Passivity: In the foundations

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Last spring in 2007, I took on the task of writing the advanced level material on the problem of Power and Control.  Some of you are familiar with my original work on Master/Slave from 2002, and in the various articles on MasterTalk.  Over a period of years, experience and reflection lead me to the article on the Power of Passivity.  In it I try to  ground the reader in the simple, but ubiquitous, logic of all those dysfunctional relationships that we find ourselves both surrounded by, and all too frequently, living in. The puzzle of codependency seemed solved.

Lately I made some additional steps in creating three charts to look more closely at the dilemma facing us all – the behavior of the Slave, the codependent.   I presented these slides to a group of people who reacted so favorably that I want to share them even though the written material that surrounds them may not be complete yet.  Here we go.

The Alternatives of Power-Over or Shared-Power



This is simply a more complete version of the chart I presented in the Power of Passivity.  I stress the two sides of the chart:

  • Dysfunctional/Immature
  • Functional/Mature

and the three levels of the chart:

  • Level A: Arrogant, Entitled, Superior;
  • Level B: Equal, Fair, Collaborative, Respectful;
  • Level C: Submissive, Subservient, Victim, Passive. 

I believe the goals of raising children, forming and maintaining long-term relationships, and living together in communities all involve learning to reliably inhabit and preserve everyone’s membership in the right side (Functional/Mature) of the chart.  And from that position, I think, we all work to support those on the left side (Dysfunctional/Immature) to come join us.


The Valley of the Masters



This new slide presents the dynamics of the left side, the dysfunctional, immature side.  Each position is radically dependent on another.  Connection between these voices is a matter of struggle for assured membership by contributing to the needs of others.  Everyone participates fully.  People can easily move between these voices – from Master to Slave to Passive Master and back.  Each voice has its own etiology (how they are formed), its own logic, and its own remedies.  This I have discussed in my previous paper, the Power of Passivity.

Note that on this chart are only Two Levels here: top and bottom.  This set of three relational voices and only maintain their immaturity by either rising (Tyrant Factor) above or sliding under (Wus Factor).  The fundamental lack of fairness and equity creates great instability in a culture that professes democracy.  However, I fear that this chart represents the dominant form of relating in our culture,

In the slide I hope I have captured the critical essences of each posture.  As you can see the needs of the Master and the Passive Master are being met by the aid of the Slave.  The Slave fully engages in this activity.  I believe this simple formulation contains both the components of Codependence and Victimicity that are so often spoken of in the self-help literature.

What this slide ends with is the question, “What does the Slave get out of all this?”

The Slave’s Solution – Codependency – the Codependent

This next slide is my current understanding of what is the motive of the Slave, and also represents a new look at the etiology of the Slave.  It finally suggests two general types of Slave.


Following up on my work on the components of the Biological Dream, I believe the Slave is a creation of early childhood, primarily of sub-cortical impulses.  This may be why the Slave is so resistant to recovery via Cognitive techniques. I think the Slave displays an early adaptation of the Lizard Brain to preference to Submitting as the primary (only?) survival tactic.  My guess is that the child learns more or less completely that Fleeing, Freezing and expecially Fighting will not work in their caretaker home.  The only thing that works is Submitting.  (I think this would be supported by studies in Attachment Theory.)   Thus the Slave creatively solves its trouble by Submitting as the way to Life.  My experience is that most chronic Slaves I have met were preoccupied with “caretaking” of their parents before they were the age of three.

With the development of the mid-brain impulse of Reliable Membership, this leads more or less to two forms of Slave.

The Clinger form of Passivity seeks connection, with more or less panic, and when attachment is “achieved” begins to submit in order to survive.

The Avoider form of Passivity is passive about connection.  When alone this person functions peacefully with no panic.  When another appears they immediately begin to submit as a way to survive.

This slide ends with an anxious note.  Since Submitting always generates Resentment, “What happens to all the Resentment that Slaves will develop over the years.”   I recall a small note in the book Man in the Trap by Elsworth Baker MD.  He noted that in doing deep therapy with these people, the therapist should remember that they have a “viper in them.”  Hmm.  My experience is that Slaves are usually struggling with either unexpected temper difficulties or passive aggressiveness.

Makes for interesting thinking.  Where I want to go next is toward suggesting plans and techniques to apply if you are a Slave, or if you are partnered to a Slave, or if you have a Slave in your practice.



Passivity: In the foundations — 13 Comments

  1. At the end of this page you say “Where I want to go next is toward suggesting plans and techniques to apply…: but there is no link to this information so I couldn’t find it. Could you pease provide that link?

    • Good reading, Curious. There is no link cuz I haven’t written that article.

