So, why are people passive-aggressive? According to somatic psychologist and author of Reclaiming Pleasure Holly Richmond, Ph.D., it can stem from being taught to people-please and avoid conflict, often in childhood. “They learned that conflict wouldn’t get them what they wanted so they had to present it in a nice way and be subversive about getting their needs met,” she explains.
As Muñoz adds, it can also result from being out of touch with your own anger, “because you judge it, dislike it, or fear it.” If you can’t accept your own anger—and take responsibility for it—she notes, it leaks out through your actions, words, and body language. “Often, it develops when people believe they need to control, hide, disguise or deny their anger in order to preserve their relationships with others,” she says.
And sometimes, if a person has experienced rejection after being transparent in previous relationships, Cullins notes, it can discourage them from being direct in the future. “Some people even believe it’s a safe way to get what they want without sparking confrontation,” she previously explained to mbg, “while others aren’t even aware that their behavior is passive-aggressive.”