In this multi-part series on how to be more assertive, we’re continuing where we left off in part one and part two on the nuances, fundamentals, unspoken rules, and power dynamics that exist in courtship, seduction, and interpersonal relationships.
One of the key principles that makes our coaching so effective is our relentless focus on mastering the fundamentals and making socializing, dating, and seduction instinctive. But before something can become instinctive, it’s important to understand the underlying concepts, principles, and frameworks that drive these natural instincts.
While assertiveness is a healthy part of expressing your masculinity and a core tenet of leadership, it can also be easily taken out of context and to extremes.
A common issue I’ve observed over the years as a dating coach and from my own personal experiences is that when it comes to assertiveness, men either overcompensate or come off as too submissive out of fear and conditioned behavior. Healthy masculinity is a balancing act, much like other areas of life.
In part three of this series, we’re going to discuss passive and submissive behaviors, including how to identify them, pros and cons, and some strategies to work around being submissive. In part four, we’ll cover the opposite extreme of this spectrum — aggressive behaviors. Lastly, in part five we’ll discuss the proper balance between aggressive and submissive behaviors in order to be socially assertive.
Passive and Submissive Behaviors Explained
The passive style of communication in interpersonal relationships is characterized by a pattern of weak personal boundaries, fear of asserting oneself out of an unconscious fear of punishment or social rejection, and general submission. In a nutshell, someone who’s overly passive tends to be a pushover. While this video refers to an over-exaggerated stereotype, check it out for a visual example of passivity in action.
In terms of behaviors, a passive individual tends to keep quiet, put him/herself down, apologize for any form of self-expression, hide their disagreement, and openly inconvenience themselves to please others.
In terms of non-verbal communication, a passive individual will make themselves look smaller, look down or hunch over, openly avoid eye contact, and speak with low tonality. The unconscious belief system that drives this passivity might sound something like, “My needs are less important than others,” or “What I contribute isn’t as valuable as what everyone else is contributing.”
The emotions tied to these behavioral patterns manifest into a fear of rejection, helplessness, low self-esteem, internal frustration, and resentment towards others, especially people who violate their personal boundaries.
Someone with a passive personality type tends to be conflict avoidant, people-pleasing at their personal expense, and always lets others take control of situations, including responsibility for their own actions. We cover these concepts in more detail in our article on overcoming Nice Guy Syndrome. If you’ve noticed these traits in yourself or others in your life and want to gain a deeper understanding of Nice Guy Syndrome, then I highly recommend listening to our podcast with Dr. Robert Glover.
Traits of Submissive Individuals
Submissiveness is a conditioned behavior that often stems from a fear of confrontation. Depending on cultural norms, childhood experiences, and unconscious habits, before the issue can be addressed, it must first be identified. Passive individuals tend to give into unreasonable demands, withhold feedback from others (even if it’s reasonable) out of fear that it might come off as criticism, and are overly apologetic for no reason.
A good visual example of this can be seen in this clip from the movie Office Space. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s about a passive corporate drone named Peter who hates his soul-killing job at a software company. In the first half of the movie before he takes control of his life, he’s avoidant, submissive, and withholds his true opinions out of fear. Notice in this scene how Peter tries to openly avoid his boss so he can go home and enjoy his weekend. But he fails to avoid his boss, and passively accepts the unreasonable request of coming into work on Saturday and Sunday.
While apologizing for your mistakes is a normal and healthy part of being human, when taken to extremes, it can be detrimental, especially when it comes to relationship and power dynamics. Not only does it sub-communicate to the other party that you’re submissive, but it also sets you up to be easily taken advantage of.
Going back to the win-win dynamic we covered in part one and part two, excessively apologizing even when you didn’t do anything wrong establishes a power dynamic where the other person has more social leverage and creates a win-lose dynamic.
Growing up in a conservative immigrant Asian family, being submissive to authority was the norm. I empathize and understand the struggle of becoming overly apologetic when it’s out of context. But I’ve learned through experience that passivity will never set you up for successful win-win, balanced relationships. It will cause you to get stuck in a win-lose dynamic and be more susceptible to toxic and manipulative relationships.
Submissive individuals struggle to collect fair and balanced social credits and devalue their own contributions. Outside of therapy, a good starting point for overcoming submission and passivity is to apply the concepts and principles in the book Radical Honesty or check out their online course.
Upsides to Submissiveness
While it might sound contradictory to the last section, there are some upsides to submissiveness. Context is important, especially when you want to communicate effectively, develop empathy (which is key to success in dating and relationships), and learn to identify why you or others struggle with being too submissive and passive and the unconscious motives that drive these behaviors.
Submissiveness is a Survival Strategy
The main reason why people internalize submissive behaviors and a passive communication style is because it ensures your survival within a group.
As an example, think of Communist regimes like Soviet Russia and present-day North Korea. If you keep a low profile, do as you’re told, don’t openly voice your thoughts, opinions, and concerns, and submissively and blindly follow the norms established by the group in power, you ensure your long-term survival.
Of course, the problem is that just “surviving” causes you to withhold your actual wants, needs, desires, and aspirations, and avoid taking risks in order to thrive.
