Don’t You Hate it When Someone Says They’ll Do Something, but Don’t. Ever

Posted by in Louise Behiel, Psychology | 83 comments

I so enjoyed writing about psychopaths last week that I decided to take a look at some other personality disorders. They’re a fascinating bunch of behaviors that drive the rest of us ‘normies’ totally crazy.  The problem is, as we noted with Psychopaths, often people with these disorders live very ordinary lives although the people around them usually are frustrated, confused and angry.

Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder is no longer included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Manual.  I’m not sure why it was dropped, (I think it’s up for more study) but que sera.  People with this cluster of traits are still hard to live or work with.

By the name, you can probably tell some of the symptoms of this disorder. On the one hand, these people are very easy to get along with.  They’ll agree to almost anything.  But, try to get them to finish anything.  Good luck.

Their behavior is contradictory and inconsistent. On the one hand, they’re extraordinarily agreeable but on the other, their performance is sadly lacking and can sometimes be damaging.  It’s all about looking good but remaining in control.

People with this cluster of symptoms usually avoid as much responsibility as they can. They may be master procrastinators, never finishing anything. Or they may claim chronic forgetfulness. And lastly they usually perform your requests in a totally incompetent manner.  They’re very good at completing things on their list, but you’ll rarely get anything out of them.

The simplest way to tell if you’re dealing with a Passive Aggressive person is to listen carefully to them.  If you hear “I’m sorry” regularly, odds are you’ve been caught in their smiling web of inefficiency.

A common symptom is chronic lateness (don’t go ballistic because you’re always late – there may be other reasons for your behavior).  And of course this is always accompanied by a sincere and meaningful apology. Until next time when they’re late again. One of the clues that you’re dealing with someone who has this disorder is when you start telling them events start earlier than fact – so that you have a chance of them arriving on time.

Another cluster of symptoms is blaming, complaining and making excuses. Passive Aggressive people always have a reason for their failure. It’s always somebody else’s fault.  At a minimum, their failure is because of their poor memory.  I once had a client whose husband ‘forgot’ to tell her her brother was in the hospital.  Not his fault, he forgot.  And he was so sorry.

Some people with this disorder go through life with a perpetual smile on their faces.  You would never know to look at them, that they’re angry and resentful at you and will do anything to make you look silly, foolish or incompetent by their failure to follow through. And it is hard to see their stubbornness for what it is – a desire to do anything that will make you look bad.

Other are openly angry and resentful – of the power they give you, of your supervisory role in the company or your bigger house.  Whatever. The cause of the anger and resentment is irrelevant.

Another common statement from these folks is “I can’t”. What they should add is “I won’t, because I fear I might fail”. Since everything is a competition to these folks and the risk of failure is the most important aspect of every decision they make, they rarely try anything new.  Rather there’s always an excuse for why they won’t do something new (this can even extend to trying new foods), whether those reasons make sense or not.

So think of a smiling, cheerful woman, who is always helpful.  She is around all the time, volunteers regularly and enjoys the prominence of being part of the team.  BUT she over promises and under-delivers every time. Maybe she says she got sick. Or misunderstood. Or her cat/dog/son/niece got sick. There’s always a reason why she doesn’t follow through on her commitment and inevitably, her failure makes you look bad.  Worse, if you bring her pattern of behavior to her attention, she’ll be hurt and angry. And tell the world.

Nice, isn’t it?

Now remember, no diagnosing your siblings or in-laws.  That’s not fair. I’d love to hear if you’ve met or dealt with people like this. Is there a way to make this type of person a minor character in a book?  Would you want to?


  1. Wow! This thread is certainly spanning the years, and what a great one it is indeed.

    I would have to admit, the reason I ended up here was due to the fact I’d forgotten the word for someone whom often promises to do something but either half delivers if at all.

    I hate to admit it, but I would fall into this category, along with being passive.

    I’m a weird type, I hate conflict with a passion, but I can negotiate and resolve it very well indeed when it arises (one time a bloke 3times the size of me was about to absolutely punch my lights out, I turned it around to him buying me a drink and helping me out)

    I always seem to have way too much on my plate, even when unemployed I was busy every day.

    My life is hectic and I’m aware how to fix it, there are things right now that are sort of out of my control but are ultimately detrimental, for instance > paying off a car I need, paying for an investment property that failed to be an investment only a money pit 300km away, life Financials, and child support < these things are making me work 2 jobs, without being able to find time to get further in life or deliver on my agreements.

    It's a trap I'm in..

