Negativistic Personality Disorder

Sad emotions on blue stickers on wooden background. Group of negative emotions, representing a negativistic personality disorder

Negativistic personality disorder, formerly known as the passive-aggressive personality disorder, is not a American Psychiatric Association (APA) recognized personality disorder. Earlier, negativistic personality disorder was championed for inclusion in later versions of the DSM by a few members of the personality disorder committee. However, as with many personality disorders, The American Psychiatric Association excluded the negativistic personality disorder, like its predecessor passive-aggressive personality disorder, from the final version of the DSM.

During discussions, the committee renamed passive-aggressive personality disorder to negativistic personality disorder, by expanding the focus of the disorder they intended to encourage DSM inclusion. The renaming to negativistic personality disorder was accompanied by changing the focus of the disorder, amplifying attention to “the negative attitudes thought to underlie passive-aggressive behavior” (Hopwood & Wright, 2012).

The American Psychiatric Association describes negativistic personality disorder as “a personality disorder of long standing in which ambivalence toward the self and others is expressed by such means as procrastination, dawdling, stubbornness, intentional inefficiency, ‘forgetting’ appointments, or misplacing important materials. These maneuvers are interpreted as passive expressions of underlying negativism” (APA Dictionary of Psychology).

​Negativistic Personality Disorder Symptoms

Symptoms common to the negativistic personality disorder include:

  • passive resistance to routine social or occupational tasks
  • complaints of being misunderstood
  • sullen argumentativeness
  • criticism and scorn of authority
  • envy and resentment of the relatively fortunate
  • exaggerated complaints of personal misfortune
  • Alternating between hostility and contrition (Hopwood & Wright, 2012)

​​Negative Perception of the World

Numerous distinguished clinicians and psychologists before the 1980’s pushed to include the negativistic personality type in DSM-III.

Historical writings portrayed this personality type as:

  • individuals with constitutions that take everything hard “and feel the unpleasantness in every situation.”
  • extraordinary fluctuating emotional equilibrium, often magnifying the unpleasantness
  • irritable of mood
  • “dissatisfied personalities who go through life as if they were perpetually wounded.
  • “fussy people of sour disposition”
  • “ill-tempered depressives”
  • nagging, spiteful, and malicious, given to be “doggedly pessimistic and rejoice when things go wrong
  • Blaming the world for everything unpleasant
  • often cantankerous, contemptuous, petulant
  • inclined to find everything wrong
  • emotionally soured and perpetually discontented (Milton, 1993).

​​Expressions of Anger and Negativistic Personality Disorder

The negativistic personality disorder pairs heightened displeasure with experience with expression of anger. Perhaps, attempts to repress or suppress anger fail and less obvious expressions, camouflaged emissions cascade through shadowy means.

T. Franklin Murphy wrote, “passive aggressive attacks is done in the dark, shrouded in enough ambiguousness that reactions to the vicious, quiet attacks are interpreted as inappropriate.” Murphy continues, “passive aggressiveness is a gaslighting of sorts. The underlying goal is to express hostile aggression without facing any retaliatory consequence” (2022).

The message is clear, “I hate you. I want to hurt you; but I don’t want to leave enough evidence for you to challenge me on these name calling, disapproving, shots against your character.”

Interpersonal Relations with Negativistic Personality Type

Pop psychologists and arm chair clinicians don’t specifically mention the negativistic personality but they certainly refer to it. These are the people, they warn, we must distance ourselves from to maintain emotional stability.  Their sour, petulant attitude, subtle harsh judgments, and irritable and fluctuating moods draw from our resources, provide nothing to our wellness, and beat down our cheery dispositions. Basically, prolonged contact with negativistic personalities depletes the ego.

While I find it ethically wrong to completely discard people because they don’t possess the correct personality traits, we must limit exposure to those that harm our wellbeing, to maintain our sanity. We can’t lift others when we are broken. We constantly must evaluate the costs to our personal wellness when repeatedly exposed to harmful personalities. Regardless, we still can help within healthy boundaries.

