“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” These lines from the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley clearly overstate things, because humans aren’t as in control of themselves or their lives as much as they would like to be. God is in control, but he demands that we make something of the life he’s given us.We can deal with the circumstances life throws at us by meeting the challenge. The common saying “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” reminds us that while things go south on us, and the twists and turns of life may catch us unawares, we have the capacity and opportunity to leverage those circumstances.
Life is meant to be lived with the mindset that we are each gifted by God, and we aren’t bound by our circumstances with no hope or option of changing things around. Contrast this when people live passively, merely accepting things as they are, and making no effort to change them, or who don’t live life with a zest to make the most of every opportunity that crosses their path.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines passivity as “a form of adaptation, or maladaptation, in which the individual adopts a pattern of submissiveness or dependence, and retreats into inaction.”
Passivity can take on many forms in people’s lives, such as being content to take home average grades, being willing to stay in a dead-end relationship for fear of exploring what’s out there, remaining unemployed because searching for a job is too much of a hassle, being emotionally absent from your children because raising them takes effort, to not working hard to earn a promotion at work or being saddled with tasks that aren’t yours because you can’t say “no” to others, etc.
Being passive can operate at various levels in every aspect of our lives. A person who takes initiative in most areas of life may be passive in others. And so, a man who may be ambitious at work may come home and be passive when it comes to pursuing his wife and raising his children.
Or someone who is highly creative and energetic in their relationships and work finds themselves taking a live-and-let-live attitude when it comes to meeting their health goals. Passivity can thus operate in one area of life, or it can be a pattern that extends across all of life.
Why passivity seems attractive
For a variety of reasons, passivity may seem like a more attractive way to do life. In some ways, it’s low effort because you stop striving for your goals and thinking for yourself. Further, whenever you take steps to accomplish something, whether in your personal or professional life, you’re taking a risk.
Things don’t always work out, so stepping out of your comfort zone to try out new things is risky and can lead to disappointment. Passivity seems like a better deal because you don’t stick your neck out, and you don’t antagonize anyone. Lastly, passivity may seem attractive because in one’s upbringing or life experiences there was confusion between being assertive and being aggressive.
In mistaking assertiveness for aggressiveness, a person yields their ability to stand for anything, including themselves, and they can mask passivity as “being nice.” Being nice doesn’t ruffle feathers but looking at the life of Jesus and the life he calls his disciples to, ruffling feathers by standing for what is right and true is part of what it means to be God’s people in a world that doesn’t acknowledge God.
The impact of passivity
Being passive may seem innocuous enough – after all, you’re not bothering or imposing upon anyone, are you? Well, passivity does have an impact, not only on you but on the people around you.
When you take on the work of a colleague who is simply palming off their work on you, you’re not helping them to become a responsible human being, and the company is keeping an incompetent person because their inadequacies are being covered up, and you’re adding to your stress by doing your own and someone else’s work.
That’s one simple example. While seeming to be innocuous, passivity has far-reaching consequences. Other impacts include:
By being passive, you may not take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. It may be an opportunity to ask someone you like out on a date, a chance to get in shape, meeting targets at work to get a raise, or getting out of an unhealthy relationship that is affecting your mental and emotional health. Being passive takes away opportunities to better your life.
Opportunities that aren’t utilized fully.
Not only does one miss opportunities entirely, but the opportunities that one gets into may not be realized fully. Being passive may mean that you live life at half steam. The full richness of the experiences and situations that present themselves is missed, and that’s a tragedy.
Ending up in situations you don’t want to be in.
Passivity in many cases also means that your time and your life aren’t your own, and you find yourself in situations that are unhealthy or even dangerous for you. When you’re passive, other people get to dictate your agenda, what you do or don’t get involved in, and what you’re exposed to.
You can imagine the emotional, physical, and spiritual damage that can occur due to passivity. That can be detrimental not only to you but to the people around you who depend on you. Sometimes, having the courage to stand up and get out is the best thing you can do for yourself and the people in your life.
How to be less passive
Being passive may have deep roots in your life as learned behavior since you were a child and taking initiative is something that wasn’t rewarded in whatever spaces you found yourself. To start moving past passivity there are a few steps one can take.
Recognize passivity for what it is.
Passivity can be mistaken for niceness, and who doesn’t want to be nice? To get over this hurdle, seeing passivity for what it is will help you to combat it. Being honest with yourself about why you struggle with making decisions and taking initiative will help you to start taking responsibility for your own life.
Recognize your gifts.
As a person made in God’s image, you are valuable, and you have something to offer yourself and others. Being passive denies these realities, and the people around you don’t receive the blessing of you being the best version of yourself.
Change up your routine.
When you’re in a set routine that reinforces passivity, changing things up will help you begin making active decisions to end the monotony and acquiescence to your circumstances. Shaping your routine by taking an active interest in what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, and with whom, will help you avoid simply slipping into old, passive habits.
Getting help from a compassionate counselor to learn to be assertive.
With the help of a counselor, you can begin learning how to be more assertive. Through role-playing and unpacking anything in your life that may have contributed to the development of passivity, a compassionate counselor can help you process things and provide you with tools to become more assertive and begin actively meeting life’s challenges.
Being passive can hinder your progress, joy, and health. That is not what God intends for people, as we are meant to live lives that are abundant, full, and joyful. If you want to break free of passivity, take that first step of seeing things for what they are, and find the help of someone like a licensed therapist who can help to bring about a meaningful change in your life towards being proactive.
“Busy”, Courtesy of Antonino Visalli, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cactus”, Courtesy of Brynn Pedrick, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Courage”, Courtesy of Michael Dziedzic, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Peak”, Courtesy of Illiya Vjestica, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact one of our counselors for further information.