    If I don't work these ridiculous hours, I can't afford to pay my bills, so the property has been on market for a year without a single bite, I've tried as hard as I can to study into business to land a better job in analytics, (managed to get cert 2 in Business so far but further study requires funds I don't have or can't afford to pay back)

    I find myself being upset or worried a hell of alot if I have offended anyone (to this I've been taken greatly advantaged of but still haven't learnt my lesson) and usually go out of my way to help others alot.
    I also usually always place myself second to everyone else and I end up paying for it by missing out on personal goals or plans I had for myself making me upset (not so much aggressive though, just upset and depressed a little)

    I've worked extremely hard all my life in laboring jobs that have been the lowest paying jobs, and literally only have my car and investment to show for it (sell both and Ill be left with 30k Max)

    I've tried so very hard so many times so many different ways and things and jobs and strategies and methods and therapy and homeopathy and you name it, I've done it.
    I'm a chef, gardener, logistics officer, desk support for IT, rigger, forklift driver, Truck driver, and at the moment, caravan repairer half the time and pizza chef the other.

    I don't want to be classified as passive aggressive or a procrastinator, it just seems as though I'm constantly stuck in a hard place with a positive attitude.

    Sorry for the rant (there's the sorry part!) I just felt the need to not procrastinate about leaving a comment, and possibly hope that there is a different category I fall into other than aggressive (I've never once hit anyone my entire life and the worse Ive done is punch a hole in a wall that I patched up the very next day)

    So yea, I do hate it when I can't deliver on my own promises, or get dubbed as passive aggressive, I take responsibility and own my actions, but I just don't seem to be able to think of others enough to satisfy 100 percent.

  2. My whole marriage! I want to vomit……It’s always “Im sorry.” It took years to follow through with items in the house….years to follow through with (and yet still waiting) for follow through on a specific personal item in the area of intimacy. I’m always waiting! It’s soooo passive aggressive. Half listens, I’m constantly repeating myself….Half-promises….and still waiting! What boundary lines can I draw to stop myself from constantly being hurt or disappointed?

    • one definition of ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. People are who they are and they don’t change unless they have a strong personal reason to do so. the best you can do is live in reality about these circumstances and not expecting others to be anything other than they are. We all have to remember that tigers can’t change their stripes. People can, but it takes a lot of dedicated effort, time and energy to do so. and you wanting them to change isn’t any of that.

      good luck

  3. I just terminated an employee who was working part-time and remotely who was like this. She’d agree to anything I asked her to do in email but would simply not do it. She’s show up at our next face-to-face meeting without having done the task, and also seemed utterly oblivious to the idea that she was supposed to have done it.

    She was punctual for most meetings with a couple of very notable exceptions in which I didn’t learn of her inability to make them until a few minutes after the meetings were supposed to have begun. While she offered perfunctory “I’m sorries” there was no effort on her part to acknowledge how she might have inconvenienced me, and she put it on me to reschedule.

    She was the most utterly incurious person I ever met, even though we worked together on a stimulating intellectual project. She never asked a single question about me — a welcome break from my day job colleagues who are constantly probing me about my love life, my finances, etc, but still very strange. And she never, ever contacted me with questions about work, i.e. “What should I be doing?” or “How should I work on this?”

    Remarkably, when I hired her, she told me she could work 30+ hours/week (and even commented that I paid lucratively). I was looking for much less, but she was happy with the offer of 6 hours face-to-face and 6 at home. It turned out she was utterly unable to give more than 2 hours from home, and often times she worked zero (of course after agreeing to accomplish 6 hours worth of work). She never informed me that her schedule had filled up.

    She was pleasant face-to-face, seemed imaginative and creative, and quite aware and worldly, but often seemed to oblivious to details of our mission that I had mentioned when I a) advertised the position, b) interviewed her, and c) repeated again in our first meeting.

    I’m culpable here, too, for letting this drag on for so long and for not being more direct about calling her out on her bad habits.

    She does not seem narcissistic, but does seem to lack empathy. To her credit she was not big on excuse-making, but this may stem partly from being oblivious to the notion that she’d agreed to do something to begin with.

    Finally, she was surprised when I terminated her.


    • people like this often live in their own version of the world which wouldn’t include any alternative viewpoints or expectations. so this isn’t really surprising but also very confusing. you’re well rid of her

  4. My sister constantly says she is going to do something, mostly come and visit, but then she’ll call and say she can’t and start making excuses. The last time this happened I really needed her to be with me due to my husband’s illness and again, she wasn’t there for me. I have decided to just not ansser if she calls again and avoid her. Unfortunately this is not the first time, but I want it to be the last. I am dealing with very strong emotions about this as life is passing by and all I get are disappointments from her.