Negativistic Personality Disorder and Overlap with Other Personality Disorders

The American Psychological society never officially accepted negativistic personality disorder, or its predecessor passive-aggressive personality disorder as disorders. The passive-aggressive personality disorder was too narrow, while the broader negative personality disorder overlapped with personality disorders already included in the DSM literature.

Negativistic Personality Traits and Masochism

Of particular interest is the extensive overlap between the masochistic personality and negativistic personalities. The masochistic personality, like the negativistic personality experiences heightened negative affect. In contrast, the masochists turn to aggression inward, hating and hurting themselves.

The masochistic may try to show an outer kindness, giving and compassionate, but they camouflage their true desires with altruism. Murphy wrote, “their self sacrifices are ‘trojan horses’ filled with sharp barbs and traps. When their suspicious gifts of kindness don’t return the rewards they seek, resentments and anger build. The masochist still may mediate their reaction, fearing rejection, but express their anger in less obvious ways, such as through passive aggressiveness” (2022).

Milton’s Subtypes of Negativistic  Personality Disorder

Vacillating Negativist

​Vacillating negativist includes borderline personality disorder features. For the vacillating negativist emotions fluctuate in rapid and bewildering ways. The vacillating negativist may present themselves in “​affectionate, predictable, interesting, even charming, but then suddenly become irritable, oppositional, and disagreeable” (ALPF Medical Research, 2022).

Strikingly, these unpredictable shifts, moving from congenial to monstrous, are extremely aversive, encouraging surrounding others to arm themselves with a protective wedge. Consequently, unpredictable people, who may shift from kind to dangerous without warning, thwart our desire for predictable futures.

Discontented Negativist

Discontented negativist is a combination of the depressive and negativistic personalities. Notably, these are the chronic complainers, constantly bellyaching over the terribleness of life. “The discontented negativist attacks emotionally through annoying complaints, thinly cloaked criticisms, and unsubtle digs.” Eventually, the discontented negativist slowly wears everyone around them down. “Constantly disapproving, they seek some thin rationale by which to be negative and faultfinding. They point out imperfections, pick at old wounds, work others into a state of irritation, and then complain further that their concerns have not been properly addressed” (ALPF Medical Research, 2022). 

Circuitous Negativist

​Circuitous negativist shares trait with the antisocial, dependent and negativistic personality styles. Particularly, passive-aggressive expressions operate in full swing in this subcategory. Basically, circuitous negativists express opposition in a roundabout and ambiguous manners though procrastination, dawdling, forgetfulness, neglect, stubbornness, and intentional inefficiency. 

Abrasive Negativist

​Abrasive negativist is a combination of  sadistic and negativistic personality traits. Prominently, the abrasive negativist expresses discontent with open hostility. Contrary to the other types, the abrasive negativist doesn’t appears in conflict between there own agenda and need for the approval. They openly oppose.

However, the conflict may still exist, but instead of motivating cautious maneuvering it instigates frustration and fear. “Abrasive negativists are so tired and jaded that they have deep doubts about whether life will work out or whether happiness is even possible at all” (ALPF Medical Research, 2022). Notably, the abrasive type is difficult to live with or around.

A Few Final Words on Negativistic Personality Disorder

Negativistic personality disorder naturally should describe a person or two in our social circles, perhaps, even detail a few our own maladaptive character traits. We can still function well, even when bogged down with traits that interfere. We all have a few personality traits that distract from wellness. However, with wisdom and guidance, we attend to the traits that impede growth, give them attention, and lastly, replace the with something better.

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Hopwood, C. J., & Wright, A. G. (2012). A comparison of passive-aggressive and negativistic personality disorders. Journal of personality assessment, 94(3), 296–303

Millon, T. (1993). Negativistic (Passive-Aggressive) Personality Disorder. Journal of Personality Disorders, 7(1), 78-85.

Murphy, T. Franklin (2022) Passive Aggressive. Psychology Fanatic. Published 3-2-2022. Accessed 3-14-2022

Murphy, T. Franklin (2022) Masochism. Psychology Fanatic. Published 3-11-2022. Accessed 3-14-2022.

ALPF Medical Research (2022) The Negativistic Passive Aggressive Personality. Published 1-6-2022. Accessed 3-14-2022.

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