Re the use of the expression passive-aggressive

(78 Posts)

MNHQ have commented on this thread.

Vintagejazz Fri 22-Aug-14 16:27:24

Just seen it being used totally inappropriately on yet another thread. Is this just some kind of buzz wordy/catch all phrase on Mumsnet that is no longer expected to adhere to its original meaning?

sillystring Fri 22-Aug-14 16:30:06

In what way was it used totally inappropriately?

MsAstronaut Fri 22-Aug-14 16:30:13

To mean it means trying to be hurtful, controlling or manipulative, while pretending you're being nice. I think it's very common, and usually when people use it on here they use it correctly. Also someone would be sure to point it out if they thought it was being used wrongly.

hmc Fri 22-Aug-14 16:30:56

Oh go on, give us the example

sillystring Fri 22-Aug-14 16:32:34

I think "arsey" covers it quite well. Also, huffing and mumping a lot then being asked "is something the matter" to get the response "humph, no nothing's the matter when it patently is.

Vintagejazz Fri 22-Aug-14 16:35:33

Someone on another thread was complaining that when she takes her toddler to the park with friends she feels the friends expect her to keep tabs on their children by constantly asking 'have you seen Sam' etc and that if she hasn't seen them she feels obliged to go and look for them.

Other posters were saying that there was no obligation to look for them she could just say 'no sorry, I haven't see him'. But one poster said it was passive aggressive to go and look for them and then complain on mumsnet. To me passive agressive is exactly as MsAstronaut described, so I can't see how it matches the OP's behaviour. It's just the most recent example but I've seen it several times.

hmc Fri 22-Aug-14 16:38:19

That does rather sound like a misuse of the term. Likewise, as MsAstronaut said.....

sillystring Fri 22-Aug-14 16:38:56

I know the thread you mean and was a bit confused by that post myself. I think they were just a bit annoyed by the OP whining about doing something she didn't have to and then complaining about it on a forum when the whole thing could have been resolved by her answering the question of "where are my DCs" with a straighforward "No idea, go and look for them yourself if you're that bothered".

Vintagejazz Fri 22-Aug-14 16:42:30

Yes I agree. She was obviously losing patience with the OP a bit but if she'd used the expression 'martyred' or 'two faced' or something it would have been more accurate.

sillystring Fri 22-Aug-14 16:43:45

Yeah, see what you mean. PA really isn't appropriate but the examples you've used would have been better.

MsAstronaut Fri 22-Aug-14 16:46:26

Doing something you didn't have to do then moaning about it is more what I would call being a martyr, but it's a bit different if you feel people are putting pressure on you.

sillystring Fri 22-Aug-14 16:48:21

They weren't putting pressure on her though, she just "felt" she was expected to look out for others' DCs. It was an irritating thread.

MsAstronaut Fri 22-Aug-14 16:50:44

"Passive-aggressive" is maybe over-used sometimes but I think it's good that it has a name, people know it's a thing and talking about it helps people to know when it's happening to them. I have had 40+ years of it from my mum and sister, and the more I've learned to spot it, the easier life gets. Now the second I detect it I just switch right off.

limitedperiodonly Fri 22-Aug-14 16:51:04

I think the use of Passive Aggressive and other terms diagnosing personality traits and disorders ought to be avoided by people who've picked them up from the internet rather than years at medical school and in post-graduate study.

Is that what you mean, OP?

Vintagejazz Fri 22-Aug-14 16:53:58

I agree MrsAstronaut that it's very real and upsetting behaviour that can cause huge upset to people. But applying it to any old situation just undermines its significance. It's also unfair for posters to be accused of that behaviour inaccurately, which I've seen quite often on here. It just grates with me sometimes.

MsAstronaut Fri 22-Aug-14 16:56:07

I agree with that Vintage, and it's true of a lot of things - they become fashionable to fling about in any old situation. Still like I said, then people will argue and have a debate about it (like this one!) which helps to define it.

Seriouslyffs Fri 22-Aug-14 16:57:48

grin limited

Vintagejazz Fri 22-Aug-14 17:05:33

Are you feeling alright Limited? Would you like to lie down?