    • Former behavior is a good predictor of future behavior. Unless your sister actively works to change, she won’t. Best yo figure out how to be happy without her support.

      Good luck.

  5. My boss is a person like this. She promises a lot and never deliver anything. She likes to procrastinate extremely. A simple favor that can be done within an hour, she took more than 7 weeks and still not delivering. While every time she said she will get this done “early next week”, “tonight”, “later today”.

    I can’t easily change jobs, because I’m a foreign national living in the US, with visa restrictions on job seeking. Although I think I can find good career opportunities back home country.

    So I don’t know how to deal with a difficult person like her. The question is should I keep suffering by dealing with her just for the stupid American dream? Or just leave the country and stop dealing with a difficult person like her, and make my life easier?

    • Unfortunately, I can’t help you decide whether to stay in the US or not, but i’d certainly be looking back home to see if there’s work in your field. or you can understand that she won’t complete anything on time. it does no good to expect anything more from her. When I’ve had a boss like this, I have followed up every meeting with an email saying “to confirm our conversation, you will deliver such and such on this date or at this time.” then it’s on her and you’ve covered your backside, so she can’t come back on you about the delay.

      i’m sorry you’re in this situation. It is tough for everyone.

  6. It’s really difficult when both your parents are like this and you are the only (adult) child. It’s worse still when people who are psychological and therapeutic “professionals” tell you that it’s “ridiculous” and that “there’s no way” that two people can act like this – all the while those same professionals completely ignore the fact that, as you say, they’ve dropped the description from their own diagnostic manuals as they, the professionals, can’t handle those personality types any better than you can.

    I’m honestly not sure what we’re supposed to do when we can’t even get support to move on with our lives from the “healing professionals” — especially when they start depending on YOU to be the “functional person” as they age but they haven’t provided you with any of the tools you were supposed to have been able to learn in your formative years in order to BE the functional one at that level.

    • Have yo ever had your car fixed by a lousy mechanic and it broke down a few weeks later. Or a frig or something else? same is true with professionals…they’re not all worth the time and money we spend on them. then we have to find someone else.
      good luck

  7. My boyfriend! He is always saying he will come over…and never makes it out, or does at 10:30-11 p.m. perfectly well knowing I get up for work at 3:30 a.m. I have heard every excuse you can think of. And when he tells me he will be over and I tell him that I know better. He gets mad at me! He is always saying he will fix this or that for me…but of course he never does cuz he never makes it over. He seems to think that I’m rude when I get mad because his excuse is someone else came over and needed him to fix something for them. I tell him that he should have told them he had plans and he’d do it later. Then I’m in the wrong, and he cant do that to his friends yet he can do it to me. The person he claims to love so much.

    • Do you see the manipulation here? you are set up to wait for him and on him but then he never shows up. and you’re to blame if you raise the issue. his behavior is not going to change. EVER. so decide to accept it with a laugh and knowing what is going on or get out of the relationship. Because this is the best he will ever treat you.

  8. Hello Louise,

    I actually run into this a lot with trying to invent a product. I’m not a software developer, but I have some pretty good ideas for applications. So I generally put out there on a blog or a website or via networking that I am looking for a developer to help me build this and go in on a patent. It requires a lot of work on the business side and upfront costs, which I tell them that I’ll take responsibility for so that we can divide the work equally.

    Most developers tell me the code is easy and that they can do it. They’ll act really interested in the idea but then not follow through. They generally react very emotionally, sometimes mocking or lashing out at me. They actually all have had this habit of going on vacation as soon as I tell them the idea and then not showing up for three weeks. When they do talk to me they’ll boast about their vacation to me and then give me deadlines which they’ll then slowly move the goal posts, having some kind of excuse for not doing it (personal problems, busy with work). I actually have some concern telling people the idea because they get so reactive emotionally.

    I guess my question is how do I exit these situations. Trying to console them and telling them they can say “No” and are not responsible for the project and trying to reassure them that they aren’t letting me down doesn’t seem to work. I cannot generally get any kind of answer out of them. A lot of times they”ll hide. They’ll often insult me. Everything but simply say they dont want to do it and what their doubts are.

    I often think they’re afraid of success and are maybe trying to deliberately stonewall to prevent me from continuing with the idea without them. That could be part of the vacation stuff because it’s almost bragging.

    Part of me thinks that perhaps when they start behaving this way I should disappear on them. But I want to be ethical and professional, so I don’t agree with that approach.

