WHY PEOPLE REMAIN QUIET, SHY, AND NON-ASSERTIVE: THE BENEFITS OF PASSIVE BEHAVIOR AND COMMUNICATION
I use to suffer from severe passive behavior and communication. I would not say what I wanted, escape confrontation because it was uncomfortable, dodge responsibility because I could be blamed, and generally sidestepped who I truly was as a person. I compromised my character. People interacted with a mask of behavior that protected my vulnerable self.
Passiveness, otherwise known as submissiveness, is the opposite to aggression. Passiveness literally means detachment and acceptance. It is acted upon rather than acts on something. Passive communication involves “keeping under the radar”, “not sticking up for yourself”, saying yes when you really want to say no, and overly “selfless behaviors”. While it is different to being shy or quiet, shy or quiet individuals are often passive.
Amongst my reasons for passive behavior, is the benefits of passive behavior and communication, and why it is such a severe problem in families, the workplace, and human interactions. I want to share with you the deep reasons behind why people avoid “sticking up for themselves” and many other passive behaviors in this article. I believe once you understand this behavior, a powerful world is revealed before your eyes that would otherwise have remained hidden. Like all the communication secrets in my “Communication Secrets of Powerful People Program”, the things once hidden become visible to empower you to communicate powerfully with people.
Adults’ Contribution to Weak Behavior
Parents, teachers, and adults in general are partly responsible for passive behavior and communication in children. At a young age – and continually in life – adults condition passive individuals to continue their submissive behavior through verbal rewards. Passive individuals receive praise for their selfless actions, keeping quiet, and not voicing their concerns.
“Passiveness literally means detachment and acceptance. It is acted upon rather than acts on something.”
A bully steals a toy from a young girl who does nothing about it. An adult observing the girl tells her she is nice for not doing anything and making the bully angry. A student sits in the classroom, not answering any questions. The teacher at a parent-teacher interview says to the child’s parents that the child is nice and quiet. A young boy is asked what he wants for dinner, but his brothers and sisters interrupt him by saying what they want. The young boy then says, “I’m happy with what the others want” to which his parent praise him for compliance and selfless.
These three examples demonstrate how people are trained to continue passive behavior. Overtime, the person’s occasional passive behavior shapes into a stringent passive personality. Soon enough, the person doesn’t defend his space, participate, or state his desires. What appears “nice” transforms into a severe, habitual communication and behavioral problem that sucks the life from the person and his relationships. It’s no wonder many people struggle to learn assertive communication skills.
Behaviors in Conflict
Conflict contains several reasons for passive behavior and communication. Passive individuals avoid conflict by remaining quiet as they avoid expressing their point of view.
A failure to express their point of view occurs outside of conflict – it is frequent in conversations and social interactions. When they are asked what they’d like, where they want to go, or what they want to do, they passively respond: “I’m happy with whatever you want”. Rarely are they truly happy with what the other person wants. While they say “I’m happy with whatever you want”, the truth of the matter is their decision (or indecision) comes from a fear of disapproval.
“Passive individuals are praised for their selfless actions.”
Are You a “People-Pleaser”?
Virgina Satir, the mother of family therapy, coined the term “People-Pleaser” to describe individuals obsessed with making others happy. People-pleasers have toxic amounts of shame covered by being well-liked. They do this so others cannot see their defects.
Kelly Bryson over at Nonviolent Communication has a superb article to help people-pleasers that you can read here. (It is in pdf format so you need Adobe Acrobat to view the document.)
Another reason passive behavior is beneficial for people who disconnect themselves from conflict and conversations is blame-avoidance. A person that says, “I’m fine with anything you decide”, puts the final decision on somebody else. The passive person leaves the other person to select an option. When the option is undesirable, the passive person can readily and easily blame the decision-maker for their choice.
Yet another reason someone can behave passively and avoid conflict is their protection from others. Other people fight for the person, which often gets them what they want. Some people laugh, get angry, or ignore an aggressive person, but when someone cries, most people stop what they’re doing to give the crying person what they want to wipe away their tears. A habitual crier can be more manipulative than an aggressor.
