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Passive-aggressive personality disorder

Definition

Passive-aggressive personality disorder is a long-term (chronic) condition in which a person seems to actively comply with the desires and needs of others, but actually passively resists them. In the process, the person becomes increasingly hostile and angry.

Psychiatrists no longer recognize this condition as an official diagnosis. However, the symptoms are problematic to many people and may be helped by professional attention.

Alternative Names

Personality disorder - passive-aggressive

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The causes are unknown, but a combination of genetic and environmental factors are probably responsible.

Symptoms

People with this disorder resent responsibility and show it through their behaviors, rather than by openly expressing their feelings. They often use procrastination, inefficiency, and forgetfulness to avoid doing what they need to do or have been told by others to do.

Some common symptoms of passive-aggressive personality disorder include:

  • Acting sullen
  • Avoiding responsibility by claiming forgetfulness
  • Being inefficient on purpose
  • Blaming others
  • Complaining
  • Feeling resentment
  • Having a fear of authority
  • Having unexpressed anger or hostility
  • Procrastinating
  • Resisting other people's suggestions

A person with this disorder may appear to comply with another's wishes and may even demonstrate enthusiasm for those wishes. However, they:

  • Perform the requested action too late to be helpful
  • Perform it in a way that is useless
  • Sabotage the action to show anger that they cannot express in words

Signs and tests

Personality disorders are diagnosed by psychological evaluation and a careful history of the symptoms.

Treatment

Counseling may help the person identify and change the behavior.

Expectations (prognosis)

The outcome can be good with treatment.

Complications

  • Alcohol abuse or other drug abuse or dependence
  • Poor career development, despite good intelligence

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you or your child has symptoms of passive-aggressive personality disorder.

References

Moore DP, Jefferson JW. Passive-aggressive personality disorder. In: Moore DP, Jefferson JW, eds. Handbook of Medical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2004: chap 143.


Review Date: 10/17/2008
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Timothy A. Rogge, MD, private practice in Psychiatry, Kirkland, Washington. Also reviewed byDavid Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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