An acquaintance of mine (I’ll call him Sam) was arrested recently for obstruction of justice. He was pulled over by the police because his vehicle fit the description of one that had been stolen. Though innocent, Sam, who’s in his mid-twenties, became rude and uncooperative. When he could produce only an expired vehicle registration, he was handcuffed, taken to jail, and his vehicle impounded. His case was later dismissed, but he paid a price in time, money, and misery.
I’ve spent some time in Sam’s company and I know something of his state of mind. He’s a smart, caring, and loyal person. But he has a significant emotional weakness. He’s quick to feel that people are trying to control, dominate, or oppress him, and he’s adopted an anti-authority outlook on life that can be traced back to this emotional weakness. Because of this, he interprets authority as something unpleasant or bad that needs to be resisted.
Deposits of inner passivity are contained in Sam’s psyche. Inner passivity, as I describe it in many of my posts and books, is a feature of human nature. It’s a leftover mental-emotional residue from the stages of helplessness and dependence we experience through our childhood years. When we’re not aware of inner passivity, we can fall prey to its influence and become weak, ineffective, and prone to self-defeat. Instead of possessing true power, we’re likely to react unresponsively, passive-aggressively, or with belligerent self-defeating aggression.
When Sam was pulled over, he obviously reacted unwisely to the authority of the police. Normally, we grant to police officers the expectation that they’ll handle their authority appropriately. If stopped by them, we’re wise to be polite and cooperative, thereby showing that we command respect. However, when inner passivity is acting up in our psyche, we can easily feel intimidated by a policeman’s authority. His authority feels like a form of oppression or domination. We sense we’re being (or going to be) bullied or that we’ll become victims of an injustice. When we experience legitimate authority in such a manner, we’re obviously being weak. In this way, Sam’s sense of freedom is limited.
When stopped by police, he slipped into defiance as a reaction to (and cover-up of) his unconscious predisposition to interpret the policeman’s authority through his inner passivity. When inner passivity is triggered, our unconscious mind prompts us to cover up (or defend against realization of) our affinity in that moment for feeling controlled, dominated, or oppressed. At such a moment, passive-aggressive resistance is the only sense of strength we’re able to muster. The resistance is an unconscious defense which claims, “I’m not being weak or passive. Look at how resistant and defiant I am.” Of course, the real strength in such a moment is to be calm and non-reactive.
It’s irrational to interpret authority as oppressive or bad, and that irrationality arises out of inner conflict. The primary conflict in the human psyche is between inner aggression (inner critic or superego) and inner passivity (subordinate ego and seat of self-doubt). Our inner aggression is a primitive force that possesses little kindness or justice. This aggression can rule our inner life, particularly when we enable it (or facilitate its existence and power) through our inner passivity. Our inner aggression is a form of injustice and harassment, though often we’re unaware of its existence. This inner experience is then transferred into the world around us, which means that authority at the outer level (e.g., coming from parents, teachers, bosses, the police, corporations, and government) can now be experienced by us as abusive or oppressive. We’re now in danger, out of such inner weakness, to make oppression a self-fulfilling situation.
Inner passivity, of course, is a problem for women as well as men. Both sexes are equally susceptible to it. This post, however, examines more aspects of its impact on men. More so than women, men are held accountable by their inner critic when they fail to establish a satisfactory career or when they’re unable to project a forceful presence in their circle of family and friends. (Though women are not necessarily more passive than men, they can more easily find social acceptance, and hence inner acceptance, for their passive tendencies.) Even men who others regard as successful frequently grapple with an inner critic that claims they still haven’t done enough or haven’t lived up to expectations.
Again, individuals with substantial deposits of inner passivity resonate emotionally with feeling oppressed because they allow themselves to be oppressed by their inner critic. They say they hate oppression, but oppression is a familiar inner experience. They’re even emotionally attached to this feeling, and it shapes in large measure their identity or sense of self. Some men give up and stop trying to fulfill themselves through work or careers, or even as husbands and fathers. This capitulation can serve as a psychological defense which, expressed unconsciously, claims: “I’m not interested in feeling powerless or overwhelmed by my options. On the contrary, I’m quite comfortable with just being a passive observer of life.” They may temporarily numb themselves to their malaise, but emotional complications can loom in their future.
Many cultural and economic influences challenge the male psyche. Experts agree that boys and young men are less aggressive and less resilient than previous generations. Several possible causes are cited, including a lack of mentoring and good male role-models, intrusive parents, overprescribing of psychiatric drugs, the prevalence of illicit drugs, the presence of toxic endocrine disruptors in the environment, the influence of education that some say favors feminine values, and the influences of video games, online pornography, and gaming. Certainly, commercial forces are pandering to human weakness and likely reinforcing it, as violence is displayed ever more graphically in the movies, casinos are presented as reputable entertainment centers, lavish sporting events make gawkers of spectators, and sexual prowess is packaged in prescriptions. Young men face much more competition in the workplace from women who, much of the time, are smarter, especially in communication skills. For boys and young men, modern life is very complicated with all of its distractions, options, and challenges, so they need emotional strength and better psychological knowledge to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Men are bombarded daily with thousands of subliminal impressions that imply they’re not measuring up. Many TV commercials present men as passive patsies who cower to celebrities or who won’t be whole or complete without some particular product or lifestyle choice. During elections, negative advertising presents male politicians as incompetent fools. Perhaps most trying of all, a difficult labor market and high unemployment create the impression that one’s contribution to the world, if not one’s very being, is not valued.
Sensual gratification can be achieved passively through virtual friends and copious entertainment and social media options. If these experiences aren’t making you happy, the implication goes, something’s wrong with you. Without meaningful work, however, it’s not easy to avoid depression, apathy, cynicism, and anti-social behaviors. With consumerism and individual gratification driving the economy, the lure of drugs and the specter of mental illness may harken. How many men who would otherwise remain stable are sinking into the clutches of paranoid, antisocial, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, depressive, dependent, and avoidant personality disorders? Men returning from war with post-traumatic stress disorder can face steeper uphill struggles.
Nevertheless, we must believe these difficult challenges aren’t going to defeat us. More awareness of inner passivity offers powerful guidance for moving forward. Inner passivity’s many facets are described in my most recent books and in many of the posts at this website. This hidden aspect of human nature, a leftover from childhood experiences and a flaw in our biology, is neither good nor bad. It’s not a disease or a mental illness. It’s more like a hurdle in the path of human evolution. If we don’t see it, we just keep crashing into it. When we begin to bring it into focus, we connect with our goodness and power.