passive aggressive person goes to self-destructive lengths to seek vengeance. From the teenager who dyes his hair blue before a college interview to the girl who starves herself to get back at her demanding father, this level is the most pathological...and usually not great fodder for "funny" stories.

In The Angry Smile, we document passive aggressive behaviors at each level, across home, school, relationship & workplace settings.

What examples do you have of passive aggression at these levels?


  1. Hello i didn't know that Passive Aggressive Behavior
    have 5 levels and i think that the more problematic is the Letting a Problem Escalate cause if you let it grow them will be out of control.

  2. I am so happy I stumbled onto this site. Now I dont feel so crazy! I recently ended a relationship with someone that was difficult to have a confrontation with. He was quiet and also so laid back and I was always the one that went crazy and wanted some kind of feedback. I would have been tickled to death with him telling me to **** off as this would have been some kind of response. The thing that led to me ending it was the constant smiles during these confrontations. The worst time for me to being seeing a smile on his face! It made me feel like I was crazy and he was guilty of things that I was confronting him on as he never denied any of the things that we were talking about..Now I know,,and knowledge is power. I am not saying that I was not at fault at all, but it is super hard to have a relationship with a person of this nature..

  3. This is for anonymous - Good for you! I hope you will find peace without this menace of a person in your life. I have been dealing with a friend who exhibits severe passive/aggressive behavior and I have always felt sorry for him. I can relate to your feelings in dealing with your PA person and I too, am gaining new knowlege that has given me power as well. Best of luck to you and happy for you to have freedom from this burden.