See the Price of Nice to Breaks Its Vice
So far you have seen the beneficial reasons for passive behavior and communication. Up until now, it seems to be an attractive way of behaving. Fortunately, it is not because the behavior has many destructive outcomes. By learning the negatives of passive behavior, you can help yourself break free from submissiveness and become motivated to help other people assert themselves.
Common problems with passiveness include:
• Unsatisfying relationships. Passive individuals are detached from their communication and relationships. They are completely disengaged from intimacy. They avoid intimacy because their authentic self is protected with the “nice guy” or “nice girl” mask.
• Growth is thwarted. Passive individuals create an environment where authentic feedback is not given or received. To critique a “nice person” makes the criticizer a guilt-ridden, bad person. Similarly, the nice person does not give feedback to other people, which limits their growth.
• Induces shame in others. Nice guys and girls manipulate others with guilt and shame. They avoid responsibility and giving feedback, making others feel shameful for their feelings towards the nice person. For example, the would-be receiver of a nice person’s feedback feels angry for not getting feedback then becomes shameful for feeling angry at the nice person. (The person is nice after all and it’s wrong to be mad at nice people.)
• Others get irritated. A guy, for example, forgoes his needs by molding himself into his lover’s ideal image. He thinks focusing on his partner is the relationship-healthy thing to do. The passive individual overtime, however, frustrates his partner with high compliance. His overt agreeableness leads to pity and irritation. It’s frustrating to be with someone who does not tell you what he or she feels or wants.
• Selfishness. Selflessness is selfish because the “selfless person” doesn’t have the capacity to act beyond oneself. It may sound contradictory to passive behavior, but the passive individual who lets others have their way robs oneself of happiness and love. The person is unable to love others because he or she holds resentment and frustration against those the person is selfless towards. People who give up their own lives to be loved by someone are often shocked when they discover the other person dislikes them for their plasticity approach to life.
• Volcanic build up of resentment. Forgo your own needs, avoid voicing your concerns, do not talk about yourself, and dodge confrontation – that’s a potent recipe for a life filled with resentment. All that pressure inside of you cannot remain hidden. Emotional eruptions eventually burst forth as seen in passive-aggressive behavior.
• Passive-aggressive behavior. I’ve heard marriage counselors incorrectly refer to passive-aggressive behavior as passive behavior, but behaviors like resentment and secret sabotaging can manifest from passiveness. Passive-aggressive behaviors include sarcasm, lying, and blaming. These behaviors are often expressed in sporadic outbursts to temporarily release the frustration of bottled emotions. Passive individuals are prone to flares of aggression. Momentary aggressive outbursts can occur because suppressed emotions suddenly gush to the surface. When I was overly passive, sarcasm was my common way of releasing anger from an inability to assert myself and express my feelings.
• Lack of emotional control. This is another paradoxical effect of passive behavior. Passive individuals think they manage their emotions through suppression, but the opposite results. Suppressed anger shows in many ways more harmful than if the person dealt with the emotion upfront. Suicide is the ultimate outcome of emotional suppression.
“Passive individuals are prone to flares of aggression. Momentary aggressive outbursts often occur because the person’s suppressed emotions suddenly erupt, gushing to the surface.”
As you can see, there are many negative outcomes for passive behavior. While it can feel like an attractive behavior, it is very destructive for relationships and makes the passive person miserable. Passive behavior like aggression creates a win-loss or loss-loss outcome.
The powerful person, as outlined in my “Communication Secrets of Powerful People Program” is not passive nor aggressive. The powerful person is assertive. The powerful person does not need to get his way on every occasion. He is occasionally aggressive and occasionally lets others have their own way, but when his personal space is trampled on, he does something to regain his space. While passive individuals don’t protect themselves, their possessions, or other people, the powerful person self-protects. A powerful person knows how to get what he wants while giving others what they want – this attracts people into his life.
You can become a powerful woman or man instead of living at the helms of other people and your circumstances. If you want to break through passive behavior, I encourage you to get my “Communication Secrets of Powerful People Program”. I have overcome the same problem of submissiveness, shyness, and quietness you’re trying to defeat. You can release your powerful self into the conversation and gain the respect you want by learning more about the program here. If you want to defeat shyness forever, learn about my Big Talk course here.
Joshua Uebergang, aka "Tower of Power", teaches social skills to help shy persons build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to http://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/