Most people, including mental-health professionals, are unaware of how strongly we know ourselves and identify with ourselves through a condition of non-being known as inner passivity.
This mental and emotional identity is a widespread psychological condition that’s largely unconscious. We aren’t aware of how much it causes us to feel self-doubt, to question our value, and to disconnect from our best self. In this way, inner passivity undermines the qualities that a democracy requires of its people.
Inner passivity blocks us from accessing our integrity, dignity, courage, compassion, moral intelligence, and love. As we begin to see and understand our inner passivity, we become aware of vital knowledge concerning inner conflict and psychological dysfunction.
Our democracy needs the deeper knowledge that exposes this passivity. As we grow into a recognition of our inner passivity, we begin to understand the psychological undercurrents of ongoing conflict in our own psyche and in the dynamics of society and politics.
New York Times columnist David Brooks, perhaps the mainstream media’s deepest thinker, wrote this week about the requirements of democratic citizenship, saying “The demands of democracy are clear—the elevation and transformation of your very self. If you are not transformed, you are just skating by.”
Through inner passivity, we find ourselves unable to stand up to (or represent ourselves effectively against) our inner critic, which is a primitive, authoritarian aspect of our psyche that harasses us, puts us on the defensive, and curtails inner freedom. We’re less conscious as human beings when we haven’t exposed this inner conflict and made efforts to resolve it.
Democracy is sustained by the higher consciousness of a significant percentage of a population. When people are less conscious, they’re unwittingly content to be ruled, rather than to cherish the integrity and satisfaction of being capable of being one’s own ruler, meaning in particular the ability to self-regulate, avoid negative states of mind, and fulfill relationship and civic responsibilities.
Even more so, people who are unaware and unevolved are willing, unconsciously, to live according to an inner template, which is to resonate with oneself and know oneself through the passivity inherent in their subordinate relationship with their inner critic. Hence, being ruled politically by authoritarians, rather than being one’s own ruler, feels like the natural order.
It is natural to have deposits of inner passivity in our psyche. We grew up engulfed in passivity. As children, we were dependent on our parents or guardians and at their mercy. A child’s passive experiences include submission to rules and requirements involving toilet training and other socializations. Up to and including teenage years, a young person is held accountable, usually appropriately so, to the authority of parents and other adults. This passivity lingers in the adult psyche, and it creates a largely unconscious emotional veneer that we unwittingly apply to various daily experiences. Much of our sense of victimhood or failure, as well as our passive-aggressive tendencies, anger, and self-sabotage, are byproducts of this underlying passivity.
Because of inner passivity, many people create a sense of oppression that is psychologically based rather than reality based. This sense of oppression arises from the manner in which our inner critic (self-aggression) harasses us, even at times overwhelming us with self-condemnation because, through inner passivity, we weakly represent our value and integrity. This dynamic between self-aggression and inner passivity is likely the primary conflict in the human psyche.
Because of inner passivity, people on both the political left and right can feel as if they’re having to submit to the other side when compromise is required to move forward with sensible procedures and laws. Emotionally and irrationally, compromise and accommodation are associated with submission and being on the losing side.
Because of their inner passivity, many politicians lust after power and use it for self-aggrandizement. They also can find perverse pleasure in holding power over others, which means they have less interest in negotiating because compromise detracts from the thrill of wielding that decisive power. Many struggles in Washington are as much about the raw exercise of power as about progress or reform.
Raw power is important to many of the politicians who, through inner passivity, identify with their ego rather than their authentic self. The ego is eager, even desperate, for experiences of self-aggrandizement.
Many citizens, meanwhile, are passive to power figures or celebrities. These citizens tend to come under the influence of a “power figure” in unconscious ways that detract from their own integrity and substance. Inner passivity and the accompanying disconnect from self contribute to this unhealthy reaction.
Voters who are inwardly passive are likely to be “turned on” or seduced by a politician’s personality and charisma, thus inclined to vote emotionally, thereby less able to discern a charming scoundrel from a less-flashy person of substance.