    • sounds like you need a contract to get started, something with penalties for non-delivery built in. Usually when we have repetitive problems, it’s a problem on my side – I’m not vetting well enough or I’m not clear enough in my expectations or I haven’t built in the consequences of the failure to deliver. Sometimes with family and social occasions, it’s hard to make these changes, but in a business environment, we have to be tough.

      good luck

  9. I have had a couple of people in my life who literally will sat anything they think I want to hear but then almost never follows through. Even when there is nothing to gain by doing so, they will promise things and not deliver. I would assume this behavior would fall under this. It’s frustrating and I’ve even asked them to stop doing it but they won’t. Then they always have excuses (like mental issues) as to why they can’t or won’t but then turn around and say something they think.I want to hear again. It’s just a terrible situation but I do think they mean well.

    • Perhaps they mean well. The question I’d ask you is why do you have these people in your life? is there something that you’re getting from their behavior? I don’t mean that in a nasty way, but usually there’s something for us in tolerating this behavior. If you figure it out, let me know.

      good luck

  10. I have a friend that pulls out a idea, Lets join karate, or judo. Oh you yoga? Ill come with you this week to try it out. On and on. Then just forgets about it, or loses intrest ,i dont know. Drives me crazy lol. Why suggest doing things and never follow through?

    • perhaps the better question is why do you tolerate it? This behavior, if consistent is rude at the least and something worst at the most. Have you talked to your friend about this behavior? I’d start there and then figure it out. either the ‘friend’ changes or it doesn’t. then you get to decide that either it’s the way they are and you’re not going to let it bother you because you value their friendship so much, or you find a different friend.

      good luck

  11. My sister and I had kids,used to call each other and plan what days were best for our families to meet for Birthdays, holidays, with our families and children. My parents and brothers didnt care because they didnt have young kids. Invariably, my sister would leave soon after we got there or right after the meal and say they had an “event” for one of her kids. One time she got a call and raced out of the house saying her son had a play date with a kid… I said we just got there.. and she ran out and said she had to do this…..

    As a result, the cousins did not get to know each other. There were also several events planned where we would get together and at the last minute she would always cancel and my favorite excuse was that it was “family day” because her husband was home…

    The latest was my daughter had a church blessing. We planned the church even and reservations at a restaurant right after.. I double checked a couple days before and she could still come… and my sister and her 2 kids came to the church and said they had to leave after the ceremony because one of her kids had to work at a new job. We all know that she could have gotten a ride home with anyone, but choose to do this..

    I have bent over backwards to make this work, and I am just plain sick and tired of her lies and excuses. So my son is graduating and I told her she is invited, but if you say you are coming then come, but dont make an excuse at the last minute why you are not coming, and I called her out on the church blessing fiasco. She called me controlling!!! I said that Im fine with that…

    After all these years I had no idea she hated me this much. My life is wonderful. I have a great husband and kids, nice home and had a wonderful career after I graduated from college. She never finished and blamed her husband for not being able to finish.. I would say only 1 class a semester and next thing you will be done.. She is a secretary with the schools and found out her husband had a girl friend on the side.. they were caught at a local restaurant together (not very smart) by our parents!! She divorced him and filed for bankruptcy because they both were spendaholics. She now lives in low income housing down down the street from my parents nice home in the community she grew up in. As I looked back on this, I can recall it happening when she got married…so It did not start with the cheating spouse.. and it was probably long before that. She was popular in school so I think she has always had this superiority conplex with me…

    • the interesting thing about these kinds of people is that we can speculate forever on why they do what they do but we’ll never know for sure. I had to give up that search and just get on with my life.

      it is sad the cousins don’t know each other but it’s more important that your children have good solid relationships among themselves and with their parents.

      the question I’d ask is why do you continue to invite her? if you get put upon every time, then I’d stop sending invitations, except in matters where there are no costs to be borne, like an at home party.

      if she complains, I’d explain that since her life is so busy and she is rarely able to attend or ‘finish’ an event, you thought to save her the hassle and worry. she won’t like this. she will call you controlling and probably some other things, but really, what have you lost?

      we all have this ideal of what families should be, but they’re often not like that at all. if they aren’t family, as you would like it, then they aren’t family – they are people who share genetics with you.

      if, on the other hand, you do want a relationship with this sister, then you’ll have to find a way to accept her and her behavior as it is, for it won’t change. The point is that you are entitled to peace and serenity and you get to decide which decision will contribute the most to that emotional state.

      tough choices, I know but very very common

      good luck

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  13. I have that problem with a friend of mine…she always says she’s going to come over, but then something always happens that is “out of her control” and then I don’t hear from her until I contact her. Then she finally tells me what’s going on…It’s super frustrating and I know this is how she is, but I still try to make plans with her…I don’t know how to distance myself without being rude or mean because she brings out the mean side of me because of how inconsistent she is!!! I tell her that she hurts my feelings and that I always get my hopes up, but all she has to say is I’m sorry. Well, sorry doesn’t always cut it, ya know?? After many years of it happening ya just start to get fed up! what gives???

