Letting Go of Suffering- Week 7: Stopping Passive Behavior


A major predecessor of suffering is passive behavior. Many years ago one of my mentors, Elaine Childs Gowell, taught me that we are being passive when we are aware that there is a problem and we:

a. Do nothing and hope the problem goes away.

b. Overadapt and do what other people want us to do.

c. Agitate by doing repetitive behaviors that aren’t directed towards solving the problem, e.g. tapping  fingers, swinging legs, playing with hair, mopping the floor at 2:00 a.m., etc. Addictive behaviors may be forms of agitation, e.g. over-working, over-eating, alcohol, drugs, and over-thinking.

d. Incapacitate through headaches, backaches, stomach aches, depression.

e. Escalate by behaviors such as throwing things, screaming and hitting.


Situation: Your 12 year old daughter received two D’s on her report card.

a. Do Nothing: Tell yourself she will do better the next time and just ignore the situation.

b. Overadapt: Decide not to talk to her teachers because your daughter doesn’t want you to.

c. Agitate: Grumble under your breath and clean the house late into the night.

d. Incapacitate: Develop a headache

e. Escalate: Scream at your daughter and then slap her when she sasses you.

Eliminating passivity from your life takes time and effort. First, you have to recognize when you are being passive, or are considering being passive, and then commit to doing something to solve the problem instead.


This week, record each time you realized you were being passive, or had the opportunity to be passive. Then write down what you did to solve the problem.

When you choose to solve the problem instead of being passive, brag about it to yourself and to a friend. Receiving acknowledgement can be very helpful in changing self-sabotaging behaviors.


See you next Monday for the eighth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.

Please Listen to Me

When I started my psychotherapy practice in 1987, I hung a poster titled “Please Listen to Me” on my group room wall. Even though it is no longer on the wall, I think of the content often. I believe it contains important information for everyone, but might be especially helpful to those of you who are participating in this week’s Challenge for Growth prompt.

Please Listen to Me

When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving advice, you have not done what I asked.

When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings.

When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems, you have failed me, strange as that may seem.

All I ask is that you listen. Not talk or do, just hear me. Advice is cheap: 50 cents will get you both Dorothy Dix and Dr Spock in the same newspaper. And I can do for myself I’m not helpless. Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.

When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself you contribute to my fear and weakness. But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I quit trying to convince you and can get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling.

And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice. So, please listen and just hear me, and if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn; and I’ll listen to you.

Author Unknown