      One of my first ideas was developing a computer app where people would be given phrase and decide what type of phrase it was and how to respond. I made lists of Master phrases, Passive Master phrases, Slave phrases and dialogical phrases. My goal was to strengthen people’s awareness of “attacks” from either Masters/Passive Masters/ and Slaves. I called these “attacks” cus the purpose of all three phrases is to throw off balance the listener and hopefully get them to enter into Master/Slave communicating. Good idea but I never realized it.

      Still this is an area of interest to me. I practice the skills of staying Dialogical in all my experiences in life. I watch how confounded people become in the media or in politics for lack of clarity. This recent exercise with sexually inappropriate behavior has been very revealing. I’ve been wondering if women (as a caste in the U.S.) will break down the walls that trap and “protect” them? I hope so.

      Hope you enjoy this stuff, Curious. Salut.

      • I wish I had access to this stuff from when I was a teenager a few decades ago. As a society we are woeful at relationship skills, arguably the most important skills we can ever develop! You offerings are vital and an incredible gift, especially for those without time or money for quality therapy. I am learning insights I have been searching for my whole life. Sure could have used them a number of years ago, well before my second divorce. I read Hendrix and many, many others years and years ago as well as more recently, but your works in Master/Slave talk, how to keep one another safe, Vintage Love, Restructuring Frustration and more frames these issues and accompanying skills in a very insightful and accessible way. And I love the diagrams. Kudos, truly!

        I’m well on my way to reading everything you’ve written.

        Thank you!

        I would like to encourage you in continuing your writing about the skill development that prompted my reply. And yes, the exposure of what goes on behind the caste walls of being a woman has my full attention.

  2. Hi Al,
    I just want to say that I find your use of the term “Passivity” quite confusing. My opinion is that it would be better to call your article “The Power of Friendship” or something like that. Although the title confuses me, the content more than makes up for it. I am very grateful that you have decided to share all of your very powerful, healing thoughts online for free. I think it is an example of the pinnacle of generosity. My own journey to selfhood seems cut out for me now that I have read a large portion of the articles on your site. I predict it’s going to be a long journey, but I’ll draw confidence from the thought that at least one other person has tread a similar path before.
    Best wishes
    Anonymous reader

    • I certainly hear your thoughts about “my using Passivity” on this article.  And I hear your preference for “Power of Friendship”.   I can share more why I used that term or I can invite you to say more about your confusion.  

      To me the word Passivity was a perfect choice.  I was for years going deeper into the abyss of “power over” relationship, the bully at the top. the Narcissist marriage, the issues of Domestic Abusers.  I saw a whole pile of events and heard a lot of anecdotes about that tyrant.  I thought I had caught all that material in my earlier paper on Master/Slave.  Friendship (the Power of Friendship), Friend/Friend, I was able to understand as outside of that Master/Slave situation (i.e on the right side of the chart).

      Simultaneously I was also rejecting the “passivity” of the “victim.”  You may know those phrases. “I can’t do anything about it.”  “I dunno what to do.”  “I am helpless.”  The simple tactic of “avoiding conflict” began more and more to seem a ruse and a full (albeit secret) participation in the “power over” relationship.   I didn’t see that “passivity” as having anything to do with friendship.  

      To set aside my work on “Power of Friendship” I began using the term “Peace” or “Making Peace” to describe the powerful tools of friendship.   And more I used the term “passivity” to describe “inaction”.   I see Peace Making as a kind of purposeful action that leads to friendship and peaceful living together.  In politics (domestic or earthwide) I see Peace Making as a critical and eventually successful set of tools.   I see Passivity as just one more of the tools of War.   That’s the way I use the words.  

      Not sure if this helps.  

  3. Nothing wrong with rebelling. Hell, the USA is built on rebellion – many other countries, too.
    Of course, if you rebel in a Master or PassiveMaster way, you may not get very far. Being a Friend can seem “rebellious.”
    Still, I think all humans are chronically disobedient, so at minimum you are moving in a right direction. Good luck.

  4. I rebelled this evening. It was frightening and uncomfortable. There has to be some kind of forum for slave rebellion. Off to google.

  5. Glad to see the enthusiasm of discovery. I don't think of these “positions” as static. So I think your discovery is still in process. I think of Master, Slave and PassiveMaster more like relationship postures we all learn to adopt under “certain circumstances.” From that posture we do things or expect to receive things. I think of all three postures as problems with the only real solution being to move over to, and stay in, Friend/Friend. I call this Dialogical Space.
    If you stay in Dialogical Space while your partner, friend, parent, etc. wanders around among those three postures of Master, Passive/Master, or Slave, I believe you literally invite/force them to join you in Dialogical Space. Takes practice. It's worth it.
    Valley of the Masters or Dialogical Space. Take your pick.”
    Good luck.

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