Monday, June 29, 2015


There is a kind of learned helplessness that develops from long-term, repeated failure, from never being good enough, never measuring up. Whatever you do, it will be the wrong thing. Whatever you say, it will be the wrong thing. And if you decide to do nothing in hopes of not giving offense? to say nothing? That's wrong, too.

Doing or saying the simplest thing becomes a herculean task. Not doing or saying anything becomes a herculean task, too, as you brace for yet another criticism, another rebuke, another failure. It gets harder and harder to keep trying. What's the point, after all, if you're only going to get it wrong for the bazillionth time in a row? You become paralyzed. Your hope and resolve are slowly smothered under an increasingly-heavy blanket of defeat.

Been there. Done that. Actually, I still find myself wading in the shallow end of this miserable, dark pool. But, thankfully, I am beginning to breathe clean air again, to feel like there is hope, that there is value in trying anew. And I am learning...

There are some people in this world who are chronic victims. Whatever is difficult in their lives, whatever is wrong in their world, it is someone else's fault. They are miserable and downcast, given to heavy sighing, quick to withdraw into the safe isolation provided by the latest technological device. They frequently complain about what they can't do and what they can't have because of what so-&-so did, because of Someone Else's demands, because of That Other Person's wants and needs.

Been there. Done that. And, as I breathe a few lungfuls of fresh air, I realize:  that way of thinking is a load of crock. It is so much easier to blame others for my misery than to take responsibility for my own actions. It is so much easier to blame others for my apathy and passivity than it is to step into the harness and pull the weight of my own wagon.

A couple of words:  if you are a chronic victim, Why? Do you really enjoy wallowing in all that misery and blame-throwing? My husband once told me, "I don't think you're happy unless you're miserable." He was right. And as I considered what he said, I thought, "That is so stupid!" If that describes you - you can't be happy unless you are miserable - is that really what you want? To be miserable all the time? No! Of course not! In the words of Bob Newhart, "Stop it!"

Maybe you engage regularly with someone who is a chronic victim. It's emotionally exhausting, isn't it? Listen to me: You cannot do anything to fix all the negative things the big bad world is constantly throwing at the person who sees himself as a chronic victim. You cannot make that person feel better. Why not? Because they don't want to feel better. They don't want their problems fixed. They are happy being miserable. Don't feel like you need to camp out on the bottom of their pity pool with them - you will only end up drowning yourself down there, and you will not make them feel any better.

If you - like me - are trying to get out of the defeatist, chronic-victim mindset, I want to encourage you to try this:  When you find yourself slipping into that old habit of reciting the familiar, tiresome litany of why you can never succeed or be happy or move beyond a disappointing past because of what so-&-so did/does/is doing...STOP IT. You can't change the person you're complaining about, and you probably can't change what they are doing, either. What you can change is your self, your own way of thinking, your own course of action. So, stop mouthing off (either out loud or in your head) about how someone else is holding you down or causing your unhappiness, and start swimming toward the shore of your murky black pool of pity and get out. Figure out what small thing you can do, what small step you can take toward your goals...and then do it.

Also, I encourage you to stop listening to the people who consistently communicate to you that you aren't good enough, can't ever get it right, will never measure up, will always fall short. The people who insist on being miserable and who would rather blame you for their unhappiness than take responsibility for themselves. Instead, find someone who speaks hope, who sees possibilities, who likes to live life in the sunshine instead of in the muck. Put yourself in the company of those who speak true encouragement as often as you can, and listen to what they say.

Helplessness can be learned, but it can also be un-learned.

Why not replace learned helplessness with learned hope instead?

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