Sunday, 9 July 2017

Has Neuropathy Taught You Helplessness?

Today's post from (see link below) is one of those articles that may make you cringe on reading the title alone. However, sometimes people living with chronic pain are so incredibly sick of the daily struggle that they just give up, or at least give in to what this article calls 'learned helplessness'. It's normal and it's a human reaction and completely understandable (been there, done that etc!) but it doesn't do us any favours because we only succeed in making ourselves feel worse, both physically and mentally. Nerve pain is a classic example of an insurmountable chronic pain issue:- there's no cure and very little helps in terms of medication - sometimes it just gets to be too much! So, given that nobody wants to hear the answers presented in today's post, it really should be read because if nothing else, it will give you so much more understanding of what's happening to you mentally and who may also stimulate you to try to break out of the vicious spiral that neuropathy can cause. Although it's yet another 'action not reaction' sermon, it's definitely worth a read.

How does a person overcome learned helplessness?
Vijayraj Kamat, TEDx Speaker | Coach | Studying Psychology since 10
Answered Jun 28, 2015 · Upvoted by Anita Sanz, psychologist

Learned helplessness is thinking that you cannot help yourself, even if you can.

It is a feeling that we have run out of choices - even if we have not.

Either because we do not see them at all, or refuse to accept them as choices. 

Hence we cannot move. But we want to. We are stuck. Energy is wasted. We are more stuck....

So it means you CAN act. But you won't!!

Note: I am not a psychologist. Nor am I going to present a step by step 'technique' to get rid of learned helplessness. But I will present my own understanding of it - which might help a lot

But why would we do this to ourselves?

Because the fear of failure is so high, that we come up with excuses not to try.
But isn't this true for everybody? We all are afraid of failure, but have to try.

Yes, it is. But in this case the fear is much more deep rooted because:

a) The chances of failure are perceived as extremely high("I tried so many times and failed", "I just could not")
b) The perceived experience of failure is extremely soul wrenching. For instance, the perceived negative experience in losing in a race Vs being a victim of sexual abuse is hugely different. Or in losing in something that your identity is strongly tied with. Then your perceived experience of that failure is much higher. For instance, the emotional impact exprienced a straight A student getting an F, vs a C/D student getting an F.

Even succeeding does not seem worth the risk of facing failure yet again. One does not even want to try.

The experience has been so traumatic, and the feeling of helplessness and hence the shame is so high, that we just give up. But "giving up" is also "bad". We want to get rid of the ugly inward feeling(dissonance)....

The justifications start kicking in...
"I just CANNOT", "If that happened to me, it must be my fault", "If I could have, I would have", "I want to, but I lack talent", "I want to, but just do not have the time...", "I want to, but my spouse is not supportive...", "I could have, had my parents been more supportive when I was young", "I want to, but it's harder than you think...".

The actual justifications do not matter. We all have them in differing degrees. And sometimes, they are even true!

The indicator of learned helplessness is in the refusal to try and overcome those justifications. Because often...

Circumstances and abilities change

You were small when you were first abused, but now you are a grown adult
Your children did not allow you time for guitar lessons, but now they have grown up
You were dependent on your parents then, but now you have a job
Losing now might not be that a big deal compared to when you were 16. So it's OK to play along.
Investing $100 when you were 20 was much more riskier than investing $100 when you are 30.

Because learned helplessness is more about avoiding failure, than wanting to succeed.

And because we don't try, we never win. This reaffirms our justifications. Se we are stuck even more.

How can we come out of this vicious circle?

#1 - Stop deciding, start choosing
You might have a 100 justifications why you cannot succeed. Which may or may not be true. Not in your control either. But YOU ARE CHOOSING to not try, and find out. And that is what keeps you stuck.

Instead try rephrasing your self-beliefs:

"I just CANNOT", "If I could have, I would have", "I want to, but I lack talent" --> "So I choose to learn. Let me choose 3 things to do that.."
"I want to, but just do not have the time..." --> "I do not have the time. I still choose to learn the guitar. What can I let go to make time?" OR "I choose not to learn the guitar and use that time for the family". 'Giving up' also becomes a choice.
"I want to, but my spouse is not supportive..." --> "OK, my spouse is not supportive. But I still want to. What can I do now to make this work? I choose to..."
"I could have, had my parents been more supportive when I was young" --> "OK, so I have lost time. But I still want to. So I choose to..." OR "OK, so I have lost time. And I no longer want to. So I choose to..."
"I want to, but it's harder than you think..." --> "OK, it's not as easy as I thought. But I still want it. I am choosing to still try. How do I change my plan accordingly to address these new challenges?"
The point is not whether you choose to try or choose to give up.