    • just tell her you are dumping her and tell her why. I just did with a “good” friend if mine that did that to me so many times it isn’t even funny. Her excuses sounded real and out of her control too. It came to a head when she planned a Xmas get together at my house with my friends. Then, called an hour before and said her mother was sick and couldn’t make it. And, she had to take care of her mother. I called her two weeks later and told her I didn’t believe her excuse, that I never had believed anything and that I could not be her friend anymore. She turned it around and said I was selfish. I haven’t spoken to her now in about a year. Let the bells of freedom ring! I did not deserve that kind of treatment. I am sooooo happy! And now, I ONLY have reliable friends. If anyone starts to even squeak a little like unreliable…..later days bitches.

  14. Comment

  15. Terrific explanations. You really make hard concepts easier to digest. 🙂

  16. Great post, Louise! I love the way you explain things. So: can you come over to my office and straighten out a few of my colleagues? 😉 I truly think Passive Aggressive needs to go back in the DSM.

    • how nice to ‘see’ you here. I’d love to chat wiht a few of your colleagues and yes Passive Aggressive definitely needs to be in the DSM. It’s so destructive.

  17. Wanted to just say “hi” but AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! From the archives of the C family! My Go* how sorry we all are!!! 😉 Or we didn’t mean to …. YOU are overreacting. Great to be a grown-up and dealing with my own sh**! At least i can take responsibility for my faults, and save the judgment for the passive aggressive. 😉

    • You are so right. well done. deal with your stuff and leave them to theirs.

  18. I did know a person like this, and for someone like me who feels a real sense of responsibility, it’s particularly difficult because when things didn’t get done, I was the one who had to pick up the slack. Perhaps that was enabling, but when my reputation (in this case, grade since I was in school) hung on it, I felt like I didn’t have a choice.

    • they always find us responsible ones…LOL and of course you have to make choices about how far you go and why. if you’re clear, then you’ll be fine and it sounds like you were.

      • ” if you’re clear, then you’ll be fine”

        I wish this were always the case, but it doesn’t seem to be.

        Especially when each of the Passive-Aggressive Charmers in one’s life has also accumulated a corps of Flying Monkeys.

        • for me, it’s my choice which is of charmers I play with. and when. handling that makes it much easier.

  19. Now that I have written my response and deleted it several times…what if this person is a total go-getter in one environment and then completely morphs into the passive/aggressive in another? What does that make them? And their actions often make the all-the-time go-getter usually late for planned meetings and events, something they were never used to before?

    What is the person who simply won’t commit to a decision one way or the other? It’s always “maybe” or Let me think about it.”

    I know a few of these in my life and they have been very close to me. One got so bad we started telling him things started hours before they really did. Once he showed up so proud that he was on time for a change and I had to inform him he was 24 hours late. Oops.

    Dealing with these personality types is frustrating and exhausting. Your post are very insightful and enlightening. Thank you, Louise.

    • This individual must totally frustrating for you – it would drive me crazy. But actually it’s not all that uncommon. Let me paint a picture, since I’m not diagnosing…If he has a strong desire to succeed and is driven by those needs for accomplishment, recognition and financial rewards, then he will of course do really well in the corporate world. But if he is unaware of or fails to meet his emotional needs then it is not unlikely that he will become passive aggressive in his personal life. His personal code of ethics won’t allow him to fail at relationships, but his code will allow him to make life miserable for the people around him who meet those emotional needs – or want to. And sometimes, all the stuff at work that can’t come out (because of the drive to succeed) gets driving into his personal life, making the people around him crazy. The base cause of Passive Aggression is anger and frustration – that he hasn’t succeeded enough, or that these emotional demands on his time are taking him away from important things.

      this has nothing to do with your question but I offer it as a question: I wonder sometimes if having an affair isn’t a passive aggressive way of ending a marriage. I don’t want to be the bad guy and I don’t want to just say ‘I’m out of here’, so I fall in love with someone new, then can justify leaving – because I deserve to be happy. I didn’t intend this to happen. It caught me by surprise. Although the result for the other partner is devastating, it’s not my fault because I fell in love. (ignoring the fact that if I hadn’t put myself in the place of being willing to have an affair, it wouldn’t have happened.

      I don’t feel like i’ve answered your question very well, Debra, but I don’t want to get into analysis either. Feel free to follow up, if you choose.

  20. Characters in a book… don’t know if I’d do one, but I’m guessing Bartleby the Scribner was PA! He was so annoying, I hated that story when we had to read it in high school!

