The Half-Lived Life: Overcoming Passivity & Rediscovering Your Authentic Self

July 23rd, 2014 | Posted by John Lee in Relationships | Therapy


The Half-Lived Life tackles the ever-increasing problems passivity presents to individuals, groups, and families and does so without shaming those whose lives may be less than what they’d hoped. As you recognize your passivity and begin to understand and address it, you are building the foundation necessary to become creators of your world instead of feeling like the world controls you. These first steps allow you to become compassionately assertive and in so doing regain valuable insights into how to become the person you thought you would be, longed to be and ultimately can be, resulting in a fully-lived life.

Passivity has been one of the least studied, discussed, and explained aspects of human behavior. The fields of psychology, personal growth, and recovery have completely ignored it. Understanding passivity is an essential and important key to creating healthy relationships, increasing self-esteem and healing the bodies, minds, and spirits of individuals who are hurting or hurting others.

Passivity is a compulsion or learned tendency to live at half-speed which ultimately leaves people feeling their glass is half-empty and thus half-heartedly committing to projects, plans and goals. Passive people are half in and half out of relationships. The passive person who suffers the effects of a the glass half empty life is more attached to not having what they think they want or desire, even though they protest loudly this is not so.

A client of mine, James, is 40 and a very successful real estate agent who earns a high six figure income. During a session he said, “I work all the time on my marriage. I’m in therapy, I read books and I regularly attend self-help workshops. No one can say I’m passive.” When asked about his marriage he quickly replied, “I want more physical contact, more touching, and yes, more sex, but I don’t get hardly any at all.”

James wants his wife, Brenda, to be more affectionate and yet he indulges in a whole host of behaviors that guarantees he won’t get this and actually gets him just the opposite of what he thinks and says he really wants.

I asked him to give me an example of his efforts to get affection from his wife, so I could see and show him his passivity and addiction to not having what he says he wants.

James said, “I go into the living room all the time and Brenda is on the couch watching television for hours on end. I say something like, ‘Can’t you turn that thing off for a little while? There’s nothing intelligent or worth watching on TV. I don’t know why you watch these silly shows.’ But she never agrees and I end up storming out of the room frustrated as usual.”

I jokingly said, “How’s that working for you?” Then I offered a suggestion. “Try sitting on the living room couch next to her; gently lifting her legs and placing them on your lap while you massage her feet, instead of shaming, criticizing, demeaning, and judging her. Then simply ask her what’s on that you two can watch together.”

He looked at me like I was speaking in a foreign tongue; in a way it was an unfamiliar language because it was the language of compassion and assertiveness. James looked a little dumbfounded before saying, “No, I have never even thought of it. It sounds so simple. I can see me doing that but I never would have thought to do so. I wonder why?” he said very seriously.

It was because of his passivity and his fears of rejection, abandonment and intimacy.

By the way, he tried my suggestion the very next week. “We got up off the couch ten minutes after doing what you suggested. She looked at me and said ‘Who are you?’ Before I could answer she laughed and said, ‘Never mind, I like this,’ and we got up and got in bed and made love for the first time in a year.”

This same man devoted an exorbitant amount of time to reading about relationships and marital counseling. He said he worked all the time on his marriage. But in reality, he thought his wife had the problem and not him.

As one highly successful surgeon said to me after a day-long Full Glass workshop, “I always felt I was half the husband, half the father, half the friend I knew I could be even though I’m very successful in my field. It was like I was living half the life I could be living. Now I feel I have the tools to be the person I have always wanted and knew deep down inside that I could be.”

Passivity is difficult to identify because one of the greatest tricks a passive person plays on themselves goes something like this, “Look how hard I work. I work eighty hours a week and am the CEO of a large company. How can anyone label me as passive?” or “Look how much I work on myself. I go to five twelve step meetings a week, and see my therapist regularly, how can I be passive?” “Can’t you see I’m suffering? Isn’t that proof that I’m not attached to passivity?”

One of the main symptoms of passivity (we’ll go into many more later) is being out of balance in our personal and professional lives. The passive person’s creed is, “I’m bored,” or “I’m feeling overwhelmed”,  and they think the world acts on them and moves them rather than being actors and movers.

It is important to note that passivity causes you to react rather than act, control rather than respond, manipulate rather than make, or self-destruct instead of create. The passivity I am discussing in The Half-Lived Life is NOT to be confused with passive/aggressive behaviors, timidity, shyness, apathy, or laziness. It is also not to be misconstrued as “surrendering” or “letting go,” “turning it over,” or “passive resistance.” All of these are very active processes that actually energize the ones doing so. The passivity that is being discussed here is more closely akin to “giving up,” “feeling defeated,” “settling for,” or feeling “unsatisfied.”


By working with your tendencies to be passive you are taking the first critical steps to take your life to the next level; a level which is more rewarding and satisfying. Unfortunately many people have developed a greater connection to loss and feeling less than; they settle for unfulfilling relationships or careers that never quite achieve their creative potentials. Surviving rather than thriving has become the state that many of us are not only used to but are compelled to pursue. This leads to secretly evaluating our glasses to be half-empty. It is the non-engaging that lets life pass you by because you did not have the information and tools to take action to change things for the better. You do now.  Passivity is a learned behavior; a reaction to life that can be unlearned.

Passivity is an offense of omission—not doing or saying what you need to, not responding, not accepting challenges and refusing to take risks—rather than commission and that is one reason why it has been overlooked by clinicians and writers.

Passivity compels people to wait in a state of suspended animation until something or someone outside themselves “rescues” them from their current circumstances which would then allow them to have a Full Glass Life. This knight in shining armor (whether a person, the world, society or a supernatural being) is supposed to bring the passive person something they feel they have lost or had taken from them. That something could be hope, energy, love, trust, faith, the perfect job, an unconditional lover, winning the lottery or the good parent they never had, once had or wished they had. It is a psychological, physical, emotional and spiritual condition that plagues even the most educated and self-directed people and therefore the whole person must be addressed and once it is you can move from passivity to pursuing your passions in life and relationships.

In the next blog from John Lee, read Part II: Solutions to the Passivity Problem


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John Lee, M.A., a leading expert in recovery, anger, addiction, emotional intelligence and relationships, currently resides in Austin, TX where he has a private practice and continues to travel, teach, consult and speak. His newest book is the Mother-Son Dynamic.

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