03/07/2013 03:31 pm ET

Passive Aggressive Minds Think Alike: Hidden Anger Among Siblings

Siblings without rivalry are like thunder without lightening. The two just go together, although some storms are more damaging than others. One of the most common sources of family conflict has to do with sibling jealousies and all of the ways that envy rears its ugly head -- from physical aggression that pelts like hail to passive aggressive acts that mimic the wind, imperceptible to the eye but obvious in their impact.

Hidden But Conscious Revenge

Here is a classic example of passive aggressive sibling jealousy that involves two families, four girls, and one sleepover. "Jesse" and "Hailey" are seven-year old best friends. Their families get together often and all of the siblings have become playmates. When Jesse and Hailey planned a sleepover, both Jesse's nine-year old big sister and Hailey's four-year old little sister were filled with jealousy. Though the big and little sister pair understood that they were a mismatch for their own sleepover, together, they decided on a little passive aggressive revenge to act out their feelings of anger and jealousy.

To the parents' best knowledge, there was no conspiracy or planning on the parts of the left-out sisters -- which is what makes the story so hilarious -- but when Jesse and Hailey settled down to sleep at about midnight on the night of their sleepover, they both realized that their favorite stuffed animals were missing! Neither girl could sleep without their animal, a commonly known fact among all family members. Jesse knew she had packed her stuffed cat and Hailey kept her Panda bear on the same pillow every single day. How could they both have gone missing?

After hours of late-night searching and little sleep for anyone, both Jesse and Hailey's sisters miraculously "found" their sisters' respective stuffed animals. Coincidence? It seems as though passive aggressive minds think alike!

Letting a Problem Escalate

Teenage twin brothers "Todd" and "Kevin" got along great most of the time. They were soccer team mates who spent most of their time together. When Kevin began dating Courtney, Todd felt left out of his brother's life. One Friday night, when Courtney called with an apology about having to cancel their plans, Todd took the phone message, but "forgot" to pass it on to Kevin.

To ensure the information would not be relayed, Todd also hid Kevin's cell phone and stayed on the computer, blocking e-mails and instant messages. Kevin left for his date unaware of anything unusual and came home bewildered, hurt, confused and angry at being stood up. Before he could pick up the house phone and call Courtney, Todd confessed with an, "Oh! I meant to tell you, but you left the house in such a hurry. Courtney called and said she couldn't go out tonight. I tried to call you, but you didn't answer your cell."

Intentional Inefficiency

"Ellie" was invited to go to Six Flags with a friend from school. She knew she couldn't go unless her Science Fair project was complete, since the event was to be held at school the following day. Ellie begged her sister, Maddie, to print out the already-complete Data & Results pages from her computer and affix them to her display. Maddie agreed to do so, but in her jealousy over not being included in the amusement park trip, she added a little something to the data. At the science fair, Ellie was confused at first -- then humiliated -- when her teacher pointed out the errors in her calculations and disqualified her project from the Science Fair.

Signe Whitson, LSW is the co-author of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces. For more information or training inquiries about changing passive aggressive behavior, please visit