Although the classic narcissist is often thought of as charming, boisterous and positive (in public), they can also reflect traits of the passive-aggressive personality. They can be negativistic in outlook, blame others and engage in frequent complaining and whining. Narcissists will tell you that they will do something, but if they don’t want to do it for whatever reason, they won’t- just like the passive-aggressive personality. There are some narcissists who never display the charming, boisterous façade but only the negative personality (along with lack of empathy and other defining characteristics of NPD). A narcissist can have mild or occasional passive-aggressive traits or they can be a narcissist with a full-blown passive-aggressive personality.
A passive aggressive personality is considered (according to DSM-IV, Appendix B) when an individual demonstrates “a pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance as indicated by four (or more) of the following”:
- passively resists fulfilling routine social and occupational tasks
- complains of being misunderstood and unappreciated by others
- is sullen and argumentative
- unreasonably criticizes and scorns authority
- expresses envy and resentment toward those apparently more fortunate
- voices exaggerated and persistent complaints of personal misfortune
- alternates between hostile defiance and contrition
Traits of the passive-aggressive personality are similar to some of the significant traits of narcissism. Passive-aggressive individuals tend to feel misunderstood, under-appreciated, underpaid, and often claim they have been cheated. They consistently play the role of victim or martyr and blame others for their failures or misfortune. They chronically complain, whine and criticize.
The passive-aggressive personality frequently sulks or engages in the “silent treatment” in response to slights, real or imagined. They usually are mildly paranoid believing that they are the butt of derision and contempt and that the world is out to get them. “They may be sullen, irritable, impatient, argumentative, cynical, skeptical and contrary” (DSM). Like narcissists, people with passive-aggressive personalities are envious of those who have “more” than they do or are in a higher position; they are even envious of those who are happy. They will boldly vent their envy openly whenever they have the chance (although never to the person they are venting about). However, their boldness ceases if they are chastised or held accountable for any of their behaviors; they literally beg for forgiveness, weepingly protest, turn on the charm, and/or promise to behave in the future. That sounds uncannily similar to a narcissist when he is “caught” or held accountable. So how and where does passive-aggression overlap with narcissism?
Traits common to narcissists and passive aggressive personalities
- Negativistic outlook (many narcissists won’t exhibit this in public)
- Use denial as a frequent defense mechanism
- Manipulate and distort facts
- Do not accept (or recognize) their own feelings, actions or responsibilities
- Passively resist doing any routine, expected tasks (narcissists feel they are “above” this or will only do them if it gets them Narcissistic Supply)
- Blame others for anything and everything wrong in their lives
- Commonly complain of not being appreciated, misunderstood or under-valued
- Exaggerate their misfortunes
- Do not consider or care about other people’s feelings (although they will insist that they do)
- React with disdain, rage, and/or defiance to any slight criticism, real or imagined.
Tips for dealing with the Passive Aggressive Narcissist
Don’t feel guilty
No matter how much they will try to blame you for the misery and wretchedness in their lives, do not fall into their guilt trap. They are solely responsible for the choices, behaviors and feelings that have led them to where they are. You are not responsible for anyone’s feelings, thoughts or behaviors except your own.
Don’t continue the game
Passive-aggressive narcissists have not learned how to deal with conflict, effectively or ineffectively. Instead, they will revert to using the primitive defense mechanism of Denial or turn the tables on the other person by placing total blame/responsibility on them (or on someone else). For example, if they stand you up when you were supposed to meet or “forget” to do a task they agreed to do (at home or at work), they will either deny they ever agreed to it or blame someone or something(s) for it. A passive-aggressive narcissist will never take responsibility for his or her actions.
Don’t continue this game by arguing “the truth” or trying to persuade them. You won’t win. Express your concerns and feelings (how their actions made you feel) but do not waver from the fact that they did not do what they were supposed to do. Ignore their denial and blaming and state the consequences. Then stick to them.
Confront the behavior
Many people choose to ignore the passive-aggressive behavior hoping it will disappear with time. Ignoring passive-aggressive behavior actually increases the behavior because it reinforces the idea that the behavior is acceptable. Instead of letting the person continue the unwanted behavior, confront them privately in a calm, matter-of-fact voice. Let them know you are puzzled or disturbed by their behavior. You may want to consider telling them that if they want the relationship to continue, they must stop the passive-aggressive behavior. However, unless they are financially dependent on you, this often comes as a relief to passive-aggressive narcissists as they really don’t want, and are not capable of, any kind of genuine relationship.
Leave the relationship
If you are unfortunate enough to be in a relationship with a passive-aggressive narcissist and you sincerely desire happiness, you need to leave. If you are in business and have unwittingly hired a passive-aggressive employee, you know by now how toxic and disruptive they can be to the work environment. You may have lost good employees who left the business or department after they were forced to work in that negative environment. If at all possible, fire them or get them to quit. It’s actually not difficult to get a passive-aggressive narcissist to quit their job. You need only to start enforcing the everyday, expected rules – being on time for work, completing a time card, finishing what you start, etc. The passive-aggressive narcissist will be unable or unwilling to comply and will usually quit under the pressure. If not, they can be fired when they violate the rules of the employee contract.