7 Psychological Traits and Attitudes of Submissive People

What psychological traits and attitudes do submissive people have? We'll present 7 of them, related above all to assertiveness. Keep reading.
7 Psychological Traits and Attitudes of Submissive People
Laura Ruiz Mitjana

Written and verified by la psicóloga Laura Ruiz Mitjana.

Last update: 27 April, 2023

Have you ever wondered what submissive people are like? Do you consider yourself to be one of them? Do you know someone who’s submissive? In the following article, we’ll present you with 7 psychological traits and attitudes that characterize them so that you can delve into this concept and understand it better.

Logically, we can never generalize, as each person is unique and complex. However, we can talk about certain common and general characteristics in people who are submissive. They don’t always appear, but they very often do.

Submissive people: Characteristics

The Royal Spanish Academy of Language (RAE) includes the following among the meanings of submission: The “submission of someone to another or other things”; the “submission of someone’s judgment to that of another person” and “compliance, manifest subordination with words or actions.” Therefore, submissive people tend to submit to others, that is, to their authority or will.

For this reason, they manifest behaviors that may go against their values or principles just because of the fear of entering into a conflict or having to face criticism. Another of their characteristics is dependence and a preference for the interests of others over their own.

In this way, they tend not to show what they feel or think, precisely because of that desire to please them or the fear of not doing so. Being submissive can negatively influence one’s self-esteem, as, due to the constant search for approval from others, the person ends up canceling themself out. They don’t listen to what they feel or want.

We’ve mentioned some of the characteristics of this type of person. However, there are still more to come! Keep reading.

A woman looking into a shattered mirror.
Shyness in submissive people is a trait that characterizes them, with fear of rejection.

Psychological traits and attitudes of submissive people

What characterizes submissive people? How do they behave? How do they think? What are some of their attitudes? Let’s look at 7 qualities that are typical in submissive poeple.

1. Discretion

One of the most remarkable psychological traits in submissive people is their discretion. This translates into a way of being that makes them not want to attract too much attention.

Therefore, they often go unnoticed. The motives? Wanting to avoid conflicts or wanting to avoid humiliating or uncomfortable moments. In this regard, submissive people tend to avoid conflicts for fear of not being able to cope with the situation.

Submissive people don’t want to be seen because they live in fear of being disturbed. As a result, they seek to always be behind in the background, as opinions also affect them. For this reason, as we’ve said, they try to go unnoticed to protect themselves and as a defense mechanism.

2. Lack of assertiveness

In regard to the characteristic mentioned above, the lack of assertiveness is another trait of submissive people. Already in 1940, Andrew Salter defined assertiveness as a personality trait, thinking that there were people who possessed it and others who didn’t.

Later, other definitions arose for this concept, alluding to the ability to express one’s rights and one’s feelings respectfully and sincerely toward others. Assertiveness also includes the ability to say no and set limits. In this regard, submissive people have difficulties being assertive.

3. The search for the satisfaction of others

On the other hand, submissive people seek to satisfy others, even if this implies discomfort toward themselves. That is, they tend to put the needs or desires of others before their own. In addition, they avoid disobeying orders to avoid conflicts, always seeking the happiness or well-being of others.

4. Conflict avoidance

Another characteristic of this type of people is that they avoid, often at all costs, conflicts with others. They suffer so much during these episodes that they always try to avoid them. Many times, they do it because they think that they won’t know how to manage the situation assertively or that they won’t be able to say what they think. Therefore, they avoid this type of problem.

In short, these types of people tend to actively avoid direct confrontation with others. Submissive people show passive-aggressive behavior, with a mixture of angry and frustrated attitudes along with actions in accordance with what the other party wants.

5. Marked shyness

Although not always, many times submissive people are also shy, but not necessarily introverted. Shyness is a personality trait capable of changing behavior and setting conditions for bonding with others.

When it appears in excess or is incapacitating, we can classify it as a chronic fear caused by a lack of confidence in oneself. It prevents people from relating normally and slows down social development.

Submissive people show this excess shyness that makes them reflect and think a lot about the image they project: How they look to others. This generates a certain obsession for wanting to offer a positive image to others or, at the very least, a non-negative image. Without a doubt, submissive people care a lot about what others think of them.

6. A complicated past and low self-esteem

We know that life experiences largely mark who we are and how we are, even if they never fully define us. And it’s true that submissive people have often experienced complicated and painful life episodes, such as bullying or other situations that have created feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem.

In this regard, a study led by Naranjo ML (2007), published in the journal Education Research Updates suggests that self-esteem is a key factor in our development. To foster it, we must love ourselves and feel loved by others.

An image of a man kneeling on the ground, being stepped on by a giant foot.
In submission, there’s blind acceptance of what the other proposes, without resisting.

7. Dependency

Emotional dependence is another characteristic of submissive people, which fosters relationships based on this affective pattern. Emotional dependence is similar to an addiction to another person, whether it’s the person’s partner or someone else.

There’s a tendency to believe that the other person is everything and that without them, we become nothing. Therefore, many submissive people manifest this tendency or this pattern in their relationships.

“Love when you’re ready, not when you’re alone.”

-Walter Riso-

Submissive people can suffer from depression

We’ve seen some of the characteristics of submissive people, although there may be more. Each one has their way of being and that doesn’t have to be good or bad. However, it becomes negative when this way of being interferes with life or generates depressive symptoms, discomfort, and stress.

Although we can never generalize, from the psychology of personality and individual differences, we know that there are certain types and patterns. Within each typology, we find traits that define these ways of being. In the case of submission, it’s not so much a type of personality, but rather about a way of being or a predominant trait.

“All our experiences merge into our personality. Everything that has happened to us is an ingredient.”

-Malcolm X-

  • González, José (1987). Psicología de la personalidad. Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva.
  • Riso, W. (2015). El derecho a decir No. Cómo ganar autoestima sin perder asertividad. Editorial Planeta/Zenith.
  • Romi, M.J. (2003). Cuando digo no, me siento culpable. Nuevas ediciones de bolsillo.
  • Caballo, Vicente E. “Asertividad: definiciones y dimensiones.” Estudios de psicología 4.13 (1983): 51-62.

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