    My brother is ALWAYS late to family gatherings. I don’t think he’s PA, but my mom has theorized it’s his way of having “control” over the event and us. We usually just start eating without him (and assign him to bring dessert) LOL!

    • Sounds like your family has found a simple and positive way to deal with your brother’s personality quirk

  21. Hmm… Do they make grandiose promises they never keep? If so, I partnered up with one—temporarily, needless to say. It’s particularly tough to deal with this type of personality when you’re used to be a go-getter who DOES do as she says most or all of the time. I wonder if it’s not in the manual because it’s not an illness, per say, but somewhat of a choice? (Or doesn’t that matter for diagnostic purposes?) At least I THINK such people can change… But who knows, really. I do know that they won’t if we facilitate. Loving the personality posts, Louise!

    • Yes, grandiosity is part of the syndrome. they regularly seem to find partners who are doers – people who will follow through and get things done and then be criticized for being control freaks. I do believe that anyone can change is there’s enough desire. But these people generally don’t get the message that change is possible, instead they move on. Usually to another ‘control freak’ who bosses them around. LOL

  22. the worst part about being surrounded by these people is that then you end up relying solely on yourself and then people accuse you of being a control-freak when really, there’s just nobody to turn to.

    • exactly – Relationships with these folks drive us to take charge and handle everything, often to their criticism and their changes that we control everything. When I left my marriage, I rarely had a lonely day but it was because I was no longer living with this disorder. thanks for stopping by. I trust you’re taking good care of yourself in the midst of this.

  23. Glad that others saw themselves in this, as I did. I’m always late. It’s got so I don’t set times – use a walk-in haircutter, etc. I hate ticking my life off in minutes, don’t even own a watch – I’m an impulsive person who tends to get caught up in things and totally forget time, and I’m sick of feeling guilty about it. If someone wants to drop me as a friend over that, I’m okay with his/her decision. There are worse character flaws. (This sounds like making excuses to those of you who are fanatically punctual, I bet. Shrug. At least, I never mind if anyone’s late for meeting me, either.)
    On the other hand, if I commit to doing something, you can 100% count on my being there 5-10 minutes late, and staying an hour or three extra if needed to clean up or whatever.
    I can be forgetful, too. (not about ‘your brother’s in the hospital’ but lots of minor things which may not seem minor to others) and I HATE trying new foods. My taste buds are not adventurous. (Love to try white-water rafting sometime, though.)
    And I expect everyone, at some time or other, has heard themselves blaming, complaining, procrastinating or making excuses. I know I have cringed to hear these coming from my lips at times.
    I didn’t relax until you mentioned the underlying anger and resentment issues. Whew! I think I’m free of those. I couldn’t hold a grudge if I tried. (I have tried; I can’t do it. I explode if justified and then forget about it.)
    Maybe PA was dropped from the APADM because so many of the symptoms are common to every honest person, and it’s hard to measure exactly when these symptoms become so habitual they are a disorder. Maybe the real problem is the person’s afraid of conflict, and if we don’t get it out one way, we will express it in another, possibly more destructive, way?
    My mother-in-law was never late, she had different symptoms, but behind her sweet facade she was pure poison. And behind the poison, was her own insecurity and lack of self-esteem. Didn’t make it easier to swallow, I can tell you, even though from a distance I pitied her. Because these people are themselves as or more miserable than they make others.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Jane. You’re absolutely right – we all have some of these symptoms or all of them to a limited degree. Where the disorder comes from is when we live our lives wanting more but being unwilling to put ourselves out there to get it done. Along with the behavior comes an underlying lack of esteen and fear of risk (real or perceived). There isn’t a single entry in the DSM that doesn’t apply to all of us – to some degree. In the official lingo, there are quanitifiers and time lines and very formal language. I know from my experience that this is a hard one to live or work with. The failure to complete things, the constant apologizing, the forgetfulness are crazy making. I’m not talking the casual little things we all forget (during menopause I hardly knew my own name ) but more importantly the pattern of behavior that allows non-compliance or non-completion after agreement or volunterring. Since you are very clear that you always follow through, you don’t have PAPD – that very cue sets you apart from those poor folks and tells me you’re making choices and are in control of your life – to the degree that you choose. I too gave up wearing a watch a few years ago. I had become driving and anal about the time. Now, not so much. it’s all good.

  24. I’ve lived with this kind of person. I also learned a lot about exactly what enabling is. So I stopped compensating, stopped rescuing, stopped covering up. Sometimes love hurts.

    • me too. and yes, sometimes love hurts. Good for you for recognizing the behavior and stopping.