LiverpoolLou Fri 22-Aug-14 17:06:11

I don't know if it's correct, but I always think of passive-aggressive behaviour as suppressed hostility. Sort of, 'yes of course I'd love to be your bridesmaid, I'm so pleased you asked me'. But actually resenting the person doing the asking and therefore the being awkward but in a way that is really difficult to address. So being late for dress fitting, no replying to emails checking shoe sizes, forgetting to book to the day off work etc

limitedperiodonly Fri 22-Aug-14 17:07:21

I'm fine vintage, but thank you for your concern.

LiverpoolLou Fri 22-Aug-14 17:07:28

Oh yeah, and everything done/not done in such a way that you'd be the one in the wrong if you pulled them up on it.

VodkaJelly Fri 22-Aug-14 17:11:08

I always thought Passive Aggressive was about getting somebody to do something for you without asking - "No of couse I didnt want a cup of tea, you just make your own" or "No its ok I didnt want a buscuit" when you have just got one for yourself, "No dont put yourself out by driving, of course I dont mind walking 5 miles, dont put yourself out on my account" sort of thing

Vintagejazz Fri 22-Aug-14 17:19:05

You're very welcome Limited hmm

Seriously, I know what you mean Vodka. I went to view an apartment a couple of weeks ago which had a tenant living in it. She refused to give the Estate Agent a key, changed the time of the viewing at the last minute, got 'delayed' at work so we all had to stand outside for about twenty minutes, and then when we got in the place was like a tip and she stood in the garden talking on her mobile phone with hostility radiating from her.

That's passive aggressive.

As is the insisting you don't mind something while going around with an injured look and then becoming 'ill' but doing the 'oh no, I'm fine honestly. Of course you should go off on holiday. I don't mind being left here alone. I'll just stay in bed with my book' behaviour.

partialderivative Fri 22-Aug-14 17:35:23

I was just thinking the other day how few people use this expression on these boards compared to a few months ago.

I remember there was a thread a long time ago which asked what is meant by PA. There were so many different interpretations, the only conclusion that I could make was there is no 'definition'.

People make a definition from what they observe to be unreasonable

LiverpoolLou Fri 22-Aug-14 17:39:39

There is a definition of passive aggressive. My mother. If you're not sure what it means spend a week with her. Then'll you'll know.

^now that was a good example of passive aggressive. ^

Oh bollox, new page.

1sneezecakesmum Fri 22-Aug-14 17:55:28

MNHQ recently asked for people to comment on why AIBU is such a horrible place and asking for pointers as to how obnoxious posters post.

I said that PA posts are one of the typically manipulative ways posters twist what someone else says. There was lots of agreement and PA seemed to become the buzzword! I have an awful feeling I started the PA trend! Hadn't seen it much til then blush

Vintagejazz Fri 22-Aug-14 18:00:38

ISneeze I first started to notice this a couple of years ago when the expression seemed to be strewn around threads like confetti. It's actually not as bad as it used to be, so I definitely wouldn't blame yourself for it.

cruikshank Fri 22-Aug-14 18:05:44

It's misused all over the internet, including on mumsnet and including on this thread. I mean, look, we've had at least five or six different definitions of it now, all of which are wrong; this is what it actually means:

Passive-aggressive behavior is the indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, sarcasm, stubbornness, sullenness, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.

For research purposes, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) revision IV describes passive-aggressive personality disorder as a "pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance in social and occupational situations".

And I wish people would stop getting it wrong because it gets on my wick.

cruikshank Fri 22-Aug-14 18:09:09

I've just read back and the only instance of passive aggressiveness on this thread is the tenant who pissed people about.

Vintagejazz Fri 22-Aug-14 18:10:11

Well I think my example of the apartment tenant corresponds exactly to that description. She delayed, was hostile and sullen in attitude and failed to make the place presentable for viewing even though that was her responsiblity.

DownstairsMixUp Fri 22-Aug-14 18:10:55

Watch any interview with Peter Andre mentioning Katie Price. He is pretty much always passive aggressive. Twat.

Vintagejazz Fri 22-Aug-14 18:12:51

x post cruickshank.

LiverpoolLou Fri 22-Aug-14 18:13:16

I think my sister bridesmaid example fits the description too. confused

cruikshank Fri 22-Aug-14 18:13:49

Yes my original post was a x post as well. I almost don't want to post again in case it happens a third time!

Vintagejazz Fri 22-Aug-14 18:17:23

I've seen it described in dictionaries as 'behaviour that allows people who aren't comfortable being openly aggressive to still get their own way under the guise of pleasing others' and I think the 'oh no I'm fine honestly' accompanied by an injured or resentful look or sad sigh would also fit the term.

