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FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, July 23 2018

Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder

Continuing on with the sequence of dysfunctional behaviours faced by teachers in the classroom we come to perhaps the most frustrating, the students with a Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder (PAPD).  PAPD is the condition where the student on the surface seems to comply with your directions but actually resists them.  This apparent compliance hides the real drive that is to express anger at the situation.  The drive is to be accepted rather than to protect but instead of attention seeking and the consequential behaviours described in the last Newsletter this is a case where the student wants to display their anger but has been taught that this would be too dangerous.  Instead through their behaviour they evoke anger in the other person.

This way of behaving is learned in the early years in families where it is unsafe to express their anger and in many cases never being allowed to express any emotions. These children have aggressive parents who severely punish the child if he/she displays anger.  The anger that they are forced to swallow must be expressed and so is projected on to others. 

A more subtle way PAPD is developed in an environment where the parents

place excessive guilt or shame on their children when they fail to present as sociable and acceptable in the parents’ social circles.  For example when a child appropriately attempts to get their needs met by asserting their rights over other children their parents reject the behaviour as well as the child for the sake of appearing sociably ‘nice’ in the eyes of others.   The child is rejected, devalued and never taught effective behaviours for the sake of the parent’s image.

Another cause of PAPD behaviour can occur if the child is falsely overvalued.  In this scenario the child, typically male, bright is raised in a passive aggressive family.  They have an aggressive father and a mother who is submissive.  In the family the mother is unable to confront the father, get her needs met and so enmeshes the son.  As this occurs when the child is so dependent on the mother he will learn to carry her anger without learning how to express that anger.

Remembering the motivation of these children is to make you angry but without you being able to ‘blame them’.  They do things like ‘accidentally’ spilling ink onto another person’s project, walking to the door very slowly, give one word answers to your questions, they slam doors ‘too hard’ and when you confront them they insist they are ‘doing the right thing’ or it was a genuine mistake.  They take away what they think is any real evidence.

The student is passively resisting the fulfillment of work set for them putting the work off with no consideration of deadlines.  They are reluctantly joins in ‘group work’ but if forced to, they make sure the other students know he doesn’t want to be there. 

When you confront them they protest about the unreasonable demands placed on them, and resent any suggestions of help from the teacher or classmates.

There has been a long dispute as to whether or not PAPD is a developmental disability.  It has been dropped from the DSMV but whether or not it is a classified illness these kids are certainly present in many of our classrooms.

These students can be amongst the most challenging a teacher will face.  The whole motivation behind their behaviour is for you to become angry and these students soon develop a sense of which of your buttons they need to press to achieve this.  They are particularly effective in identifying areas where the teacher has a heavy personal investment.  If they take pride in the presentation of their room the PADD kid will ‘accidentally’ make a significant mess.  Or if you struggle with your weight these kids will be full of suggestions for you to deal with your ‘obvious problem’ after all they are just trying to help.   It is in these areas the PAPD student thrives. 

However there are techniques that will allow the teacher to confront the PAPD student.  These are outlined below:

  • Calmly address the behaviour without rejecting the individual.
  • Get the students to explain why they choose to act the way they have.  Ask them what they wanted to have happen.
  • Establish, for them, that you understand what is going on, what they are doing.
  • Give them a choice in what they need to do next but explain the consequences that will follow will be attached to each action.  It is fine to let them know what you would prefer but they need to know the choice is theirs and the following consequence is their responsibility.
  • Explain to them that anger is a natural process and that people must learn to deal with it.  It may be that the whole class can address the issue of anger and its appropriate management.

When dealing with these kids never impose consequences that have a negative effect on the rest of the class.  You may feel these ‘whole class’ consequences may evoke peer pressure on this student; the risk of rejection should force them to comply.  However, as the aim of the PAPD student’s behaviour, is to annoy others, by punishing the class, they all get angry so you are in fact rewarding the behaviour. 

Remember PAPD is a behaviour the student uses not to avoid the responsibility of dealing with their own anger but because they don’t have the skills to do so.  By approaching them with the belief that they can be taught to take responsibility for themselves, own their anger and express it appropriately they can become productive members of the class.  The teacher needs to be aware of the tactics these students implement and used a systematic approach to deal with them.

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John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance

ABN 64 372 518 772


The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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