      • I grew up with a (likely) PA parent and it makes me wonder what impact it has on the children. Maybe it would be a good motivation for a hero or heroine – although it sounds like the person with PAD is incurable, but what about the child of that relationship? I’m probably completely nuts 😉 but is that ‘normal’ under the circumstances???

        • Of course, I don’t diagnose but if you step out of your family and consider a family where a parent doesn’t follow through and is unreliable and imagine a child who feels responsible, in her own way, to pick up the pieces or wants to be sure she’s is never caught in that spiral. In either picture, it would be logical for that daughter to go out and succeed at all costs – she’s deal with things that are logical and consistent and she’d work her tail off to have the success that she believes another is capable of but never delivered.

          I don’t think that’s nuts, I think it’s logical and highly likely.

          • What if the mom is a a go getter and doted on child. Does that make child pa?

            • Always depends on the child’s reaction.

  25. Yes, I’ve known plenty of people like this. This does NOT describe you, though Tawny. You do what you say and you say what you mean. However, reading the post I had a little niggling worry too wondering if this didn’t describe me a little bit. Yikes! Louise, what causes these sorts of behaviors?

    • Everyone has a little of these behaviors, but the disorder is limited to those on the far end of the spectrum – otherwise we’d all be normal. How many times have you known someone who constantly sabotaged themselves but always had an excuse. They were perfectly capable, gifted even, but never seemed to achieve their own goals but it was always someone else’s fault. Never theirs.

      As for what makes this disorder, No one really knows. If you grow up in a household with high demands and high expectations and you’re never good enough, you might get this way. Maybe you’re born with this. Definitley more research is needed. What i think is sad is that these people limit their own accomplishments and success so that they can ‘get’ back at someone else. What a huge loss, for them and their loved ones.

  26. Perhaps we all have PAPD to some degree. Aspergers also. Um..obsessive compulsive, manic depressive and, in my case, dyslexia, or whatever the new and PC term for that is. My custom is, if I can’t tolerate someone and term him/her “crazymaker”, (Julia Cameron) then I back off. But, I can see is as a huge benefit for a character to come in contact with an antagonist like this. Could wind the plot in 17 million directions trying to have your protagonist deal.

    • I totally agree – I think we all have somy level of dysfunction and of course I’m talking about the extremes. But a character with this cluster of personality traits would be good fodder for conflict and chaos. Isn’t Julia Cameron’s work wonderful? I love it. It’s relatively easy to read and understand.

      thanks for stopping by

    • Veronica, I have a great-nephew (soon to be 13) who has Aspergers. Everything has to be so perfect with him. He’s a genius, but his mom, my niece, worries about him being on his own when he’s an adult.

      • These illnesses are terrifying for their families. I can totally understand how frightened they are.

  27. Oh I know tons of passive agressive people. I probably am borderline PA. 🙂

    • I have no faint thought you could be PA, Tawny. None whatsoever. You’re way too much of a ‘get it done’ kind of gal.

  28. We’ve all heard the term passive aggressive, but until now I didn’t quite understand it. Thanks.

    • Glad it makes some sense now. It is a commonly used term and most of us ‘sort of know’ what it means, so you’re definitely in the majority.

  29. There is always one of these people on every committee I have ever served on. She is Suzy Cheerleader, throwing out the most impossible suggestions, whipping everyone into a frenzy, and then failing to follow through.

    • Amen, Jill. AMen. they drive me crazy always volunteering to do the most interesting, exciting things and then collapsing at the last minute. Drives me bananas.

  30. I have known people like that and have been caught waiting for them. It took me a long time to realize they would never show up. I think it is especially hard if you are the reliable type. I am not sure that it is always passive aggressive behavior. Do you think it could be mild depression? Looking back, these women were extremely stressed out with their home situations…

    You bring up an interesting point and I will have to think about narcissism as a possible personality disorder in the book I am writing now. I am thinking about making it a trilogy so it might be fun to explore mental health issues in developing characters in the next! It may simplify the motivations…Great idea!

    • personality disorders abound, Susie. they’re easy to write into a character’s make up. And yes, sometimes being chronically late is a sign of something else – but when the behavior is part of their makeup and/or majority of the ‘symptoms’ are present then it’s time to pay attention,.

  31. Louise – this is really interesting. I love your term “their smiling web of inefficiency” – what a perfect description. And that was so FUNNY – asking the couple to come in separate cars! A beautiful solution.
    I do my best to avoid this character and usually do. Occasionally I get caught, but only once. Then I never depend on them again. Thanks for an excellent post.

    • That’s the key, Suzanne – never depend on them again.

