Readers often send me emails with their comments and questions. The seven queries that I respond to here deal primarily with inner passivity. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of inner passivity, you might first read this post. My responses to the queries below are in italics.
Hello. I’ve just read and re-read your article, Defensiveness for Dummies. I recognize that I’m very defensive, and this defensiveness has led to problems in many of my relationships.
After reading the article, I remain confused about the relationship between defensiveness and inner conflict. In particular, I don’t follow you when you say that aggressive defensiveness is a form of inner passivity. I understand defensiveness and aggression as very active, not passive; they are action rather than inaction. Indeed, I sometimes struggle in your articles to understand your use of passive, though I sometimes think I am understanding. How does passivity defend? Thanks! – L.B.
I’ll try to help you understand. Keep in mind that inner passivity is a challenging concept, and it can take a while for it to come into focus in our mind and then within us at a deeper level. We can recognize inner passivity through a variety of symptoms, one of which is chronic defensiveness. Such defensiveness is a passive feeling associated with self-doubt. Usually all you’re doing with defensiveness is reacting to your own insecurity. You feel that someone is holding you accountable and that you’re obligated to defend yourself. In being defensive, you’re reacting to a gut feeling of being wrong, flawed, or bad.
Indeed, as you said, the expression of defensiveness can feel active and even aggressive. Often, it’s expressed angrily. Such aggression is a way of coping with your passivity. Yes, it’s true, you are speaking up for yourself in that aggressiveness—but you’re doing so in a defensive manner that actually gives credence to the words or accusations that you are defending against. Defensiveness is a false or inappropriate aggression that’s self-defeating.
Defensiveness fools us. It does feel like aggression. But that’s because, in our passivity, we’re so desperate to feel some form of aggression that even defensiveness can serve that need.
When a person is stronger emotionally, there is little or no defensiveness. That’s because you don’t feel passive or accused or criticized in the first place. You just hear what the other person is saying about you—and then you accept it in part, or completely, or not at all. You can have a conversation with that person about your possible shortcomings without being defensive.
When you get defensive, you are also—through inner passivity—giving that person the power to hold you accountable. If that person is your boss, sure she’s entitled within the norms of the workplace to hold you accountable. But even then, you don’t take her critical remarks personally if you are strong emotionally. Sometimes you have to explain yourself or your actions to others, but that doesn’t mean you have to be defensive.
Defensiveness and reactive or inappropriate aggression (I sometimes call it pseudo-aggression or phony aggression) are indicative of passivity. To repeat, while defensiveness might feel aggressive, it is not healthy aggression. It’s simply a reaction to the uncertainty and self-doubt you’re feeling deep within yourself.
I read your article, The Mysterious Allure of Kinky Sex, and am looking for advice. I have a problem regarding my possible masochistic tendency. Ever since I was in elementary school, I’ve read stories that contain caning scenes. They are just ordinary stories, such as fan fictions or love stories, except that they contain caning scenes. I felt that I wanted to be caned as well, and punished in that way. As I got older, I started watching videos showing people being caned. I watch them now, particularly when I felt stressed or under pressure.
I don’t even know if it’s something sexual. I read a lot of articles on sadomasochism, thinking I might be masochistic. However, the only aspect that interests me is spanking. I am mostly worried because I have wanted to be spanked since I was twelve or thirteen. I would really like to know if I’m masochistic. Thank you. – T.D.
Based on what you said in your email, you need not worry that you might be a sexual masochist. You want to trust yourself to be strong enough to avoid becoming compulsive or obsessive about wanting to experience this perverse form of sexual pleasure. Just be aware that the pleasure you feel concerning being spanked is derived from a passive experience. Human beings can easily eroticize feelings of being passive. As long as you’re making an effort to become emotionally stronger, this form of pleasure will lose its appeal for you.
For the purpose of increasing self-awareness, use the sexual arousal from spanking fantasies as a way to observe the allure of the passive side. You want to keep this passivity in sight and be fully conscious of it, so that you maintain inner strength. Even if the pleasure of this passivity stays with you for some time, you do not have to be concerned about it as long as your intention is to grow in wisdom and strength and you are making some progress in doing so.
