How To Overcome Passivity: 5 Types of Passivity

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When I started writing again in 2009 and started my business, I was so passive it was ridiculous.  I was not comfortable with my own voice or my expertise.  I spent a lot of time trying to hone in on it and it was a very frustrating process. I went through periods of jealousy, deep frustration, and aloneness with my ideas.

Overall, I felt like I couldn’t really give my expression, because I wouldn’t be received.  Many of us have thoughts like this and they are tied to the universal belief that the world isn’t a safe place.  That is a worldview that most people have – the world isn’t safe, so I need to be careful.  Careful in my thoughts, careful with every detail of my life.  Careful not to offend.  Careful, careful, careful.  We can become so freaking careful that we just completely drown out our voice and our own expression.  I have news for you – the world isn’t going to be any more or less safe dependent on your decision to manifest your expression, so you might as well get comfortable with it.

5 Types of Passivity

Avoiding Taking Responsibility

One of the key things I was doing wrong when I got started was thinking that someone else should show me how to run a business and what to do and how to get there.  While there are plenty of people who exist who could show me this system, essentially it was up to ME to seek THEM out, hire them, and employ the tactics.  It wasn’t up to them to find me.  By requiring someone to “find” me, I was avoiding the responsibility of my own business and success.  I was being passive and not active about the life I want.  

Listening to Our Own Stories

One of my core beliefs is that we create our own stories out of our experiences and what others have labeled throughout our lives as “normal.”  What this looks like is saying “I can’t…” instead of “I don’t want to….” when asked a question or invited somewhere.

If someone calls me and invites me to dinner and I just really don’t want to go, I should say that and tell them why.  I shouldn’t say “I can’t go tonight.”  Can’t literally means I’m incapacitated and wouldn’t physically be able to go to dinner.  Saying “I don’t want to” will make you feel so much more peaceful in your spirit and not with that gut “I just lied” feeling.  Try the assertiveness way – see how different you feel.

Not Speaking When We Should

Do you remember the ABC series “What Would You Do” where they placed hidden cameras in a series of situations to see how people actually handled those tense situations?  It’s interesting in those series when you watch people.  There are always those folks who won’t ever speak up or say anything.  That can often be viewed as being passive.  No matter how you view it, these are the exact types of situations that lend themselves to helping the passive flex their assertive muscle.

Waiting for Someone Else to Act

This scenario is a classic case of reactive versus proactive.  This is the difference in an employee who does things because they need to be done (and without being coached to do it), and the one who waits to be told every step to take.  This happens a lot in corporate America and really, everywhere – employers hire people and become frustrated because they have to hold someone’s hand.  This passive mindset is tied to the universal belief that says “I don’t want to look foolish.”  When we subscribe to this belief, we surrender our assertive nature.

Listen, the big idea here is that we can change our beliefs.  Instead of thinking about looking foolish, what if we changed this belief to “I believe foolishness is sometimes necessary for success.”  How would that then change the behavior?  And what if you could repeat that behavior time and time again?  How much more assertive and proactive could you be?  Also, how much more respect could you possibly gain?

Being Dishonest

This element of being passive sort of goes right along with believing our own stories and subscribes to yet another universal belief – that the truth causes pain.  Because if we actually are saying we “can’t” go to dinner, we are essentially being dishonest – with ourselves and the other person.  This is very very hard to stop doing – I know.  But 2 things here.  1) It is a learned behavior and 2) It diminishes your voice.

This is something most of us do and have watched others do and it’s considered “normal.”  (And I hate that word).  Well, let me tell you, it is learned.  And anything learned can be un-learned (for lack of a better term).  This is still something I have to work on a LOT.  I know how hard it is.  However, once you’ve read this, you’ll start catching it and changing it.

This will make you feel so empowered and I guarantee you it will fit you with fresh confidence.  Be honest.  Be assertive.  Not only does this give you permission to be yourself and be respected – it gives others the shot at having that honor as well.

In the beginning of my business, when I was extremely passive, that time in my life came from not feeling valued.  I had asked to write and contribute to not one or two, but three publications online and been rejected.  I was believing a different story than that which was true – I was allowing their responses to dictate my ability.  And here came what I infamously call “the doubting mantras.”  This was me believing I was ineffective, nothing I said mattered, and I was of lesser value.  I had to let those beliefs go in favor of much better ones.

It’s important to know that cultivated competence is long-lived (tweet that). 

When I finally unsubscribed from the belief that the world only rewards “smart” people and that what I had to say wasn’t “near as good”, and replaced it with “the world rewards people who say anything at all, as long as they speak their expression”, I was good.  I can tell you that I’ve never been more active and assertive in my voice than I’ve been in the past several weeks.


