Passive-Aggressiveness Can Be Verbally Abusive

January 11, 2024 Cheryl Wozny

When many people think of verbal abuse, they picture an angry person screaming insults or spewing vicious words, but passive aggressiveness can be verbally abusive, too. Verbal abuse doesn't have to include yelling or potential threats. Sometimes, passive-aggressive verbal abuse can be just as harmful. 

Passive-Aggressive Actions that Are Verbally Abusive

While it can be simple to spot verbal abuse when it is clear, subtle comments or behaviors may be more challenging to decipher. I have experienced both blatant and passive-aggressive verbal abuse actions in my relationships.

After years of therapy, I know now that some actions I've experienced in the past are verbally abusive. A few of these examples include: 

  • Being ignored or pretending I don't exist or matter
  • Backhanded compliments that are insulting
  • Using sarcastic remarks
  • Avoiding making joint decisions
  • Refusing to participate in activities with me
  • Deliberately procrastinating to force me to complete tasks
  • Purposely making me feel uncomfortable in public

Although these examples don't seem as hurtful as screaming insults, they can lead to many negative side effects. I've experienced low self-esteem and debilitating anxiety on many occasions due to this passive-aggressive verbal abuse.

On several occasions, I was a coach for my child's sports team. One year was exceptionally awful for me, though. Although the other coaches were not openly abusive to me, they refused to listen to my input at practice or during games.

I was ignored and later realized they only asked me to participate because I had the much-needed certifications the other coaches didn't have. Because I had enough experience with passive-aggressiveness and verbal abuse, I hid the effects from my child and other parents so no one knew. This appeasing reaction allowed the other coaches to continue this harmful behavior without any consequences. 

Passive-Aggressive Verbal Abuse Promotes Appeasement 

Openly harmful verbal abuse can ignite a fight or flight response, creating a dynamic of fear. However, passive-aggressive verbal abuse relies on an individual's appeasement. The abuser is using a passive approach to get another person to appease their wants and needs. 

Often, abusers will defend themselves, refusing to acknowledge their abusive behaviors since they aren't direct insults or anger-fueled screaming matches. They put the responsibility onto the victim so they can be absolved of any wrongdoing.

In one instance, an individual steamrolled me during a game, forcing themselves into a position of authority without collaborating with me. I was unable to complete my respected coaching duties during that time, leaving my child and the other kids in a state of confusion and anxiety.  

I didn't want to make a scene in front of the children, so I settled on appeasement to get through the game. Afterward, I chatted with the other coaches and team manager about the situation and how it could not happen again. Unfortunately, they made me feel like I was overreacting, reinforcing the passive-aggressive, verbally abusive behavior. 

It can be challenging to find your voice when facing verbal abuse, especially when it comes from passive-aggressive actions. Remember that your feelings are valid, and no one should be made to feel like they are unworthy. If you have concerns about passive-aggressive verbal abuse, you can reach out to a professional for help. Your mental health matters and should be a top priority. 

APA Reference
Wozny, C. (2024, January 11). Passive-Aggressiveness Can Be Verbally Abusive, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Cheryl Wozny

Cheryl Wozny is a freelance writer and published author of several books, including mental health resources for children titled, Why Is My Mommy So Sad? and Why is My Daddy So Sick? Writing has become her way of healing and helping others. Find Cheryl on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and her blog

Leave a reply