19 Aggressive Behaviors That Aren’t Physical but Are Still Just as Problematic

We usually define aggressive behavior as physical actions, like pushing, hitting, and throwing things. However, people do plenty of aggressive things that aren’t physical, so we often brush them off as harmless. If you’re unaware of this, here are 19 non-physical aggressive behaviors to watch out for.

Raising Your Voice

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Most people raise their voices when frustrated, but it’s a common aggressive behavior that intimidates others. Psych Central warns that raising your voice creates tension and stress and can lead to physical confrontations if the other person feels dominated. To communicate rationally, keep your voice level and calm.

Calling People Names

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Calling people names is considered bullying because it’s verbally aggressive. Children are taught from a very young age not to call others names, so it’s childish and deliberately cruel when adults do it. If other people pick up on mean names, it can lead to the victim being harassed.


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Frowned upon in some places while being brushed off as amusing in others, cursing isn’t inherently aggressive until it’s directed at a person specifically. Unless you have an established dynamic with someone, cursing at them won’t be received as playful or funny.

Spreading Rumors

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Unfortunately, many people don’t grow out of spreading rumors when they leave high school; it happens a lot in the workplace, too. When you spread rumors, you’re intentionally smearing somebody’s name, which negatively affects their reputation. This is passive-aggressive behavior and can cause great distress to people.


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Driving is stressful enough on busy roads without other drivers attempting to intimidate you. People who tailgate other cars disregard the safety of everyone around them by being deliberately aggressive for no reason. If somebody is driving too slowly, pass them; don’t risk causing an accident.

Sabotaging Someone’s Relationships

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Sabotaging another person’s relationships is another typical high school behavior that many adults still engage in. According to Psychology Today, people who purposefully interfere in others’ relationships are usually dissatisfied narcissists. Ruining things for somebody else is aggressive and implies that you struggle to see others be happy.

Frequently Lying

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Lying will usually hurt the liar more than anybody else, but it’s still passive-aggressive behavior that affects the people they’re lying to. People who are frequently untruthful manipulate others by deceiving them, and they’re adept at twisting the narrative to victimize themselves, allowing them to control people’s reactions and steal their autonomy.

Excluding People

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Sometimes, we unintentionally exclude others, but they know it was a mistake when we rush to apologize. However, people who exclude others and don’t acknowledge their behavior do it in an act of aggression to ‘show people their place.’ In reality, all this achieves is to create a toxic environment.

Dirty Looks

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Nobody likes a person who constantly gives others dirty looks because it’s a non-verbal, non-physical way of making a person feel attacked. When someone gives you a dirty look for no reason, it makes you wonder what you’ve done to offend them. Ultimately, their silent aggression gives them control.

Invading Personal Space

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Invading others’ personal space is another common mistake we accidentally make, but we will quickly rectify our behavior once we realize we’re doing this. That isn’t the case with aggressive people, who do this to exert dominance over another person, especially someone smaller than them.

Making Threats

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Another aggressive tactic people use to control a situation is making threats and scaring others into complying. Out of the FOG explains that many people use threats to provoke a response and leave their victims powerless, making for abusive behavior that is often followed by physical aggression.


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Misuse of the term ‘gaslighting’ has made it more difficult for victims to identify, which, sadly, benefits verbally abusive people. Real gaslighting is intended to make victims question themselves, so it’s incredibly manipulative. The gaslighter gains power by putting their victim through emotional turmoil, an aggressive action that isn’t discussed seriously enough.

Playing People Against Each Other

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Playing people against each other is another aggressive behavior that isn’t physical. Whether it involves friends, loved ones, or colleagues, making people compete for your favor or attention shows a desire to control everything. It’s a passive-aggressive thing to do because it’s a mind game that inflates your ego.


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Bullying is often physical, but it usually starts subtly and then escalates. Non-physical aggressive bullying tactics include mockery, insults, slurs, threats, and sending cruel messages online. It isn’t just high schoolers who bully; it’s also grown adults. Being bullied leaves lasting trauma due to its aggressive nature.

Making Cruel Jokes

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We all know somebody who constantly says cruel things and then declares them ‘a joke’. Most of the time, that person isn’t trying to be playful; they’re serious. They mask cruel comments as jokes to put others down and make themselves feel better while claiming ignorance of their aggression by using humor.

Baiting People

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Most people like to think they’re in control of themselves, but everyone has their limit. People who deliberately provoke others know this and do it to be aggressive. Psych Central calls this tactic ‘baiting,’ which narcissistic people use to gaslight and emotionally invalidate others. When you take the bait, they look like the victim.


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Gossiping is a quick way to create a toxic work or social environment, so it’s not advised, but some people can’t help themselves. Gossiping makes them feel welcomed by the majority, so they passive-aggressively cast others out by talking about them behind their backs, giving them insincere social power.

Mean-Spirited Sarcasm

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Sarcasm can be an amusing form of comedy, but it’s a different story when someone uses sarcasm to be mean. People who want to speak aggressively without explicitly saying cruel things will make sarcastic comments to feign ignorance if you take offense to their brand of ‘humor.’

Backhanded Compliments

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Last but not least, backhanded compliments are arguably the most common example of non-physical aggression. They are almost always intended to hurt someone’s feelings, including expressions such as ‘you look good when you make an effort’ or ‘you’re not as stupid as you look.’ It’s nasty and two-faced, so don’t be that person.