Being Submissive is Efficient
I admit this goes against a lot of the advice we give here at Craft of Charisma. But in the context of understanding why submissive behavior is so hard to change and condition out of people, it’s much easier to let someone else take responsibility while you fall in line. Letting someone else take the lead relieves the submissive person of the burden, potential criticism, and time it takes to become a good leader. Letting someone else take on that burden saves the submissive individual time, energy, and resources.
Leadership has its perks, but also brings the risk of upsetting others and throwing off the equilibrium of a social group. It goes hand-in-hand with that saying that you can’t please everyone or make everyone happy. Leadership comes with the risk of dealing with abrasive and annoying personalities. Once you’re in that situation, you don’t have the luxury of dropping your responsibilities whenever you feel like it.
For example, I had a friend back in college who had natural leadership abilities. He was charismatic, patient, and had incredibly good people skills. But when it came to group projects where he would naturally shine and have the opportunity to flex his skills, he would never challenge the professor who assigned the groups, nor get into a power struggle with others in the group who weren’t as competent or openly wanted to be the team leader.
I asked him, given his natural talent, why he would always take a back seat when it came to group projects or take on a more supporting role. He would tell me, “Rob, even though it’s instinctive for me, I don’t want or need the extra stress, drama, and bullshit with all the other responsibilities I have on my plate outside of school. If the person who wants to get in the driver seat is incompetent, I know I have the skills to take control and get things back on track. But right now, much like any other job, I just want to enjoy our senior year and not have to overly stress.”
I couldn’t fault him for wanting to take the easy route, since we were going through a stressful semester and managing a full course load with deadlines that never seemed to have an end in sight. Sometimes it’s a matter of putting your pride aside, assessing the risks vs. rewards, and understanding that sometimes it pays to be passive. Being a martyr isn’t always beneficial.
As a Dating Strategy, Submissive Women Dominate
At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, submissiveness can be attractive to men and can be an extremely effective dating tactic for women. Much like how women (not all) are instinctively attracted to socially dominant men, men (not all) are instinctively attracted to submissive women.
There’s a dominant and submissive dichotomy that exists in every sexual relationship. Think of dominance as a masculine dynamic and submission as a feminine dynamic. A feminine/feminine relationship isn’t sustainable because no one would ever take the lead or make a decision, and it would eventually lead to a passive-aggressive dynamic. A masculine/masculine dynamic would also be unhealthy because of the constant competition, friction, fighting, aggression, and need to dominate or control everything.
For further reading on this concept, check out this paper on gender stereotypic genes and dating. Another example in the context of relationships is baby talk.
As stated in this Psychology Today article, “To outsiders witnessing this dichotomy in a romantic relationship it seems bewildering, but researchers suggest that baby talk has an evolutionary component observed across cultures. Baby talk may serve as a way to deepen emotional bonds between parents and their babies. Given that a similar attachment process functions among adults, it is no surprise that 75% of adults report having baby talked to a friend or romantic partner.”
Men Approaching Risk-Averse Women
A common question we get from our students is how to approach a girl at night on the streets. As a coach, my job is to outline the realities and risks that come with this approach. With the popularity of approach videos that have sprung up on YouTube in the last decade, there have been many videos of guys “successfully” meeting a girl on the streets at night. I can tell you from experience that a lot of it is gimmicky and not a very practical or efficient way to meet women.
I’m not discouraging anyone from cold approaching, since that’s a foundational skill set we teach in our workshops and Dating Mastery Program. But look at this from a woman’s perspective. Imagine she’s walking on a dimly lit street at night, waiting for a bus or Uber around a bunch of drunk people, or maybe looking for her car in a parking garage that has a lot of blind spots.
The first thing any person does in that kind of situation is assess if anyone in that environment, especially someone approaching them, is a threat to their safety. In these cases, a socially aware man will make sure to send out positive and friendly signals before making an approach, or let the opportunity to meet that person go and move to a different environment that’s openly social and where there’s more people.
While it may provide a temporary ego boost especially if you successfully pull it off, I often discourage these types of approaches because of the amount of work it will take to disarm and sub-communicate your intentions, along with the risk of getting yourself in trouble, even if you’re a genuinely good person. Bad things tend to happen in these kinds of environments at night, so it’s usually best to avoid them.
Unlike in a bar or club, going in too confident and aggressive will make a woman recoil in fear and assume you’re a threat. Then you’re already fighting an uphill battle by trying to change that perception. This holds true in places where women are culturally risk-averse, like Japan for example, especially for foreigners residing there. For example, white males can be seen as higher risk in Asia. Focusing on a friendly, comfort building, and disarming approach works better in these environments.
Submissiveness Can Re-Establish Equilibrium in the Relationship
When you hurt someone (intentionally or unintentionally) in any way, you establish more power in the context of that relationship dynamic. However, that power is established in a negative way. As I’ve mentioned, good relationships are balanced in terms of power and exchanges.
In a situation where you’ve violated your counterpart’s boundaries or upset them, an apology may not be enough. Sometimes the quickest way to mend a damaged relationship is to give the other person the power to punish you. Interpersonal relationship expert Dr. David J. Lieberman covers this concept extensively in his book, Get Anyone to Do Anything.