I want to hear from you now.  Tell me 2 things:  1) What were all the universal beliefs I named in this post? and 2) how will YOU re-shape those limiting beliefs to work for YOU?  Give me specific examples of your own life and areas you know you’re passive in and can or want to improve.

I’ll see you in the comments below.

With Love,



  • Sherilyn
    July 6, 2012, 11:53 pm  Reply

    I love this writing! You asked for all the universal beliefs that were named in this post: I believe they were; 1. The belief that the world is not a safe place. and, that 2. The truth causes pain. How can I re-shape these limiting beliefs to work for me? I tend to be too passive at work, or at least, i know i have been in the past! I think that belief #2 is what affected me from being more assertive; I found I need less to worry about “feelings’ at work and to worry more about “doing a great job” and not so much personality differences, or hurting someone’s feelings. I have found, contrarily, that they are not concerned about MINE, so, I need mostly to be concerned about doing a great job and not allow personal feelings to come into the mix. There are many areas I’m working on improving, but, for sure, I believe in my life, I went from one extreme to the other; during my late marriage; I believe I had no problem being “assertive” and was overly so, at times. Then afterwards; with NO (or very little) drama in my life; I retracted to being overly passive and wanting to become more passive in dealing with everyone and I believe I “OVER-compensated”. now I’m working on a good “middle” ground. It seems to me; that age lends one to either become WAYYY laid back, “easy going” or passive, or, the OTHER end of the spectrum of being the extreme opposite. I’m enjoying the new writings because it is helping me to become assertive when needed; but not too agressive in my approach when un necessary. Thanks for writing, as always! Your writings amaze me. I believe you have found an amazing “niche”!!! Sherilyn

    • July 7, 2012, 2:00 pm

      Yay! So excited this resonated with you. 🙂 Middle ground is sometimes hard to find, but I believe we can all get there. 🙂

  • Sherilyn
    July 7, 2012, 5:17 pm  Reply

    Yes, takes work, but I’m a “work” in progress! 🙂 Thanks again.

  • July 9, 2012, 2:25 pm  Reply

    Love your insights in this post. I appreciate the honesty and wisdom you’re bringing to the table here. It was interesting for me to see that “the world isn’t a safe place” is a universal belief, because that one is definitely one that I’ve held for a long a time and has held me back in innumerable ways. I have a lot more clarity on that one then I ever did before and am determined to shift that thought by engaging the thoughts and behaviours that reinforce the inherent beauty and safety of the world.

    • July 9, 2012, 4:22 pm

      Thank you, Zsofi. I think that belief also inhibits us from being vulnerable, which often keeps us from being truly free & transparent. A lot of us have been hurt in past situations, some of them repetitive to the point of massive shut-down mode. But the very place we came from (deep within) to make ourselves vulnerable to receive that hurt is the same place we have to go right back to in order to forgive or open up again. This is the tough shift that will help reinforce what you are speaking of. 🙂

  • August 4, 2012, 3:57 am  Reply

    Great post. For me the underlying universal belief is I’m not worthy. Realising that this was what was holding me back has really allowed me to shift how I work and become very active. When I realised that far from being painful the truth is actually very freeing everything changed for me.

    • October 11, 2012, 11:35 am

      That’s beautiful, Tabitha. Thanks for sharing.

  • August 4, 2012, 7:10 am  Reply

    I don’t think anyone would call me passive, but I have always known that while I can be fierce when defending my teams, my tribe….others, I can fall down on the job when it’s my own interests that need defending. So I’d say this is something for all of us to aware of. thanks for sharing!

    • October 11, 2012, 11:34 am

      Thank YOU for reading, Nathalie! 🙂

  • August 4, 2012, 6:50 pm  Reply

    A limiting belief that I used to subscribe to was that I had to be at a certain “level” before I “deserved respect” – but truth of the matter is that we are ALL worthy, and that levels are just ego-created silliness that dissolves away when we stop subscribing to it!

    • October 11, 2012, 11:34 am

      Love that, Sabrina. 🙂

  • Michelle
    March 21, 2014, 11:52 pm  Reply

    Having lived the past 13 years with a passive-agressive husband (who just left me), I am now trying to find my voice. Your writing is a great start!

    • March 22, 2014, 6:20 pm

      Wow, Michelle. Thanks for sharing that. I wish you the VERY best in really finding your truest, authentic voice and would LOVE for you to stick around – we’ll be addressing assertive communication more this year.

