What kind of “passionate” are you?
Do you describe yourself as someone with passion? It seems like passion is everywhere. Carmakers have a “passion for engineering.” Girlfriends might have a “passion for clothes.” We can describe steamy romance scenes as “passionate.” The slang term for kissing, “pash”, is just a shortened way of saying “passionate!”
You may have a passion for sport, socialising, doing good, or something you find personally fulfilling. Passion is as old as humankind. In ancient times, the Greek philosopher Plato described passion as a kind of suffering, as it “entailed a loss of reason and control.” Modern interpretations describe passion as strong emotions that drive people to high achievement and positive outcomes. Even though we have observed passion since antiquity, there is only a little psychological research into passion and behaviour.
Passion and Self-Determination
According to Robert J. Vallerand, a research associate at the University of Quebec at Montreal, passion has a distinct role in psychological wellbeing. This wellbeing leads to healthier relationships, physical health and higher performance in work and life. Passions form part of one’s self-determination, as he describes in his paper:
“Individuals are motivated to explore their environment in order to grow as individuals. In so doing, they engage in a variety of activities. Of these, only a few will be perceived as particularly enjoyable, important, and to have some resonance with how people see themselves. From these few activities one or two will eventually be preferred and engaged in on a regular basis and turn out to be passionate.”
However, looking from the outside, we can see many high-achievers that only appear passionate about their work, life, and function in society. They may be QCs, brain surgeons, CEOs, high-flying brokers, successful entrepreneurs. If you can name it, they have achieved it. However many clients of mine that “have it all” end up feeling empty, depressed/anxious, and closed off from their emotions and loved ones. But how is that so, if they have all this passion! This is because theorists believe there are two types of passions – the obsessive type and the harmonious type.
Obsessive Passion: The darker side of passion
Vallerand says obsessive passion “results from a controlled internalisation of the activity into one's identity and self.” I know that’s a mouthful, but it means being obsessed by a “passion” such as work can actually have a negative effect on them psychologically and emotionally. It is almost as if they don’t know themselves very well, and they have missed opportunities in life to get to know who “they” are, as an authentic human being.
I have a client who grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. He had a drive to achieve from a very young age. As he was growing up, although he was pushed to succeed, he was emotionally neglected. Now at the age 40, he's listed in BRW as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Australia. Unfortunately, he lost half his wealth due to separation and divorce. When you have a vocation bound together with your identity, losing it can feel crushing. It almost feels as if you have lost yourself.
So some people’s passions may play out as “good” on the outside, but be “bad” on the inside. Other’s passions, such as gambling, sex addiction, even fitness, or any number of maladaptive behaviours can be destructive all around. The challenge is to channel oneself into self-determining, life-affirming harmonious passions.
Harmonious Passion: Celebrating what you love and do
Vallerand says that harmonious passion is almost like a flipside of obsessive passion. He says a harmonious passion comes from “autonomous internalisation.” Autonomous internalisation occurs when individuals have freely accepted the activity as important for them with no or few contingencies attached to it.”
In simpler terms, harmonious passion comes out of a joy of wanting to do something without attaching to the outcome. A harmonious passion is an activity that excites you, or something that you naturally gravitate towards. Though we talked about high-flyers, a harmonious passion does not need involve private jets, six-figure salaries and high-pressure situations (but it can!)
A harmonious passion comes from a joyful free space of knowing what vitalises us. The motivation, outpouring, and expression of it are different. Therefore, the consequences and outcomes are different. Another major difference between obsessive and harmonious passion is that an obsessive passion can be all-consuming to the detriment of interpersonal relationships and good health. Many people describe themselves as “workaholics,” which is a good example of an obsessive passion.
A look at passion and one’s childhood
Let’s look at childhood. Let’s say a child, James, comes home from kinder with a picture of a stick figure. Beaming with pride, he says, “I did this at kindie, I did this in kindie!” Mum says, “Well, “James, you are such a good drawer, you could be a good artist." And Jimmy goes, "Ahh." Because he gets that encouraging feedback, James is more inclined to draw more stick figures. Parents can help children identify what they are passionate about and what they are not, and help their child nurture that passion. In contrast, high functioning parents, possibly “obsessives” themselves, send their kids to ballet, music, French lessons, sports whether or not the child enjoys or has a talent for the activiey. This is easily observable in families with multiple generations of lawyers, doctors etc. So lack of harmonious passion could just mean you are living to the expectations of others, such as your parents.
Can you get passion back?
Yes. You can find your own harmonious passion by doing some gentle introspection and work on yourself. Be open to activities you are naturally drawn to to, without fear or favour. Try completing the sentence: “If I had no possibility of failing and were thus guaranteed of success I would…” Or list your ideal role models or people you admire, and connect what they have in common.
Want help to find your passion? Our doors are open to talk about how to get your passion back, and other life issues. Our therapists are people who have found their harmonious passion in their life’s work as Psychologists and Counsellors. Let us help you find yours. Make an appointment with us here.