The point is whether you see yourself as a helpless victim who "Had no other option but to...", or as someone in control who "Made a conscious (sometimes difficult) choice and OWNED it"

#2 - Even giving up can be a choice. Then it becomes 'Letting go'
Remember helplessness is not about which direction you take, but about feeling stuck. Energy is locked in, wasted.

A victim 'gives up'. A chooser 'Let goes'. Energy is freed up and diverted.

"Letting go" does not mean that it's the right thing, or that all the consequences will be sweet. It means that it's the needed thing, and the bitter consequences in the short term will be worth it in the long term. Energy will not be wasted further. Most people stay stuck here for a long time and drain themselves out(Depression).

We are always making choices

Helplessness is about explaining "Why am I stuck?" and hence choosing to remain stuck
Choosing is about asking "How do I become unstuck?" and hence choosing to act.

Note that we are making choices either way - whether we acknowledge it or not. The helplessness is learnt for a reason(to avoid the shame of failure)

But the ensuing pain of being stuck in unhealthy patterns inevitably brings us to a point where we are forced to accept that we should act.

It would seem everybody lives happily ever after. But the real problem begins now!!!

It is more interesting to know how we FOOL oursevles into thinking that we ARE acting - without actually doing so.

How we really fool ourselves

False action #1 - "I have no choice but to...."
That's not a choice - that's force. It's like 'choosing' to say "I love you" because someone put a gun to your head. Saying 'yes', knowing it won't work out anyway. Like driving with your brakes on.

Failure is inevitable. Not because you were not good enough. But because you were convinced you would fail.

False action #2 - "Now I know where the problem lies....which means I have started acting!!"

This is the intellectualization phase. Where we research the problem, understand it, dissect it, label it, go into nuances, perform root cause analysis, find the exact names. But do not act.

False action #3 - "Now I know where the solution lies....which means I have started acting!!"

Maybe I help OTHERs to act, maybe I write awesome Quora answers on acting. Every upvote acts as validation that I am moving. If I can help a 100 people move, if 200 people are appreciating me for moving - it must prove that I am moving too, right?


The underlying problem is this:
I am still afraid to act. So I will put in a lot of sincere effort, analysis, thought, study... to PROVE that I am acting.

In reality, I am doing just that: "Acting"(Pretending)

Choosing Vs Acting
Understanding the problem is important to narrow down on the possible solutions.
Evaluating the solutions is important to choose the best one.

But that stil does not mean you have acted on your choice.

There is only one way to find out if you are taking action...or just 'acting' as if you are.

Ask yourself: Are you moving?

Have you come closer to your goal?: In terms of days, knowing the end date

Do you know what the goal is?: Getting a divorce? Leaving your house? Breaking up? Changing your job? Quitting smoking?

Do you know exactly how the end point looks like?

"Divorce" means "signing the papers and getting a court decree", not "telling your partner you will do it".
"Leaving your house" means "Picking your bags and moving into another house you have arranged" not "Beginning to hunt for a new house"
"Changing jobs" does not mean taking career counselling. It means "resigning from your current job and accepting the offer letter for a new one"
"Breaking up" means "Telling your partner so, and then cutting contact". Not "Thinking about it"
Have you given yourself any end date? Or are you always pushing it due to "reasons you cannot help"?

Choosing is about knowing the direction. This is the complex part.

Moving is about knowing the destination and estimating when you will get there. This might be hard but never complex.

But if you are avoiding movement, it probably DOES seem complex.

Do you take a long time to explain why you have NOT moved ahead? Do you need to explain? If the other person does not agree - do you feel angry? Later on, do you feel guilty?

Then my friend, you are probably 'trying to move' - but not actually 'moving'. Stop justifying, stop fooling, start moving.

If you would like to read more such answers, follow my blog The Tao of Clarity where I post my best answers

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