  • Antoine
    March 22, 2014, 5:00 pm  Reply

    Wow this article is on point. Those of us who lived with passitivity know there is amount of pride in our work, perfectionists, but the work never shows up due to constant review. Saying “I don’t want to” is very empowering because it is intolerant. People may not always like but always respect that “I’m not having the b.s.” attitude. This protects you because when people offend you. If you clearly lay out as soon as its said (the quicker the better) you draw the line to leave no mistakes. Either you accidentally offended me, offended me on purpose, or offended me and decided that may have crossed the line and retreat. The solution to all 3? Check them accordingly. This usually works for me “When you (fill in the blank with offense) it makes me feel like you could care less what I think” We need to remember what we think means a lot to us and to make it irrelevant is denying yourself the same opportunities in life we were all born with. Thank you Miss Ford

    • March 22, 2014, 6:19 pm

      What a beautiful perspective, Antoine. Thank you for sharing!

  • Susan Garcia
    March 30, 2014, 3:27 pm  Reply

    Wow! I see myself in the article… I have been seeing someone amazing. He is the way I’ve wished I could be…assertive, confident, down-to-earth, sociable. I felt inspired to finally try to improve some of my personalty behavior issues that I’ve always disliked about myself. The crazy thing is that did all that was possible not to transfer my behaviors onto my children, and am proud to say they turned out assertive, sociable and confident, almost to a fault…but I prefer them not to experience my ‘handicap’…

    1. The world isn’t a safe place… Yes, I’ve always felt this way ever since my Elementary school days. I was teased and picked on for being poor. As a result, I avoided doing anything that would draw attention to myself. I hated feeling invisible, and often fantasized a better world. Now I try to remind myself that we are all human and no one is better than the next.

    2. I don’t want to look foolish… This one is so true…even to this day. I hear my inner voice screaming to be hear during workshops/training courses, but I doubt myself. Then I want to kick myself when someone else gives the correct answer I had in my head…and I’m often left with “That’s what I was going to say…” under my breath. Even on the subways, when a beggar is asking for donations and I’m waiting for someone else to be the first to give up some money… that’s when I do my part. I have taken the initiative a few times to donate first and tell myself not to care what others think, I’m doing a good thing. It’s gotten better, but I need more help taking the initiative in other areas.

    3. The truth causes pain… A big problem for me. Every year my New Year’s resolution is to be more assertive and not fear speaking w/honesty. My sister-in-law is so good this way w/o being rude…and we’re still friends. But I’m afraid to hurt someone else’s feeling for fear it may create an awkward or uncomfortable environment between me and that person. This is what I’m experiencing at work with a married coworker who’s subtle actions is telling me he’s taken to me. I don’t ever encourage him…but I haven’t been able to find a way to tell him I’m not interested w/o hurting his feelings…He isn’t a confident and hurts easily.

    I’m looking to learn how to put my passive and shy behaviors to rest for good and bring out the strong woman I see in me… the woman that’s been screaming to come out once and for all. I’m actually considering starting out with going to the movies or a lounge by myself (I never do that alone because I feel silly sitting alone…and also afraid if someone comes up to strike a conversion with me and I don’t feel as if I can hold an interesting conversation).

    • March 30, 2014, 6:40 pm

      Thanks for all of your input here, Susan! I loved reading about your experiences! I would like to see the assertive woman inside of you come out too – I know she’s in there.

  • percy asianzu
    July 10, 2014, 12:08 pm  Reply

    great post here, #1- dishonest, #2- responsibility, #3-speaking out………and all others. I think I should share this with my class over here in Uganda, Africa. I have learnt so much from this. Thank you

  • omar miguel
    June 8, 2015, 8:53 pm  Reply

    thank you for the article. I just found out what it is to be passive and I see alot of this in me. I get scared of offending people, I fear that people are not enjoying themselves when going out or when people are at my house, I get shy around 2 or more people. it sucks!! but I will overcome this.

    • June 13, 2015, 10:04 pm

      Hi Omar! You actually don’t have to “overcome” your shy-ness. You can learn to work with it. You CAN overcome your passivity. Check out my eCourse on assertiveness in the services showroom if you haven’t already, but you’re at least on the right track in already identifying that fear is the basis of your passivity. That’s a great first step!

  • chris
    February 18, 2016, 2:30 am  Reply

    This is so true! Most of the time, passive people like me just waiting for the right time to come. Never takes my own initiatives and being a perfectionist. And secondly, it’s also true, waiting for someone to act for me, while I actually can do it myself. And to avoid responsibility, we uses lies and become dishonest with people.

    • February 18, 2016, 3:12 pm

      So good, Chris. Perfection often equals paralysis. Love what you pointed out about using lies and dishonesty to avoid responsibility too. We’re all human and have probably all done it. It’s what we do once we realize it that matters most. Thanks for your comment!


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