But I've seen it being thrown at people in totally inappropriate ways on threads and it's irritating and has really turned me off the expression.

Ok, so the snarky exchange about hoeing a lie down up thread. That doesn't count as pa ?

LiverpoolLou Fri 22-Aug-14 18:20:21

I didn't know that the DSM has it listed as a personality disorder. I learnt new something today.

unrealhousewife Fri 22-Aug-14 18:30:14

I think it's just an adjective describing a certain behaviour. Someone who puts up with something in real life but complains to others is displaying p.a. behaviour because the are choosing not to be assertive.

If the example in this case was about someone who didn't understand what was happening or who had objected to the problem but been ignored, then not p.a. In the case oulined here it was.

There's a lot of it about, it's a by-product of self-preservation. Don't want to risk losing face by directly complaining, so smile but stab in back later.

cruikshank Fri 22-Aug-14 18:30:50

Oops yes missed the bridesmaid; she's passive aggressive too. Ok, so this thread has got passive aggressive nailed. Time to go out and spread the word across the rest of mumsnet and indeed facebook, all discussion boards including discussion boards attached to newspapers and especially the BBC. Fly, my pretties, fly!

cruikshank Fri 22-Aug-14 18:33:21

BZZZZZT unrealhousewife that isn't passive aggressive - two-faced, disloyal etc maybe, but to be passive aggressive you'd have to be sabotaging what you're meant to be doing without actively committing an act of sabotage.

unrealhousewife Fri 22-Aug-14 18:41:45

Cruickshank i said the Behaviour is passive aggressive. It just is. Doesnt mean the person is p.a. In themselves.

I remember when the phrase was coined, it was definitely a kind of behaviour and just a pseudo smart way of saying two-faced or backstabbing.

To me it describes someone who is unable to be assertive and so finds fault in the other person rather than seeking a conclusion. People who do nasty things just for the sake of sabotage and disguising it as something else are doing something different.

cruikshank Fri 22-Aug-14 18:43:34

Well, that might be what it means to you, but it's not the actual meaning. Still, everyone else has their own personal definition of it and misuses it with gay abandon, so I guess you might as well join in.

unrealhousewife Fri 22-Aug-14 18:50:44

How can procrastination be indirect expression of hostility? Isn't it self sabotage?


LiverpoolLou Fri 22-Aug-14 18:55:23

Oops yes missed the bridesmaid; she's passive aggressive too.

Thank fook for that. I thought my years in therapy had been wasted.

cruikshank Fri 22-Aug-14 19:02:42

No years in therapy are ever wasted.

[gibbers, softly, in a corner, about People Getting Passive Aggressive Wrong On The Internet]

IonaMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 22-Aug-14 20:10:34

<Tries and fails to think of ironic PA way to say 'chaps - please try not to do quotes from other threads> - it makes the people you're discussing rather IMpassively aggressive, understandably, and then we have to get the bun nets out again... and we'd only just put them in mothballs for Autumn...

In the words of Gordon, the blue Express engine, 'It isn't wrong but we just don't DO it'.

Bingo! Nailed the PA technique by means of channelling the Rev W Awdry.

unrealhousewife Sat 23-Aug-14 00:38:23

Here, have a go at these grin

Tikimon Sat 23-Aug-14 03:01:35

People don't use the word "irony" or "ironic" correctly either.

Sometimes you just have to shrug, come to terms that there's dull crayons in every box, and take a stance of apathy.

PenelopeLane Sat 23-Aug-14 06:32:00

Just checking I'm using PA correctly: are these examples PA?

1 - The person that gets offended by something you've put on Facebook but you only hear about it through other people they've complained to
2 - The colleague that doesn't want to do a task they've been assigned so just doesn't do it
3 - The "friend" that doesn't want to be your friend anymore so stops returning calls or messages, or replies so late in the piece you start to wonder what's going on or if they even like you
4 - The person who leaves a snarky note in the work kitchen about keeping it clean but it's typed out so no-one knows who actually wrote it
5 - The person who doesn't like something you've done but just huffs puffs and sighs loudly rather than actually saying anything about it

I get especially stuck on #5 - I thought that was PA, but it doesn't meet the definition as the person I know who does this doesn't control the situation as the huffing, puffing and sighing is easy to deliberately ignore if they don't actually say anything grin

JapaneseMargaret Sat 23-Aug-14 06:53:54

No. 5 is definitely PA. And it's all the more satisfying because it's easy to ignore. Winds the passive aggressor right up, that does. grin

Passive aggression manifests itself in loads of different ways. There's no one set definition.

firesidechat Sat 23-Aug-14 11:29:56

I've heard it misused a lot on here when they actually mean just plain old aggressive. No passive about it.