  32. My husband works with one of these. It’s a royal PITA and very draining for everyone around them. I often wonder if they thrive off the effects of their chaos or are even aware of what they’re doing. And my villain in my current WIP is passive aggressive among other things. It’s a fascinating disorder, and it is surprising it was removed from the journal. Thanks for doing such a great job of breaking it down for us, Louise!

    • Stacy, Passive Aggressive people are a royal PITA. I don’t think some of them realize their effect on the rest of the world. Others are aware and they thrive on the chaos. What I find interesting is that we can tell them and tell them and tell them and nothing. I have had several couples in for counseling and when one of the partners has this disorder, it results in chaos. I recommended that they come in two cars, because she was always late. He and I would start on time and then she’d fly in. I refused to go over what she’d missed. a 2PM appointment means 2PM. After about 6 weeks, she exploded at me. And then we had a discussion about her choices. Interesting to me, she was never late for an appointment again. The point is that she had to pay the price for being late. Passive aggressives always find other people to deal with the outcome of their disorder. When we stop ‘carrying their share’ (often easier said than done, I know), they have a chance to get better. But don’t hold your breath.

  33. What a great post. I know people who are always late, but it’s because they have small children. lol I do say I’m sorry once in a while just to admit I’m wrong. Do I do it too much? No! Do I procrastinate? Well, maybe! I’m getting old and slowing down. lol Okay, Louise, I have to admit some of your post hit too close to home now. It would never have applied to me when I was young though. Smile!

    • I think that’s true for all of us Sandy I forget I don’t move as fast, or think as fast, as I used to and sometimes aren’t as productive as I’d like. thanks for stopping by.

  34. Ohmigosh, I was thinking as soon as I saw this subject on the post, I need to post the winners of my contest!!! So thanks! Sometimes a little reminder is all we need. It is hard dealing with someone who is chronically late. We all get there on time, and for one person, we say, she’ll be here in 15-20 minutes. Or with another, I set the clocks ahead one year, so did my husband, and he was so mad because he was actually 30 minutes early to work that day, instead of his usual half an hour late. Oops. LOL!

    • Oops is right. it is frustrating when someone is chronically late. and yet, they have an excuse every time. If they’d see themselves as the rest of the world sees them, they’d stop that behavior immediately. Thanks for stopping by Terry.

  35. Loved this post, Louise. Yes, I’ve known people like this. The hardest part is realizing that either you accept them and go crazy, or say good-bye. I finally said good-bye. Don’t regret it and wish I’d done it years earlier.

    • Me too – took me a long time to say goodbye but I felt soooo much better after the fact. thanks for stopping by, Gerri

  36. Oh, yeah. Know a few of these. Never on time. So, so sorry. yada yada yada. As always, I give them too many chances to drive me crazy before I say, “enough!” 🙂

    • Why do we do that? Because I think most of us do. Maybe we should all have wrist bracelets that say ‘Enough’. Have a wonderful day, lovely lady.

  37. Love the post and I think these are so helpful for our writing in coming up with truly flawed characters. Do I EVER know my share of passive aggressive people…they are the most frustrating because they think themselves blameless and victims and nothing you say will ever make them change their minds. I try distancing myself! LOL!

    • You hit the nail on the head Natalie – they see themselves as victims. Nothing is ever their fault. LOL distance is the best solution.

  38. For YEARS I’ve tried to figure out someone in my life. I’ve read books, I’ve researched…and you just hit the nail on the head in one short, clear, easy-to-read article. Thank you, Louise. LOL…now I just have to figure out if there’s a more effective way to deal with this person. Would I put one in a story? Absolutely. This would be the character that drives someone to the brink of murder. 🙂

    • You’re welcome. These are very frustrating people to deal with – not dangerous, except that they tend to drive those around them to murder and mayhem. The trick is not to ask them of anything – because they usually won’t deliver anyway. We end up frustrated and angry which is predictable because of who we’re dealing with.

      • Definitely learned to never ask a long time ago because I like keeping my blood pressure in the normal range, lol.

        Reading through the other responses, I agree that these people are victims. That’s what bugs me the most. I do not deal well with people who can’t take responsibility and blame everyone else every time they screw up. Can’t handle whiners very well. 🙂

        And I’m like Roxy. I’ve heard the term most of my life, but guess I didn’t understand what passive/aggressive really was. I would picture protesters laying on the ground, not moving a muscle, and being dragged away by police (I don’t know why).

        • funy how words work, isn’t it? We hear a term and ‘sort of’ know it but then the definition/explanation clears it right up. I’m with you – I don’t like people who won’t take responsibility and won’t own up. very frustrating to deal with.

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