Inner passivity is often “libidinized” or sexualized. We need to be conscious of how unconsciously tempting it is to play the passive role and subtly eroticize that passivity. The extreme of inner passivity known as sexual masochism is the tip of the iceberg for what’s going on deeper in our unconscious mind. Primitive aggression, dominance, and submission are the underlying emotional currents identified in the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is behavior that’s fueled by the power of passive and aggressive emotional alignments to arouse our erogenous zones, though these alignments are also at play in healthy love-making.
Inner passivity contributes to ignorance and the failure to learn what is important to know about ourselves and the world. People are less able to discern fake news from what is true and real. When we begin to break free from the clutches of inner passivity, we access our inner truth. This inner truth becomes the foundation for a strong presence in the world. Inner truth greatly helps us to discern and to challenge folly, subterfuge, manipulation, and abuse of power.
Inner passivity serves as the command center for our psychological defenses, and hence it’s a primary contributor to self-deception, resistance, and denial. Inner passivity also contributes to mediocrity and stupidity.
Feeling helpless about climate change and other accelerating changes is also a passive reaction to the challenges of modern life. These challenges are formidable, for sure, yet with inner passivity our tendency is to deny the reality of what is happening—to climate, for instance—because inconvenient truths, when they threaten an individual’s egotistic paradigm, are experienced as too overwhelming for cognitive assimilation.
Such denial also serves the psyche’s interest in maintaining the inner status quo and in accentuating and indulging the passive propensity.
Fearfulness arises out of inner passivity. The passivity creates the impression that we will not be able to be at our best, or rise to the occasion, in the face of challenge or danger. The more we’re fearful, the more easily we can be terrorized. We’ll exaggerate actual menace, and even go looking for the fearful (passive) feeling by tuning in to alarmists in the media. We’ll be more likely to vote emotionally (for the politician who stokes our fears, for instance) than rationally.
Racism is fueled by inner passivity. The passivity cuts the individual off from an intrinsic connection with his or her authentic self, thus creating self-doubt and inner emptiness, which in turn compels some individuals to strive as compensation to feel superior to others. When one feels disconnected from self, it’s more difficult to feel connected to others.
Likewise, pseudo-patriotism (a petty narrow-minded nationalism) arises from an inner hunger, the felt need to identify with something bigger or grander than oneself for the purpose of compensating for how, deep down, a person feels insignificant and unworthy in his or her own skin.
Democracy needs wise, powerful people. Yet many well-intentioned people are afraid of feeling and exercising power because, emotionally, they associate it with something abusive or inappropriate. They might feel themselves to have been victims of the power of others, and they tend to identify with victims. This emotional reaction is, in part, a form of resistance to becoming more powerful, and it’s also an excuse, employed unconsciously, for maintaining an identification with one’s inner passivity.
America’s greatest power is not in guns or money but in awakening to our authentic self. When we establish a relationship with this self, we’re no longer afraid of having and exercising power, first because we no longer identify with the feeling of being victims of it and, second, because we trust ourselves to exercise this power wisely.
Under the weight of inner passivity, democracy itself can become an obscure, remote, or waning ideal, just as the better person we hoped to become seems like a fading vision, a lost cause.
Inner passivity sometimes surfaces with a distinctive voice: And what can I, little me, possibly do to help with national progress? How much of my comfort dare I sacrifice? How brave can I possibly be? Greater involvement and personal growth are too much to ask of me. Better people out there will save the day. I’ll wait it out in the valley of indecision and procrastination, try not to suffer too much, and hope for the best.
Don’t let inner passivity be your inner guide. New learning and insight about your psyche’s inner dynamics, and in particular the recognition of inner passivity, will help you access your value, goodness, and power.
Peter Michaelson is the author of The Phantom of the Psyche: Freeing Ourself from Inner Passivity. It’s available here at Amazon as a paperback or e-book.