TalcumPowder Sat 23-Aug-14 11:59:27

It is misused, but the use of the term 'toxic' as though it's some kind of objective, psychological diagnostic term is the one I see most often misused on Mn, where it seems to be used to mean 'someone I don't like'.

unrealhousewife Sat 23-Aug-14 13:15:31

I'm with you there talcum, labelling someone as toxic is a bit of an easy way out.

Looking at the info about p.a., it seems interchangeable with emotionally abusive, in a relationship context.

deakymom Sat 23-Aug-14 17:33:14

yes i see what a passive aggressive response starting a thread about a thread

does that cover the situation?

just read your other thread i agree the poster didn't even seem to read your post just threw it out there i was very hmm wtf did that come from!

EBearhug Sat 23-Aug-14 20:29:43

On a work course a few months back, one description was:

Aggressive - it's all your fault
Passive - it's all my fault
Passive Aggressive - I'm saying it's all my fault, but actually, I think it's all your fault
Assertive - doesn't really matter whose fault it is, we can work together to fix it.

It's not quite that simple, but I found it quite a useful shorthand.

Tikimon Sat 23-Aug-14 21:28:52

Yeah, the thing with passive aggressive, it's really hard to call someone on it. If you can point out exactly what they did as passive aggressive and they can't explain it away, it's probably not PA.

Example: Your DH doesn't want to go to a show. Doors close at a certain time, he deliberately drives slow and gets there late. You can't yell at him because "He tried".

Bottom line, PA makes it very hard to pin the blame on them for being a dick, and it's incredibly easy to turn it around to you over reacting, being sensitive, or being paranoid.

Vintagejazz Sat 23-Aug-14 22:48:01

deakyMum I was quite open in my OP that I was talking about something that had been said in another thread. How is that passive aggressive? As opposed to making a snarky comment and then crossing it out? Why did you not just leave it without the strikethroughs? Did you consider it a way of being confrontational while actually pretending you were not really saying what you were saying?

And Arya myself and Limited were having an ironic exchange, not being genuine.

PenelopeLane Sun 24-Aug-14 05:35:19

I like your definition tikimon!

When someone is being all passive- agressively moody and won't actually tell you that they don't want to go to a particular restaurant or movie or the like, just preferring to act PA, it's pretty hard to say "stop sighing loudly" without looking like an idiot yourself

daisychain01 Sun 24-Aug-14 06:19:06

It seems to be closely tied to 'surreptitious sabotage' and "getting their own back".

The PA person is concealing their resentment and pissed-offness, feels unable to take positive action (being assertive) so takes a course of action that gives them some inner satisfaction they've had the last laugh.

I think it tends to be used in the workplace context, because people are paid to do a job so may feel they can't argue back, so they give themselves the feeling they are back in control by sabotaging (being late, deliberately cocking something up, deliberately not giving someone that important phone message etc).

That said, it isn't unreasonable to extend it beyond the workplace to relationships in general but there is a subtle difference which is why it is often misapplied.

In penelope's post
1- more "two-faced" than PA
2 - PA
3- sounds like they dont want to hurt the person's feeling rather than
4- borderline.... person feels resentful and put-upon, but they arent trying to sabotage, they just dont want to be everyone's servant! But maybe its a bit PA not to put their name on the notice, but may not want to appear to be a "moaning minny" so it's a different dynamic IMO
5- PA

I wonder if the difference in PA and not PA is the intention of the action...

Snog Sun 24-Aug-14 07:46:48

I think i did something pa last week.
Dp was supposed to wash up after supper but didn't. And didn't when he got up either. At 10am the next day I wanted to make breakfast - no room in our tiny kitchen so I asked him to wash up.
He gets arsey about it and says he will wash up in a while.
I wash up myself and make my breakfast leaving him unable to wash up and put things right. He then feels bad and has to go to effort of compensating with other jobs later in the day. So was I pa?

