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  • jane@northside

Four passive behaviours that can stifle growth

Updated: May 10

Overview of passive behaviours

We hear the phrase 'passive aggressive' quite often. Its become one of those phrases adopted by people into normal life. The aggressive behaviour is just one of the passive behaviours that we can all adopt at one time or another.

The problem with with adopting a passive behaviour is that it doesn't tend to be problem solving or be open to finding creative solutions. Passivity that often holds us back from getting what we want and, as a result, can have a negative impact on us and those around us.

passive behaviour

So what are passive behaviours? I'm going to talk about the four main ones - this isn't a definitive list and you look into this topic more deeply in many text books.

Doing nothing

Doing nothing can be one of two things:

A dig your heels in type response where you actively do nothing - like when choosing to ignore someone despite any slight temptation to respond to them.

A freeze response - this can be a survival response - where you find it difficult to think or be objective. Your heart can race and you can feel overwhelmed. Stressful situations can make this worse. Imagine being in a busy station when your train has just been cancelled and you have family members arguing around you.


You have a free weekend coming up and are planning to go out with friends. Instead of saying what you want to do, you try and second guess what the friends would like to do even if this isn't something you would choose to do on a valuable day off. So you end up feeling frustrated and not enjoying your weekend as much as you could.

Your friends might not be aware that you don't share their enthusiasm for the day which can make you feel even more disconnected.


Agitation is a passive behaviour even though it can feel like we are doing something but it may not be something that solves a problem. Procrastination is an example of agitation - we can choose to do any number of things, like watching tv, going out etc., instead of facing what it is we should be doing. Unfortunately this only delays the inevitable and, sooner or later, we will have to deal with the thing we should be doing.

Violence (toward self or other)

Violence quite often comes out of passive behaviour and frustration but it tends not to solve the problem. It can feel good because of a release of energy but doesn't really change anything or can make a situation worse.

How do we change our behaviour?

Passive behaviour can be easy to spot in others but not so easy to acknowledge in ourselves. Once we own the passive behaviour for ourselves, it becomes easier to do things differently and then get a different result.

In a situation which feels uncomfortable, it helps to try to identify the feeling happening in the background. For example, we may feel agitated but where does the agitation come from? What is is that we are trying to avoid and why?

If we can identify the underlying feeling, then we can make a decision about what to do next. Small steps can be really helpful in starting to change things. For instance, if procrastinating by watching tv, getting up and moving or doing something else more active can help changing to a more active mindset.


Elvin Aydin Keles has a short workshop exploring Working with Passive Behaviours. A recording of the workshop is also available.


*Stewart, Ian & Joines, Vann: TA Today: A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis


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