I’m in my early twenties and for the past couple of years have been suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. The disorder has developed into a destructive monster that lives inside my mind. I have been researching about it in utter desperation. It seems like the only solution is to just “ignore” the thoughts. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety or for OCD just about refocusing your attention someplace else? I’ll be talking to my therapist next week about this.
What I really wanted to talk about now is the inner critic relationship in OCD. Even though I’m a bit confused, I trying now to see OCD as a serious form of internal self-criticism. It took me a while to fathom this, as I just saw these thoughts as a way for my brain to be protecting me. But I knew it was excessive and extremely irrational. I have been passive this whole time to my inner critic by giving in to its lies. What is it about the inner critic that it constantly hones in on our worst fears and traumas? It’s frightening that the human psyche is self-defeating by default. Should I also tell my therapist about your method in conjunction with what she is doing? How can I explain it without sounding like I have an agenda, or without insulting her psychological philosophy? I appreciate any help given. — M.T.
It might be difficult to recommend my method to your therapist, because she has her own methodology and isn’t necessarily interested in hearing about someone else’s. You could, I suppose, ask her to go to my website and read what I say about OCD and ask her what she things about it. If she does so, she might simply say, however, that she doesn’t agree with how I interpret it. Even if she does agree, she might not quite know how to practice it. This is all okay. Psychotherapists are only guides and teachers. It’s up to you to discover for yourself what works best and what’s true and real.
As I see it, OCD is caused, in large part, by intense internal self-criticism. The inner critic can also pose as the legitimate boss or director of our inner life. Keep watching out for any intrusions into your emotional life by your inner critic. The inner critic can’t be trusted. It has its own agenda, which has nothing to do with your wellbeing.
Try to feel that you’re building up the strength inside yourself to refrain from giving your inner critic any credence or taking it seriously. Read what I have written about inner passivity. When you dislodge the inner passivity inside of you and acquire new awareness and strength, you start to connect with your authentic self. On an inner level, you’re now in charge. You’re able now to regulate your mental or cognitive processes.
I’m in a new relationship that is very, very conscious and aware and loving. But I can’t seem to shake this one thing that I may be just wanting to recycle old patterns and willing to experience rejection and betrayal. My boyfriend and I are very spiritual and conscious, and I have made my path very clean (no drugs, alcohol). He has taken a different route with the use of certain psychedelics that he believes can awaken his mind and soul. I do not deny the power that these substances can have on people’s awakening (and sometimes it takes this extreme to unplug from the matrix). But he takes it repeatedly, and based on what I’ve learned from you it seems to me that he has a dependency on these substances to cover up his inner passivity.
Can a couple ultimately thrive and grow when there are two very different stances on inner growth? Should I accept him for his path that doesn’t seem to hurt him or anyone else, or do I have legitimate concern? Or does this come down to unresolved issues within me, such as being willing to indulge in feelings of betrayal and rejection? – D.G.
It’s difficult for me to say a whole lot about your situation without knowing more about you and your boyfriend. That said, you’re probably right that he’s under the influence of inner passivity and thereby lacking self-regulation. It’s possible you’re getting triggered because, as you observe his regular use of psychedelics, you feel helpless to influence him or to clearly see your way forward because of your own passivity. You might unconsciously be willing to identify with his passivity, and thereby to maintain some of it in your own psyche.
You certainly are entitled to have a legitimate concern about his regular use of these substances. It appears he’s taking the more precarious way toward spirituality, and the danger is that he’ll end up only with an illusion of it. Your passivity would likely be, in part, your self-doubt concerning what stance or position to take with respect to his behavior.
Through inner passivity, you might doubt that you can influence him positively. He does seem like a decent person, and he might very well become stronger, especially if you are growing and becoming wiser and more insightful. You have to consider that you are being a codependent or an enabler, meaning you would need to understand the inner passivity in this personality type. The more you’re recognizing your inner passivity, the clearer you’ll see your way forward and the more you’ll be able to create a good life for yourself, whether with him or not. Even the best relationships usually require that certain issues or conflicts be recognized and resolved.