Of course, giving someone else the power to punish you is only for extreme cases. But the key takeaway, especially if you’ve hurt someone and want to mend the relationship, is to give power back. An example of this is to give a heartfelt apology, lower your head, or let that person be angry at you. If done properly, this will rebuild trust in the relationship.
Submission as a Means to Appease Someone
Submissive body language gives away power. In some instances this may be beneficial, because people feel good about attaining power. It can be an effective survival strategy for someone who already has power over you and has the power to improve your life. Putting your pride aside and giving up your power in certain situations can work.
For example, think of the frustration and stress that comes with getting a traffic ticket. Here in the US, a cop has the discretion whether or not to let you off the hook after you get pulled over. Cops in general are trained to assess and look for threats. So the most effective strategy is to put your pride aside and show submissiveness in order to diffuse the situation and get off their radar.
It won’t work 100% of the time, but the odds of a favorable scenario where you walk away with no ticket increase if you diffuse the situation by giving off submissive signals. This is one of the rare occasions, regardless of whether or not the cop is a jerk, where it pays to be friendly, overly apologetic, and keep your hands in a submissive and openly visible place like on top of the steering wheel.
Psychologist Kevin Dutton covers this in his book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths. In a nutshell, Dutton ran a test showing cops two different videos of a traffic stop. One stop was a confrontational guy and the other was a submissive guy. 95% of the cops said they would have ticketed the confrontational guy and let the submissive guy go.
Always consider the context. In the situation of a traffic stop, it’s okay to display this kind of behavior. However, I’m not advocating that this is good or positive behavior to emulate in every social situation. It not only sub-communicates low status, but it’s also manipulative and fosters a bad mindset.
Submission as a Means to Control Someone
The purpose of our coaching is to help identify and root out unhealthy behavioral patterns, so you can establish better relationship dynamics and meet women from a healthy emotional place.
When I first started coaching for Craft of Charisma, I had a student who was always showing submissive behavior to gain favor in the class. He was a genuinely good person, but was misguided, traumatized, and used to controlling situations by displaying weakness and submission. He would often beg, plead, attempt to guilt trip me, appeal to my ego, or feign weakness to attempt to win my sympathy and always be there to approach women for him, be emotional support at his beck and call, and take up the majority of my bandwidth and attention at the expense of the other students.
While somewhat of a generalization and not always true for every relationship dynamic, this is how submissive people try to take control of more aggressive people. In this case, the relationship is a war for control that neither the aggressive or submissive person wins. It becomes a toxic, unhealthy, lose-lose situation. It’s important to develop the instinct to identify this behavior and avoid it at all costs.
Signaling Respect and Admiration
Some cultures use submissive body language as a sign of appreciation. As a Filipino, it’s common in our culture to show unconditional respect to our elders, regardless of their behavior, beliefs, or manners. Being overly friendly, respectful, and showing signs of submission sub-communicates respect, which begets favor and acceptance.
In these cases, submission is a symbol of politeness and a pro-social attitude. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re like me and you were socialized in American culture that values individuality and rebellion over the status quo and falling in line, it can be a challenging dichotomy to navigate.
Maintaining and Gaining Support
As I mentioned earlier, submissive behavior in some cases makes people in power feel good and in control. This is also true in student and mentor relationships. Mentors feel valued for their help, and that encourages them to continue providing support. Submissive behaviors are effective in this context, especially where beginners are working with a seasoned mentor who’s much further ahead.
Submission Is Not an Effective Relationship Building Tactic
While there are some upsides to being submissive in certain contexts, I don’t condone it for dating, courtship, and healthy relationship building. The point of covering the topic of submission is to become aware of your own behaviors and also be able to identify it in real-life situations so you don’t get manipulated or fall into relationships with emotionally unhealthy people who use these tactics.
In a nutshell, submissive people tend to be dishonest and do not properly express their feelings, needs, values, and concerns. They allow others to violate their personal boundaries, deny their rights, and ignore their needs. Submissive people do express their needs, but they do it in an overly apologetic way which causes them to not be taken seriously.
Going back to the Nice Guy example from earlier, constantly acting in a passive or submissive manner can have harmful consequences such as:
- Bottled up anger
- Manipulative passive-aggressive behavior to express this anger
- Falling short of your full potential
- Leaving the door open for potential abusive relationship dynamics
- Lowering your hard-earned social status
There are many reasons why people behave submissively. Becoming aware of it and making a conscious and deliberate effort to overcome this negative behavioral pattern is key to living a healthy and balanced life in your social circles, dating, and beyond.
Here’s a quick recap of why submissive and passive behavior is so hard to change and some of the contexts in which people may utilize this strategy:
- Submissiveness is a survival strategy
- Being submissive is efficient
- As a dating strategy, submissive women dominate
- Men approaching risk-averse women
- Submissiveness can re-establish equilibrium in the relationship
- Submission as a means to appease someone
- Submission as a means to control someone
- Signaling respect and admiration
- Maintaining and gaining support
In part four of this series on how to be more assertive, we will cover the other end of this spectrum: aggression.
’Til next time,