Passivity is a common relationship issue that creates many other problems. On the surface, it can seem “safe” compared to acting in bold, aggressive ways. However, in the long run, it is costly to your mental, emotional, social and spiritual health. When you learn the truth about passivity, you can overcome it and begin living the abundant life God intends for you.
Definition of Passivity
The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines passivity as “a form of adaptation, or maladaptation, in which the individual adopts a pattern of submissiveness, dependence, and retreat into inaction.”
A passive life is not pleasing to God. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV). In God we have an abundant life, not a life lived on another person’s terms. God wants us to fully depend on him, not on people or their opinions of us. When we actively surrender to God instead of living in passivity, we can experience the freedom and fullness he intends for us.
Examples of Passivity
We are all born as helpless infants, completely dependent on others to fulfill our needs for survival and growth. This infant stage lasts a little over a year. Then a child begins to separate from his or her mother or caretaker to start to become independent. This is a normal developmental stage that God intended for us to go through to become fully functioning adults.
However, many people may be the age of adults, yet still emotionally functioning in overly dependent ways. This dependence stunts their growth and creates many problems in relationships, schools, workplaces, and churches. A passive person cannot contain his or her passivity; its negative effects always spill over onto others.
There are many ways people can act passively in ways that cost them. Here are several examples to consider.
- A child in elementary school fails to stand up to a bully’s torment, then suffers emotional trauma.
- A young woman stays in a relationship with an emotionally abusive boyfriend because she is afraid of his angry outbursts and worries that no one else will want to date her. As a result, she suffers from anxiety and depression.
- A mother and father allow their unemployed, 20-something son to live rent-free in their home and don’t have a plan for encouraging him to get his own place. The situation causes tension and financial stress for the parents.
- A man is unfairly burdened with work projects by a domineering boss. When he is passed over for promotion, he develops an ulcer.
- An elderly mother is homebound. Her oldest son is her financial caregiver. She suspects that he may be mishandling her funds but feels helpless to confront the situation.
- A wife turns a blind eye to her husband’s extramarital affairs. She stays in the marriage for the sake of their kids, but her resentment and heartache silently grow.
When you look at these examples, you can see how each person’s passivity costs them. However, if you are acting passively in a situation, it can be hard to see it yourself. A caring Christian counselor can help you see where you are being passive and how you can overcome your passive tendencies.
Examples from the Bible
We can look to the Bible for examples of how passivity cost people tremendous amounts of heartache and loss. One clear example is Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebekah, as we read in Genesis 25-28. Though his brother Esau was the heir to their father’s inheritance, Jacob passively allowed his mother to manipulate the situation so he would receive the blessing.
Jacob had many chances to stand up for what was right. He could have stopped at cooking the stew of wild game, wearing Esau’s clothing, and tricking his father. As he passively followed his mother’s directions, he received what he wanted in the short term – his father’s blessing.
But for the next several decades, fear and strife haunted him. He could not live in peace due to his passivity, and he eventually put his whole family in danger because of it (see Genesis 32).
Another example of passivity is the man who laid by the pool of Bethesda, as recorded in John 5. He had been physically paralyzed for 38 years and waited every day for someone to carry him into the healing waters. When Jesus saw him, he addressed the man’s emotional and spiritual passivity rather than his physical passivity.
Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). For the man to receive healing, he had to become active by picking up his mat and walking. In his activity, not his passivity, Jesus healed him (John 5:8-15).
We can learn from these two stories that passivity is costly. Both Jacob and the disabled man were emotionally stunted. Their passivity blocked a deeper relationship with others and with God. Only God could deliver them from their passivity, and when he did, newness of life became possible.
The Costs of Passivity
Passivity can cost you on a mental level. When you hand over control to others, they can manipulate you. You may suffer from their attempts to blame, deny, gaslight, and abuse you.
Emotionally, passivity can exact a heavy toll. You may feel weak and insecure, lacking confidence in your ability to take charge of your life. Passivity can cause anxiety, depression, anger, and other emotional disturbances.
A passive life has social costs as well. People tend to take advantage of those who send out passive signals. Your relationships may feel one-sided like they revolve around the other person. You may feel left out, betrayed, and used.
Spiritual passivity is a blockade to a deeper relationship with God. He wants you to live a life of confidence in him, rather than an unhealthy dependence on others. If you are passive in your faith, you are missing out on God’s best for your life.
How to Become a More Assertive Person
Fortunately, there is help for passive individuals. You don’t have to stay stuck in passivity. A compassionate Christian counselor can help you put passivity aside and choose assertiveness instead.
When you are assertive, you act in a way that respects yourself and others. You speak up for the truth because you believe that your self-worth is valuable. Assertiveness is not aggressive; it is firm yet loving.
To become an assertive person, you need direction, practice, and support. Your counselor will first help you deal with the roots of passive behaviors. Next, you will learn techniques for acting assertively by role-playing. With support from your counselor and others, you will be able to successfully and assertively set boundaries.
Let’s look at assertive responses in the six previous examples.
- After role-playing with his parents and counselor, the child learns to confront the bully and enlist help from peers and teachers.
- The young woman courageously breaks off the relationship with her boyfriend after several therapy sessions. She also becomes more active in the singles group at her church and decides to take a break from dating while she works on developing healthy boundaries.
- The parents come up with a 60-day plan for holding their son accountable for finding a job and his own place. They work with a counselor to form talking points for a loving confrontation.
- The man begins a job search for a position that is more independent. He joins a men’s small group to find accountability and support and attends bi-monthly counseling appointments.
- The elderly woman shares concerns with her counselor, who points her toward further help from social services and an attorney.
- After being coached by a counselor, a wife tells her husband to get professional help for his sexual addiction, so their marriage has hope of being salvaged.
Learning assertiveness is not easy after years of taking a passive stance. If you’re ready to overcome passivity to embrace the abundant life God has in store for you, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors in the counselor directory.
“Lock”, Courtesy of Basil James, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Tunnel Vision”, Courtesy of Sharosh Rajesekher, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Freedom”, Courtesy of Fuu J, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Chains”, Courtesy of Zulmaury Saavedra, Unsplash.com, CC0 License