The Passive-Aggressive Narcissist

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.

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.


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About Alexander Burgemeester

8 Responses to “The Passive-Aggressive Narcissist”

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  1. Friend says:

    Helpful article! It reinforces the approach I have been taking, which seems to be effective so far. But I’m not sure if the person is just startled at this point or truly subdued by being held accountable by means of calm, clear communication that consistently ignores the blame/self-pity tacks.

    Thank you for sharing this valuable information.

    PS: In your bio, change the word “nursery” to “nursing.”

  2. Russ says:

    Interesting article! But I think Passive-aggressive personality disorder is actually narcissistic personaly disorder. I mean they are one and the same. If you read Karen Horneys description of what she calls persons “Going away from others”, you will se that there is no such a thing as passive-aggressive disorder. What Horney described is called nowadays “Vulnerable Narcissism”! In psychiatric litterature one can read about co-morbidity and for exemple Millon writes that Passive-aggressive disorder can mimic many other disorders. But it seems to me that it is narcissism which is the mimicing one! Right from the start when I read About PAPD, I could see that everyting about PAPD was already said by Horney. As you know PAPD was removed from DSM-IV to Appendix B. Best Regards.

  3. Chris says:

    That article gives also behaviour of abused persons, so is a person condemned passive-agressive, because they have been taught since birth that they feelings and opinions don´t matter. Or that any assertiveness is a no-no, and considered rebellion.

    Because I´ve done all those listed things, and my parents did them, except criticism of authority was unreasonable criticism of me. So that list also provides nice list of ammo for abuse too.

    And no, this was not meant to be passive-agressive outburst, I´m just upset about the fact that every quirk seems to labeled major disorder.

  4. Tish says:


    While I can sympathize with your abuse–which most likely shaped your maladaptive personality (and make no mistake, if you identify with these traits, your personality is maladaptive)–I can tell you, being married to, parenting and now divorcing a passive-aggressive narc is HELL.

    You are correct: Most personality disturbed people (Narcs, Borderlines, Anti-socials, et al) WERE abused as children. It is unfortunate. However, it IS NOT AN EXCUSE for malignant, maladaptive, passive-aggressive and vindictive behavior toward others.

    I’ll give you my story, and a word of caution: If you do not address any traits of passive-aggressive narcissism, this can happen to you.

    My STBX was horribly abused physically, emotionally and psychologically by his mother (who is borderline). To this day, despite his attempts to distance himself from her, he still LONGS FOR HER LOVE, and this inability to ever have this, angers him, and drives his pathological need to hurt others. What’s sad is that She will NEVER give him this–as (guess what) SHE WAS ABUSED BY HER MOTHER and lacks the empathy required for human attachment. As such, he will go the rest of his life, transferring his anger and pain onto others. Most likely intimate partners.

    While I can (and do) empathize with his abuse, I NO LONGER GRANT HIM IMMUNITY WHEN HE CHOOSES TO HARM OTHERS.

    As I told my STBX: “What happened to you is horrible, yet I DID NOT CAUSE THIS; and I will no longer be made the target of your misplaced anger.”

    Unfortunately, his maladjusted and malignant passive-aggression has cost him his family, his marriage, his reputation, his financial security, et al. While tragic, it has cost me my self-esteem, my health (psychological and physical), my financial standing (as he’s maliciously attempted to destroy my credit, INCLUDING DEFAULTING ON A FEDERAL TAX REPAYMENT), my friends, and my career. Now I do NOT blame him solely, as I CHOSE to place myself second to him, thinking I was being a “good wife”; and not realizing that I was actually supply for a passive-aggressive narcissist. Yet, when I could no longer blindly excuse his cruelty, and decided to divorce him, he has rewritten history, made himself the victim, and completely blames me for EVERYTHING that went wrong in our marriage. Hence, justifies any mistreatment from him to me during the divorce (which, is only MY misinterpretation of his behavior, BTW).

    So, while I *get* that he’s abused, he’s also a 41 year old medical professional AND HAS NOT SOUGHT PROFESSIONAL HELP NEEDED TO HEAL.

    He is very well aware of personality disorders and at some point, he needs to take responsibility for his own pain, and HIS TRANSFERENCE of his pain onto others in his immediate family. Since I don’t ever see this happening–as he BENEFITS from passively-aggressively frustrating, manipulating and hurting others– I have no sympathy for him. I just want him out of my life.

    And if you do NOT address any passive aggressive personality traits, this can unfortunately happen to you.


