7 Reasons Why Too Much Patience Can Sabotage You

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Obsessing Over Alternatives

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Patience is routinely perceived as one of the most valuable human attributes. And doubtless, the substantial literature on this trait is unquestionably favorable.

Three pioneering studies by S. Schnitker, detailed in the Journal of Positive Psychology (2012), define patience as “the propensity to wait calmly in the face of frustration or adversity.” Examining a variety of existential areas pertinent to this seminal personality characteristic—“interpersonal, life hardships, and daily hassles”—the paper concludes that across these different contexts, patience is essential to achieving a state of well-being.

Nonetheless, while I wouldn’t disagree that patience, or the right degree of patience, yields significant benefits, the author herself admits that researchers concentrating on highly circumscribed populations tend to qualify her affirmative findings. They’ve noted in their subjects certain negative outcomes relating either to inordinate patience or insufficient patience.

This post—much more generally—will focus on the detriments of a person’s exhibiting so much patience that it culminates in results as unexpected as they are personally undesirable. As in, too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing.

Like so many elements in life, once you’re no longer in the behavioral sweet spot, your actions, or lack of same, are likely to defeat you.

One writer, emphatically alluding to the ultimate ambiguity of patience, declares:

Patience can lead to salvation or it can lead to disaster. [Kirk Scott, n.d.]

Evolutionary psychologists concur that for humans to evolve—that is, for them to function cooperatively in groups—patience is imperative. So it’s worth stressing that it’s only when patience is over-extended or emotionally over-ridden that it’s at cross-purposes with an individual’s goals and aspirations.

Too Patient for Your Own Good

Here are seven reasons to be cautious about, well, being too cautious:

1. Emotions play a pivotal role in decision-making. If anxiety precludes your confronting what’s irritating, if it involves interpersonal risks you’re wary about encountering, you’ll ignore escalating feelings—until they become so pronounced that you can’t hold them in any longer.

At this time, you’ll simulate an erupting volcano. And such reactive anger or rage will probably cause much more relational or professional damage than had you simply asserted, non-belligerently, your frustration or disappointment.

2. Many opportunities are time-limited. If you procrastinate taking action on something, assuming that eventually, something better might come along, you may well lose out.

For example, say you’re in the market for a house, and you see one absolutely perfect for you. But if you believe it would be prudent to wait for its price to be reduced, it’s altogether possible that someone else may “go for it,” becoming the home’s new owner.

Here, unwittingly, your reserve or assumed “discretion” led you to forfeit your chances of occupying your dream home.

3. Putting off sharing something deeply personal until the time is “just right” runs the risk of never finding any time that feels ideal. On the contrary, you could create the perfect time by bringing up a subject seemingly peripheral to what you really want to discuss—until, eventually, you zero in on what feels critical to share.

4. Closely related to number three, you may have been provided with or discovered data that could benefit someone you care about. Yet if you can’t resist the advantageous position that this information has put you in, you may procrastinate disclosing it until it’s too late to do them any good. And you might end up regretting your self-centered, action-denying reticence.

5. If in the past you felt you were—or, indeed, had been called—a weakling, wimp, or wuss, you may have learned to constrain your reactions for fear that what you did or said would be used exploitatively to hurt you again.

But one of the best ways to stop a verbal bully in their tracks is to let them know that their teasing or taunting now falls on deaf ears. And that necessitates your demonstrating the fortitude to let your past aggressor know that you no longer give their words any authority.

6. Given your particular history—maybe how your caretakers negatively reacted to you when you assertively shared your thoughts, feelings, wants, or needs—you may, however unconsciously, have cultivated the habit of watchful, hypervigilant procrastination.

When you were younger, that hesitancy may well have been adaptive. Still, anything done automatically, independent of one’s rational faculties, doesn’t reflect mindfulness but exaggerated, hypervigilant anxiety. It’s, therefore, vital to revisit such outmoded inclinations, modifying them to better fit your current age and maturity. Otherwise, you’re inviting others to treat you like a pushover.

7. Complementing the defense of procrastination is passivity. The latter disposition suggests more of a life stance than a hard-boiled, obsolete practice.

Although, at times, there are excellent reasons not to act, it’s still mandatory that if you’re to achieve your life objectives, you determine when taking risks is preferable to remaining passive.

The choice to wait patiently for something to happen—or, through decisiveness, effort, and persistence, make it happen—is yours. So, in unpleasant or painful situations, can you take a deep breath and then bite the bullet?

Self-Help Remedies to Combat Over-the-Top Patience

Understanding that, finally, excessive patience undermines your well-being instead of contributing to it, here are a few suggestions about how to modify what may have become habitual:

  • You’ll first need to decide which outdated assumptions may be keeping you from exercising your best judgment. What did you experience earlier in life that links to your strong impulse to procrastinate from something that, as the adult you are today, you possess adequate resources to confidently confront?

If you feel apathetic about taking action, might this be because you felt obliged to give up fighting for your rights earlier because doing so regularly led to feelings of defeat and depression? Ask yourself whether you need to take stock of your present environment as it differs from your past—and act accordingly.

  • Whenever you’re thinking: “Enough is enough, already!” that’s a clue that, despite trying to remain silent over some perceived insult or injustice, you’ve waited too long to act. So, first, settle yourself down, and then determine how, as diplomatically as possible, to express what you’ve attempted to subdue. This may be a matter of upholding your boundaries or safeguarding your dignity when you’re experiencing another as abusive or unsupportive—whether that person be your partner, friend, family member, work associate, supervisor, or complete stranger.
  • If what has kept you from acting previously pertains to your taking things too much to heart, ask yourself whether you can see someone else’s supposedly accusatory actions or reactions from a different perspective. As in having very little, if anything, to do with you but with their own needs, predilections, and possible insensitivities. Also, “consider the source.” Even if their critical behavior is directed toward you, do you have to take their words as seriously as, up till now, you have been?

In short, though life carries few guarantees, being strategically assertive will generally offer you a sense of satisfaction and well-being rarely available through being overly patient.

© 2023 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

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