Vintagejazz Sun 24-Aug-14 10:07:41

I don't really think so. You had asked him, he wouldn't do it, so you took the practical option of doing it yourself. You didn't have a hidden agenda and weren't trying to sabotage something while pretending to go along with it.

Yes I got that smile I probably didn't explain myself very well, but if you were being genuine would that count as pa ? I also mean the rl less obvious thinly veiled insults that are disguised as faux concern or niceness, is that pa ?
I have had a look at the definitions and I'm a bit worried that I might be a bit passive aggressive now. I can be a bit of a sulker at times.
Is it a characteristic that everyone or most people do a little bit sometimes ?

Vintagejazz Sun 24-Aug-14 10:26:26

Yes I do think you see some stock PA stuff on threads here. The 'are you feeling quite alright <head tilt>' type stuff that's obviously meant to goad and enrage the other poster but really just looks silly and obvious now it's been so over used.

I can give people the silent treatment sometimes if they've upset me or pissed me off, so definitely I can be PA at times.

ForalltheSaints Sun 24-Aug-14 12:05:57

It has become a trendy expression. Used too often, along with 'big' and 'like'.

doyouwantfrieswiththat Sun 24-Aug-14 12:26:26

Ebearhug I liked your definitions.

Tikimon Sun 24-Aug-14 23:13:05

I wonder if the difference in PA and not PA is the intention of the action...

Of course it is. Problem is, you can't prove intentions.

You just sort of have to look at the person and their typical personality. I have adhd and get hyper absorbed into something so if someone says something I genuinely don't hear it. There's a good chance that if someone is talking to me and I don't respond, I didn't hear them instead of giving them the silent treatment.

But someone that is typically aware and answers all them time, the same behavior wouldn't be believable as them "not hearing you".

EBearhug Mon 25-Aug-14 12:46:33

I'm not sure if it's always conscious intention, though - I mean, I don't think most perpertrators of PA behaviour actually think, I'm going to be PA about this. A lot of the time it's learned behaviour, having seen parents and others behave that way..

Likewise with aggression - I've seen managers whose behaviour I'd describe as aggressive, but I'm fairly sure they would have said they were just being a strong manager. And passive people will point out you need to compromise to work with people. (Compromise yes, giving in and ignoring your own needs every time - no.)

NanaNina Mon 25-Aug-14 13:14:17

I think Cruickshank gave us the definition very clearly. I've always wondered what it meant. Same with "toxic" and yes agree with whoever said that it usually seems to mean "someone I don't like" the other MN expression I see is "narcissistic" and usually a description of mothers or MILs!

I know I'm digressing but I also hate the expression "tell him to grow a pair" when a woman is complaining about her DH or DP ..........maybe I should start a new thread in AIBU - or on second thoughts maybe not - it's a scary place!

TheHorseHasBolted Mon 25-Aug-14 16:20:16

I always thought the technical definition of passive aggressive was to express your aggression by not doing things, which has been touched on upthread.

I have a friend who has been very manipulative in the past in ways that are often commonly described as passive aggressive, and I've been pulled up (not by her) for calling it that, so now I tend to use terms like "mind games" and "guilt trip" for what she does.

The more I read about it the more I have realised how passive aggressive fil is. If we don't do something his way he sulks and then throws a spanner in to the works to sabotage it, eg being late, going the wrong way, anything, then <fumes> then when it goes wrong he will say "Well this is why I wanted to do bla bla bla instead "

EBearhug Mon 25-Aug-14 18:51:00

"Well this is why I wanted to do bla bla bla instead "
Thereby making it all your fault, because if only you'd listened to him in the first place...

YY, it's so frustrating.

unrealhousewife Wed 27-Aug-14 10:03:34

I don't think it's right to say that you can only be PA if you intended it, as pointed out earlier most PA's have no idea they are doing it.
Someone who did these things deliberately would be called something else, surely.

I would love to hear some suggestions of how to deal with a PA person.

unrealhousewife Wed 27-Aug-14 10:08:28

I get the

''which way shall we go?"
"This way because x,y,z"

Later on the journey at a traffic light, roadworks or flood

"I knew we shouldn't have gone this way, this is just a stupid way to go with all these traffic lights/road works/floods"


deakymom Wed 27-Aug-14 10:53:17

sorry i didn't come back to this thread earlier to reply i was actually taking the piss not being passive aggressive

deakymom Wed 27-Aug-14 10:53:46


Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now