    • Jimmythesaint says:

      TISH ,

      Thankyou for sharing that . You have just made me open my eyes . I was also seriously abused by my mother exactly how you described your STBX . It was and is absolute hell .
      I have lost two partners who i loved and i couldn’t really control how i acted , and although i didnt want to believe what i was doing i knew i was re-acting out what i knew best .
      Just to keep it short , i suppose the abused becomes the abuser . No matter how hard i try not to do it the monster creeps out eventually .
      My mother was a trully awfull person , i’ve never heard another person say such degrading , spiteful and evil things .
      hopefully you have atleast saved 1 person …… Me….

  5. vanessa says:

    Thanks for your opinion. In my experience, people who complain about passive-aggressive behavior are usually passive-aggressive themselves.

  6. nina says:

    In my opinion, everyone does some of this behavior sometimes. The P. A. that I was manipulated by, has the nicest demeanor to the outside world. He would make an excellent diplomat. Reading about P.A.behavior has helped me recognize it in the moment and avoid being manipulated. Until a person has been entirely taken over by these masters of manipulation the concept of passive- aggressive behavior doesn’t seem too abusive, important or valid to an outsider. This opinion of outsiders creates even more pain for the person living this type of confusing, covert abuse.

  7. Leslie Hamilton says:

    I had a passive-aggressive-narcissistic domineering Mother who demanded that her children never tell anyone outside of our home what she was like or what she did inside it – so she knew it was wrong.
    We covered for her because if not we were severely beaten, ridiculed, locked in closets or dark basements and much more. Outside of our home, I would not recognise her as the same person. She was wonderful. Her justification for treating her kids like this was that her husband wasn’t home enough, didn’t take her out enough, didn’t give her enough spending money etc..
    At age 4 I was treated for malnutrition because I went days without meals.
    As I grew older I began threatening to tell others about her if she didn’t stop.
    I even went next door for help a few times when she misbehaved. She would lie and shake her head in front of them saying I was so difficult. They comforted her. I was able to protect my two young brothers by telling others but insufficiently. My father didn’t believe what I told him about her abuse – I think it was too incredible for him although he was aware of her ‘spoiled brat’ behaviour, he couldn’t accept that she would be cruel to her kids. When he was around, she picked on him and was motherly toward us. He died at age 52, right after he phoned me to say he was sorry and I didn’t know what he was talking about at the time. He was a kind and generous man.
    She lived till age 92. She spoke to me about her treatment and apologised when she was in her late 60ies. I have to say she made a huge effort to be a reasonable person and her behaviour improved until she met a man and remarried – then he was her target. My daughter is just like her. My brothers require constant reassurance from their wives and are truly incapable of having a normal marriage. I assume I was passive aggressive early in my life but I truly don’t know and have been seeing psychiatrists since I was 17 in an effort to ensure my normalcy. I believe that I’m just a normal neurotic person now as I have been told I’m well adjusted and well balanced and I always monitor myself.
    It is undoubtably one of the worst personality disorders. The manipulation, deceit and controlling games are unbelievable -and they don’t care because everything only relates back to them. I rebelled and have defied and will not mistreat another because the thought of being like my Mother is not acceptable to me. The puzzling part is that if I can accomplish this by recognizing what I considered at the time to be a crazy Mother and then refusing to inherit and become the same, why can’t others? or is it why don’t others? My daughter was difficult from an early age. Arguing, being disobedient and being destructive. She would ask me for something and if I sad no, she would ask her grandmother who would smile at me and tell her yes. My Mother and I had fights over this but of course the answer was to get a better-paying job so I could get my own apt.. My husband btw, refused to remain married to me because of my Mom. I have taken training in applied psychology and more but cannot help my brothers now.
    My daughter treats anything she learns as a means to be more convincing in her con-artistry. She is governed totally by her wants and has a flare-up temper if she doesn’t get what she wants. She is 55 and never married. She will do anything for attention and considers herself an expert in everything and of course she is bossy.
    I am alone and know I will get no help from her as I age if I require any. I have to figure out what I can do for myself. My Mother left most to my brothers and the youngest of them tried to take or break what was left to me. He was 57. How sad is all of this. So many people hurt by a personality type.
    When I see the predestined lives of people when only one at the start is disordered and how it spreads like a cancer, I can’t help but wonder why it is taking so long to find the eraser. I live happily because I have many hobbies and a few good friends whom I value highly. I also write short stories that are humorous and they take me away while I write them. What will happen to my daughter and my brothers in their senior years? – And does it even matter, since nothing will ever be good enough for any of them anyway.

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