Passive Agressive Abuse

Trying to describe and explain passive aggressive abuse is difficult, to say the least.  I’ve compared it to carbon monoxide.  You won’t see it, smell it, hear it, and you can’t touch it, so good luck explaining it.  What you will definitely notice, and what an outsider will see, is the impact on you (see description under The Impact).

Dr. George K. Simon has a great blog at and draws a distinction between ” passive-aggressive and covert-aggressive behaviors and passive-aggressive (ambivalent, negativistic, and often self-defeating) personalities and their covert-aggressive (deceptive, conniving, and manipulative) counterparts.”

Like I said, this can get tricky and confusing, even if you live with it.  Dr. Simon explains more of his distinction in his book In Sheep’s Clothing.

[My response to someone who once questioned the difference was this:]  I will simply add that while some of the differences can seem hair splitting and brain spinning (particularly to the recipients), the end result is quite similar. While one may be more negativistic and resistance oriented, it is just as covert. Whether the user is employing covert aggression in the above definition or behaving in clinically passive aggressive ways, both will result in a teflon coated manipulation that avoids accountability. The terrible and interesting thing about passive aggressives is that by employing the passive dynamic, their aggression is extremely difficult to identify, and almost impossible to definitively associate with intent.

This is the carbon monoxide effect. My advice to anyone who is questioning whether or not they are with a passive aggressive is to just read about it and explore a support forum specifically for it. If you start reading the comments pouring in from dozens of readers responding to it and you start to think ‘Get out of my head!’, you are probably on the right track to identify it.

This is an excerpt from a good article by divorce coach, Cathy Meyer.  She writes:  “When someone hits you or yells at you, you know that you’ve been abused. It is obvious and easily identified. Covert abuse is subtle and veiled or disguised by actions that appear to be normal, at times loving and caring… A passive aggressive can drive people around him/her crazy and seem sincerely dismayed when confronted with their behavior. Due to their own lack of insight into their feelings the passive aggressive often feels that others misunderstand them or, are holding them to unreasonable standards if they are confronted about their behavior.”   [Read more of her article here: ]

In her article, Cathy Meyer lists the following as common behaviors of a passive aggressive:

Ambiguity: “rarely mean what they say or say what they mean”

Forgetfulness:  selective memory to punish or obstruct

Blaming:  “never responsible for their actions”

Lack of Anger: “being accommodating and then sticking it to you ”

Fear of Dependency: to feel need is to feel controlled

Fear of Intimacy:  withholding sex to punish you

Obstructionism:  “It is important to him that you don’t get your way.”

Victimization: “If you get upset… they take offense”

Procrastination: “They do things on their own time schedule”

Other great quotes from the Cathy Meyer article:  “The passive aggressive needs to have a relationship with someone who can be the object of his or her hostility. They need someone whose expectations and demands he/she can resist… The sad thing is, you can be made to believe that you are loved and adored by a person who is completely unable to form an emotional connection with anyone… The passive aggressive ignores problems in the relationship, sees things through their own skewed sense of reality and if forced to deal with the problems will completely withdraw from the relationship and you. They will deny evidence of wrong doing, distort what you know to be real to fit their own agenda, minimize or lie so that their version of what is real seems more logical.”

Scott Wetzler, author of Living With the Passive Aggressive Man, wrote this:   “Unsure of his autonomy and afraid of being alone, he fights his dependency needs, usually by trying to control you. He wants you to think he doesn’t depend on you, but he binds himself closer than he cares to admit. Relationships can become battle grounds, where he can only claim victory if he denies his need for your support.”

“Withholding sex is about your husband’s need to control you by ignoring and denying your needs!”  Neil Warner

“Passive aggression is a purposeful and disguised way of expressing covert feelings of resistance and anger.”  Nora Femenia

“This behavior can be very useful when you don’t want to say “NO” to a request, don’t want to be seen as uncooperative, or be seen as selfish because wanting to do your own thing.   So, you “forget,” procrastinate, or show some  intentional inefficiency, saying that you don’t know how to do something you usually do.”  Nora Femenia

I think Cathy Meyers adapted Scott Wetzler’s list, so here are three more common behaviors found in Wetzler’s book:

“– Fostering chaos.  The passive-aggressive man prefers to leave the puzzle incomplete, the job undone, taking on more and more responsibilities until his life is nothing but unfinished business. He sets up ongoing chaotic situations that are intolerable if your life is linked to his. But should you offer a useful suggestion to improve things, just watch his resentment grow.”

