16 May 2023
You can spend a lifetime having known a person without actually knowing them.
You can spend a lifetime having known a person without actually knowing them. The same—and more—could be said about oneself as well. This solipsistic paradox is what Nirav Shah, a Delhi-based pilot, faced when his wife of 15 years suddenly demanded a divorce.
Long overdue, he finally made a confession: he had failed as a husband and companion. The ramifications of his constant jealousy, lack of intimacy, recurring shaming and frequent outbursts finally dawned on him. The pain of separation jolted Shah out of self-inflicted emotional imprisonment and made him look at his childhood trauma and, unbeknownst to him, his inner passivity.
Introspection was hard, but with the help of a hypnotist, he began the journey of unravelling his subconscious. Shah was under the spell of inner passivity, a psychological tendency to victimise oneself and operate from an inner default that ‘passively’ submits to the way things are rather than take action. “Usually born from self-limiting beliefs formed in childhood or after facing a traumatic life event, inner passivity is an obstinate resistance to change. The phenomenon hijacks the brain into believing it has little or no freedom to change, that fate is the ultimate decider,” says Delhi-based psychologist Kaveri Malhotra, also Shah’s therapist. “His self-criticising inner voice (extremely loud in passive people) undermined his efforts every time he tried to do something to mend his relationship.
It reinforced cycles of self-doubt, uncertainty and fear that he first experienced in childhood while living with parents with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” she says. But once Shah became aware of this self-sabotaging propensity, he lowered his defences and became more willing to see how his brain was tricking him into being unhappy. Pervasiveness of passivity Inner passivity almost always operates insidiously, “hiding behind the problem and pain of being indecisive, yet it can also be a factor in hasty decisions. It contributes to feelings of being unworthy, and it is a factor in hundreds of symptoms, including anxiety, fear, anger, addictions, compulsion and depression”, says Peter Michaelson in his book, The Phantom of the Psyche: Freeing Ourself from Inner Passivity.
Hidden under the garb of self-defence, procrastination is one of its signs. “Born from self-doubt and indecision, the tendency puts the brain on autopilot and manifests as a deepseated insecurity in your abilities and a belief that you are undeserving of happiness,” says Dr Puneet Dwevedi, Chief, Mental Health and Behavioural Science, Artemis Hospitals, Gurugram. If you grew up around parents who minimised your worth or reprimanded you for failing, some amount of passivity is a natural consequence.
“Passive people, therefore, believe they don’t have it in them to change their plight and wait for something outside to ‘rescue’ them,” he adds. Turn things around The distance from inner passivity to inner activity is as long as you want to make it. Here are a few ways in which you can counter it. Identify the symptoms: Inner passivity creates disillusionment around one’s shortcomings. “The first step is to look at the symptoms, the typical ones being undervaluing oneself, making unhealthy comparisons, or being reproachful of oneself.
Write these down as soon as they come up; it will help you identify self-limiting patterns that you can work through by yourself or with a therapist,” says Dwevedi. Goals are important: A common aggravator of inner passivity is the lack of goal-setting. “Goals are associated with motivation, which helps one feel in charge of the situation.
Creating meaningful ones can quieten the self-sabotaging inner voice and break auto-pilot thinking tendencies, enabling you to take proactive action towards the life you want to create,” says Mumbai-based life coach Dr Mickey Mehta. Personal responsibility: “Vocabulary matters. Start by losing words such as can’t, never and always. Take accountability for what you do and don’t. Instead of saying, ‘you hurt me,’ say ‘I created hurt because of what you said. ’ This will bring the focus back on you and what you need to do next to feel better,” says Mehta.
Beat bean planting: Overthinking leads to underperforming. Stewing on problems can aggravate inner passivity by keeping you stuck in loops of negative thoughts. “Mindclearing activities such as reading, listening to music, meditation, even doing mundane chores can lower the intensity of thoughts. The idea is not to banish them, but to be comfortable in their company without acting on them. Doodle your way out of overthinking or take a nap. Tidying up the place can be helpful for some people,” says Dwevedi.
Avoid knee-jerk reactions: Instead, take a few minutes to think things through in a situation. “Passive people refuse a task almost immediately because they think they can never do it. If that’s you, examine the possible outcomes before saying a loud no,” says Mehta. Situational maturity: Passivity is not always born in childhood or adolescent years. It is, sometimes, the result of stressors in your environment; for instance, a dominating boss or a colleague or a critical partner.
See if you can communicate your needs better, resolve disagreements, create some distance from the stimulus, or seek support in therapy to help you move beyond that passive voice keeping you stuck in negative situations.
Published in The Sunday Standard