Passivity and Rage
All of these factors combine to make the passive person full of rage. Every time they feel acted upon, not loved enough, disconnected from themselves and others, their rage intensifies and deepens and very often turns into negative grandiosity and pseudo-aggression.
The passive person harbors intense fantasies to become the dominant one who can punish or oppress all those around them. Some of the most negative, grandiose people actually use their out of balance energies to become pseudo-powerful. It may take the form of the father who rules his kingdom/home with an iron will or fist, or a despot or demigod who rules a country with tyranny. These people cover up their passivity with rage.
Fear of the Word “Passivity”
Passivity is obvious in many women, especially those born in the early and late twentieth century. The mothers of many Baby Boomers were indoctrinated into their passive roles. They were supposed to be the women who suffer quietly in the kitchen or the bedroom, and never try to gain access to the boardroom because that would be seen as being too aggressive and unladylike. Thanks to the Women’s Movement in the sixties and seventies now they can suffer in the boardroom or on the battlefield and be as aggressive, pseudo-aggressive, passive/aggressive as men were trained and encouraged to be. However with all the bad and good things that came with all of this, they still are encouraged to not get too angry or too assertive. But progress has been made.
The Masculine Protest
Unfortunately, progress has been very slow with the smaller, lesser known men’s movement of the 80’s and early 90’s. We did make some headway or I should say heartway regarding a form of passivity in men that has had almost nothing written on it, what Freud and others have called “The Masculine Protest.”
For centuries men have been told (and many have been convinced) that passive equals feminine. Because our modern culture has oppressed women and seen them as the “fairer” or “weaker sex” (that is changing in generation X and Y, but is still present), femininity was something to be feared; a negative characteristic to be avoided at all costs. In their attempt to never be seen as feminine many men turn their backs on anything that smacks of femininity—especially emotions. This explains in part why many men’s emotional intelligence is so stunted. Rather than being seen as passive or feminine many men become hyper-macho, hyper-active, aggressive, and money-driven and thus are never accused of passivity or femininity.
In the play Twelve Angry Men that was televised in 1957, juror number ten says, “What do you want us to do sit here all night and discuss your feelings?” with absolute disdain in his tone of voice. If men have little or no access to their emotions and confident women are still called bitches or worse if they show too much assertiveness or anger, then rage will be the result and passivity will be the wall we hide behind.
Ken said to me during a phone consultation, “I stay busy all the time. Even when I get ready to go jogging to relax and unwind, I change clothes in the car at stop signs and red lights. I’m running all the time. Yesterday I woke up crying when I remembered a dream about my ex-girlfriend. I know this sounds silly, but I thought, ‘What if I’m gay?’ That would explain why I’m 46 and never married. If I spent anytime examining the answer to this question all I could think of was all the women I could have dated, which would prove I’m not gay or passive. So I jumped out of bed and I didn’t stop working at my office until twelve that night.”
Countless anonymous sexual encounters can be a smoke screen for not wanting to appear or deal with one’s passivity, or their feelings of being inferior and appearing too feminine. These are the kinds of feelings men have been projecting onto women for a long time resulting in rage on the part of both sexes.
This rejection of things associated with “the feminine” is one of men’s greatest regressions. The anger and rage it creates in women is to be expected and no longer needs to be denied in order for there to be more adult behavior. Men too must face the unhealthy education and indoctrination they received as boys regarding the feminine. For compassion to replace fear of castration, being labeled gay, sissy, pansy, and other juvenile tags with the regard, respect, and appreciation of the feminine—wherever it is found—must be modeled by adult men and women for our children’s sake if not our own.
The passive man, or the man who fears passivity because it has come to be associated with feminine traits, must go back into their history as soon as possible. Then they can feel the unexpressed feelings they had when someone in some way would question his masculinity.
Robert Bly and I spoke at a men’s gathering last year in the mountains of Alabama, where my wife Susan and I call home. At the gathering, Brad told a story about when he was six years old. “One night I went into the living room where my dad was watching a ball game and drinking with some guys who worked for him. I leaned over and tried to kiss him goodnight. He turned to me with whiskey on his breath, then looked at his drinking buddies and said, ‘Now, aren’t you the little girl? You don’t ever kiss a man, I don’t care who it is.’ If that didn’t take something out of me the next statements tore a hole in my soul. ‘Would you fellas look at my little girl here? Isn’t she sweet? What do you think about a boy still wanting to kiss his father, a big boy like him? From now on you shake hands and never, ever let me see you kiss a man again or I’ll break you into little pieces. Now get to bed, you little sissy.’ There was something gone in me after that. I never trusted him again; or other men and I have always questioned my sexuality not to mention my masculinity.”
Brad’s emotional release and discharge of his intense anger, rage, and grief was so powerful that afternoon that it sent shivers down the spines of many of the men at the conference that had experienced many different kinds of rejection of the gentler parts of themselves.