Passive Anger

Q: Dr. Hurd, what’s the difference between a passive-aggressive person who is late because he’s really angry with you, as opposed to someone who’s late simply because of being flighty?

A: Your question answers itself. The passive-aggressive person is angry or otherwise annoyed–maybe with you, or maybe just in general. Because of this unexpressed and unresolved emotion, behaviors that make no sense occur as a substitute for direct expression of the emotion. The flighty person is merely flighty. There is no emotional content behind the behavior. There might be irresponsibility or simply bad habit, but there’s no anger or hostility. The passive-aggressive person means harm, while the flighty person does not. A passive-aggressive person is “retaliating” without having to take responsibility for articulating that this is what he’s doing. Although flighty people annoy me, I much prefer them over passive-aggressive people.