“– Making excuses and lying.  The passive-aggressive man reaches as far as he can to fabricate excuses for not getting to a meeting on time, making love, meeting deadlines, fulfilling promises. As a way of withholding information, affirmation or love — to have power over you — the passive-aggressive man may choose to make up a convoluted story rather than give a straight answer. Not only is he a genius at ignoring reality when he so chooses, so he is a virtuoso at spinning tales to make reality look better.”
— Sulking.  Feeling put upon when he is unable to live up to his promises or obligations, the passive-aggressive man retreats from pressures around him and sulks, pouts and withdraws. Deep sighs are his preferred mode of communication, which makes reaching him all the more difficult.”

I’ve said that if I had to choose one word to describe a passive aggressive man, it would be Resentment.  He resents unrelentingly , implacably, and incessantly.  It seems you can never get to the bottom of that endless abyss of resentment.  The next words I would choose would be self-pity and excuses.  Last but not least, would be withholding.  Don’t let the passive part trick you into not seeing the control issues.

If you have a partner that withholds affection and intimacy, resents you, is jealous of you experiencing success or happiness, sabotages and obstructs you, creates chaos and dependency, gaslights you, lies to you, excuses himself and blames you, hurts you in ways that appear innocent, throws accusations at you when you try to express that you’re hurt, and lies to you about even stupid stuff, — but all the while is also  charming, funny, sweet, and viewed by the world as a nice guy and great husband– you might have a passive aggressive partner.

I hope you don’t.  This kind of man will love you to death.

The Big Question is always:  Can/Will he change?

Not unless HE REALLY WANTS TO.   And most all passive aggressives don’t truly see the need to change, thus they lack the want to.  When ultimately they see themselves as the victim, why should they want to change?

The challenging part becomes trying to decipher if he wants to change for himself, or if he’s giving the appearance of it to please you or achieve image management.

Disclaimer: This site is not intended to provide, and does not constitute, medical or legal advice. The content provided is designed to support, not replace, medical or psychiatric treatment. If you believe you may have a condition, please seek qualified professional care.

9 Responses to Passive Agressive Abuse

  1. Exodus says:

    In an extremely desperate cry for help I wrote Cathy Meyers ( the author of the About article) and her response left me feeling even worse than I already did. I’ll be frank….when I wrote her, I was feeling very suicidal, could not imagine living another day under this abuse and I am horribly trapped because of our business, horrible financial woes that leave me totally dependent on income from our business and my inability to find a job or go back to college. Her response ( I’ll paraphrase) was : you don’t want to die and you know it, you have many choices and options to get out of this relationship if you really want to. Just get a job and a lawyer and move out. It’s sort of like how some folks tell people in poverty, ‘ Just quit being poor’.

    I was truly stunned by her curt and insensitive response. Did she really believe that I hadn’t already examined those options? I’ve been to two lawyers by the way and my situation is dire. If I could just get a job, move out and live the high life, I would have done that already. I could not believe that this woman wrote an article about P/A abuse and she treated me like I was just some spoiled housewife who was unhappy in my current relationship and feared giving up my afternoon bonbons and weekly manicures.

    I don’t have bonbons, I have never had a manicure, I don’t wear makeup most of the time, I never eat out, don’t buy designer coffees, don’t shop for clothing, don’t own a home. All I do is worry about the next disaster my husband will pile on me today or in the near future. All I do is live in fear of what he will do to retaliate and make me suffer for being unhappy or dissatisfied with his abusive behavior. All I do is think about how I have sold myself short in life and why I chose such an abusive man to marry. I am not angry at him..he is what he is but, why did I ever believe that I deserved such a person in my life? I do know the answer to that question btw. Knowing the answer doesn’t make me feel any better though.


  2. WritesinPJ's says:

    Dear Exodus,

    Let’s hope that was a bad, tired day for the author of the article. It is my opinion at this point in my life that human beings have difficulty understanding things outside their own experience or frame of reference. They just do. Options that I don’t see, don’t yet exist for me as options. Maybe I don’t see all my options, but I do know what it’s like to feel trapped.
    I find the article itself to be helpful in describing passive aggressive abuse, but I’m sad to hear about your experience with the author.

    I want to encourage you to explore this forum: I think that there you’ll find women who will understand and give much better feedback and support. The administrators have all come from an abusive relationship, and are non-judgmental and caring.

