Is the People Pleaser Passive Aggressive?

The short answer is, yes, many people pleasers are passive aggressive. What does it mean to be passive aggressive? Any act, behavior, or comment to indirectly broach an issue is passive aggression. Directly addressing an issue would be the opposite of passive aggression. Then, it only makes sense people pleasers are passive aggressive; they’re pathologically indirect. But under the passive aggression are the true emotions and feelings that people pleasers find difficult to recognize, uncover and reveal.

Passive Aggressive Behaviors

It’s important you become aware of your own passive aggressive behaviors for the betterment of yourself and people in your life. Once you’re aware, you can make necessary changes, intentionally of course. There are many ways to be passive aggressive, but here I’ve given an example of a few passive aggressive behaviors you may have witnessed or personally exhibited.


Instead of addressing a subject head on, someone might push a subject to the side. There could be many reasons for this, but for people pleasers its likely due to fear of rejection, uncomfortable feelings, or thinking that nothing will change if brought up, so what’s the point? The extreme end of avoidance is ghosting someone.

Denying Emotions
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Someone may feel angry but state they are perfectly fine. For example, at home your teenager may appear to be in a bad mood or angry, but when asked what’s wrong they might reply “nothing!”. Obviously, something is wrong. This is evident by their tone and facial expressions.


This is passive aggression in that it’s usually in the form of an indirect statement. Sometimes this may come in the form of a backhanded compliment. Other times it may be used to express frustration or annoyance.

Bad Mood

As opposed to expressing someone’s displeasure on any subject, they walk around sulking, sighing, rolling their eyes, and in a constant bad mood. This is how they show they are upset. However, if asked, they may deny being upset like the example above.

Why Be Passive Aggressive?

In my opinion, we’re passive aggressive partly because we weren’t taught how to communicate our feelings and emotions. We were told to hush up and not outwardly express any displeasing emotions. “Push that crap down and smile.” For people pleasers, that fear of rejection or the thought of someone being unhappy with them runs deep! Even if the people pleaser wants to express an emotion, they don’t know how and likely can’t put their feelings into words.

However, many types of people are passive aggressive, not just us people pleasers. Some consciously, some subconsciously, and some maliciously. I believe most people pleasers are unaware they’re passive aggressive. Also, direct healthy communication takes practice, and most days I witness adults without the ability to communicate effectively and in a healthy way.

What’s the Harm in Being Passive Aggressive?

Displaying passive aggression cultivates resentment. Where there’s resentment, there’s trouble. It will continue to grow until eventually the person is a mental mess. On the other hand, the person on the receiving end of the passive aggression is left confused, untrusting, and defensive. Think back to a time someone told you nothing was wrong, but their actions told a different story. How did you feel? Confused? You knew they weren’t being truthful. The mix doesn’t end well for anyone.

Practice Makes Perfect

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Learning to be more direct takes practice, and I still fail. For example, the other day my husband asked me something and I answered in a high-pitched voice. He immediately asks, “what’s going on, you answered in that high pitch”. I could’ve continued with “nothing’s wrong”, but I recognized I wasn’t being truthful. At that point I said “well….” and told him what was bothering me. In the past, forget it. He would’ve never known, and I would’ve been in a bad mood the rest of the day.

Recognize your passive aggression. Intentionally work on your passive aggression. Most important, apologize for your passive aggression. The apology goes a long way. As always therapy can help you recognize your passive aggressive ways and help guide you to communicate less passive aggressively. You can access online therapy at

Jenn Kemp, PMHNP, is a dedicated psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner with a personal and professional commitment to helping others overcome people-pleasing behaviors. Having navigated her own journey through these habits, Jenn combines clinical expertise with genuine empathy to guide her readers towards healthier, more authentic lives.

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