When I’m having an emotional reaction and I tell myself, “I can see the inner passivity,” do I need to leave it at that or be really specific? Should I say, for instance, “I can see passivity because my head is heavy or I am dizzy, and I am going to keep an eye on it during the day?” Can I also say, “I am okay with its presence,” as I don’t want to be judgmental or label it as something bad? – R.M. You are trying to become aware of inner passivity’s influence on your thoughts, perceptions, and feelings. The goal is to become conscious of its influence in your life. You also want to be okay (up to a point) with its presence, as you don’t want to label it as something bad or get into a feeling of conflict with it. However, in addition to this, you want to feel that, when you see or recognize your inner passivity, you are exposing it as an aspect of your psyche that works against your best interest and that you’re determined to overcome.
You bring inner passivity into the light of day (your awareness), where it will begin (like mold) to die in the sunlight. You also want to try to feel good about yourself for being able to detect the inner passivity, because this insight represents you functioning at your best, with healthy determination to eliminate the inner passivity from your system.
So you just become a calm observer of it, knowing and feeling that in observing it you are “calling it out” and thereby—through insight, consciousness, and healthy determination to become a strong person—undermining its influence over you. When you recognize the inner passivity, the part of you that sees and isolates it is allied with your inner strength. More and more, you begin to identify with that healthy strength that is capable of recognizing your inner passivity, while doing so with wise tolerance but also with firm determination to rise above it.
Basically I want to know if I am attached to inner passivity itself or does the inner passivity cause me to be attached to other negative things like unworthiness or rejection? –V.S.
Yes, we are emotionally attached to our inner passivity. That means that we’re willing to recycle and replay the experience of it. Unconsciously, we identify with ourselves through this passivity. It feels like such a big part of us, even though we’re often hardly aware of being under its influence. Much of the time all we experience are its symptoms. (I’ve written extensively about the scores of painful symptoms that arise from it.)
Inner passivity is indirectly related to the other emotional attachments you mentioned—unworthiness and rejection. Consider, for instance, a person with an attachment to feeling rejected. This person would be especially sensitive to feeling rejected and would also unconsciously pursue experiences of rejection. The attachment to rejection is a form of disconnection from oneself, which is a symptom of inner passivity. This person would, as well, passively be allowing her inner critic to berate her and to reject her as lesser person. She would also be prone to indulging unconsciously in the feeling of being rejected, thereby positioning herself emotionally in a weakened state.
Similarly, if a person has an attachment to feeling unworthy, he is passively allowing his inner critic to insinuate that he’s a lesser person or even a despicable loser. In his deep sense of unworthiness, he is too inwardly passive to protect himself from the harsh assessments of his inner critic. Once we eliminate inner passivity from our psyche, we can stop the inner critic cold whenever it tries to intrude into our emotional life.
Once we see these inner dynamics as they pertain to us personally, we’re empowered to come to our rescue. We can’t rescue ourselves from suffering (and from compulsively recycling old hurts and memories) when we don’t know or see what’s going on in our psyche. Rescuing ourselves involves empowering our intelligence with insight, connecting with a sense of purpose and destiny, and feeling our will to thrive, flourish, and prosper.
You mentioned in your writing that people should practice self-awareness even when they’re feeling good. But when I’m feeling good, what do I practice? It feels as if there is nothing to be aware of, nothing to grapple with, or to observe. – T.M.
You want to try to be more mindful. If you’re studying this depth psychology, the mindfulness includes your awareness of how, specifically, you can get into emotional or behavioral difficulties. You don’t have to try to maintain this mindfulness all day long, since that would be very hard to do. Instead, throughout the day, even when you’re feeling good, you take a few moments to observe your thoughts and feelings. You check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling. You check to see if you’re entertaining thoughts or feelings that have a negative or a passive bias. If you’re feeling badly, you apply the self-knowledge you’re acquiring through depth psychology, which gets to the source of the bad feelings. This knowledge helps you to let go of anything negative. Meanwhile, if you’re feeling good, you can deepen the pleasure by monitoring or savoring the feeling and becoming more connected to yourself.
If you realize you are feeling or entertaining negative emotions, you recognize the source, you acknowledge your unconscious participation in those negative feelings, and then you make the intention to shift away from anything painful that serves no good purpose. You shift to a neutral place, or even to a positive feeling if that comes easily. You just maintain a certain inner vigilance to make sure your mind and emotions don’t wander off and get into mischief, meaning the tendency to go looking for negative or passive thoughts and feelings. With this enhanced consciousness, you become the boss of what you’re going to allow yourself to experience.