    Thank you for sharing in my blog.


    • Exodus says:

      Thank you so much for the link. I think that Ms. Meyer just wanted money…in other words, had no good advice unless I was willing to become her client. Nonetheless, her response was truly cold and left me in a much worse place than I was before I contacted her.
      I will indeed look into the forum you suggested and thanks for sharing your blog with everyone. When I read your title…’ in PJ’s’…I knew I had to read more. as I find myself in PJ’s most of the time anymore. PJ’s- sleep-walking attire. I feel like I’m sleepwalking all the time through a really bad dream.


      • WritesinPJ's says:

        It is still technically morning, but I’m responding to you in my pj’s, and quite likely to be in them until I throw on a pair of sweat pants to take a walk later. I’m feeling zero energy at the moment, but I decided that even if my hands feel tied, I can find ways to wiggle my fingers.

        That’s it right now, sweats or pj’s. Not having a normal wardrobe or a more functional life at the moment felt like one of the most humiliating things, so I decided to take that and hang it out there. If someone is going to judge me at that point, I’d rather they didn’t read further.


        • Exodus says:

          i think a lot of people can relate to our sleep walking attire that just won’t admit it. I myself have elevated my standard wardrobe with LL Bean Perfect Knit Pants. I highly recommend them for those moments when you want to play ‘ dress-up’. I still love my PJ’s though. I have on my fleece PJ’s from Kmart and I will wear them the entire day most likely until I get a shower and change into a new set. The most humiliating part of this is that every so often my neighbor will come over for something and I answer the door at 3pm in my PJ’s. I dont think they have ever seen me in anything else. I always wonder what they must think of me….the lazy wife who has the wonderful husband who works so hard? Yeah, probably.


        • Violet says:

          Every journey begins with a single step; make a decision to do what is best for you only; plan your escape carefully and meticulously but never ever give up. Bullies feed on fear; do you let him get to you; feel your own power within; if you have no other choice go to a shelter they will take you ; there are also pro bono lawyers; even a church might help you but do not give up. You are special no matter what anyone says. I came back from where you are so can you.


  3. BrokenShell says:

    Hi, I am 26 years old. @ 25 years old, I married my long time bf (5 years). Today, after reading a lot of articles, I just found out that I married PA man. I hate myself because I let him blamed me for all our conflicts through the years. I used to read a lot of books just to improve myself thinking I was the problem. If something is wrong, I tried to open up with him but he always ignores me, refuses to be intimate, withdraws and punishes me. It hurts so much because I KNOW HE WILL NOT CHANGE. He makes me crazy. I just can’t fix problems with him. I am frustrated. I always feel so sad and it wasn’t intentional. I wanted to kill myself. I felt unloved. I hate myself for finding out too late that he is PA man. I should have had save myself from pain and miseries.


  4. MJ says:

    I read through Exodus’ responses. A friend of mine did just what Ms. Meyers’ so bluntly suggested. She had three daughters, no job, and nowhere to go. She packed up and walked. Put everything she could in her Volvo. I remember it clearly. Her husband was not a great guy. I have always remembered my friend’s decision and how she went about leaving. How hard it was for her and her kids. For her, there was no option in staying. For some of us, we simply don’t see the option in going. All we see are limitations. How my friend saw going as an option with little to no resources I’ll never know, but she did. It’s admirable in a way. But, for many of us, the only way it will ever get better for us as individuals is leaving the relationship. I know that. So, I think that making a plan and being savvy is probably the best plan. We have been so filed down and eroded by the relationship that we don’t see clearly anymore. We only see what we don’t have coupled with only seeing them–the men in our lives. We have been conditioned to respond/react to their behaviors. We are the yin to their yang. So, building a life within the relationship, building a self, making an exit strategy, addressing identity issues, and getting some financial means together if possible as well as addressing job issues are the best things to do IF the relationship is safe enough. If we perceive that we can. That perception means a lot.

    Not to defend Ms. Meyers, but if someone emailed in a suicidal state, then I would probably advise them to get the hell out as soon as possible, too, because their suicidal ideation would indicate that the relationship is not safe. The first rule is to always be safe, and if we are not safe, then we get to a place of safety. Women’s shelters often know attorneys who work pro bono. So, it is my guess that Ms. Meyers believed that the situation was dire based upon the suicidal ideation–not that there was eating of bonbons going on. I am, however, willing to be wrong. I don’t even know who Ms. Meyers is.


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