You’ve probably experienced this before. You are at a challenging point of your life or you find yourself working on a project and getting no head way. Everything you do feels like you are punching a wall that just won’t budge. In time, you start to feel dis-empowered, trapped, and lost.
While we do not experience this all the time, this is something just about everybody experiences at some point in their life. In one case, I remember talking with somebody who had dropped out of college from stress, couldn’t find a job, and just felt absolutely useless. Another time, I remember talking to a a friend about an abusive relationship– how they had felt absolutely trapped, unable to fix the situation and unwilling to walk away. I also remember watching friends wrestle with clinical depression, and seeing them just feel like there was no hope.
What makes these situations so incredibly challenging is not the situations themselves, but how we innately interact with them. When we get stuck in a very difficult situation we initially try everything we can to fix it, but as time passes we try less and less and eventually we stop seeing possibilities. Our focus narrows to the point where all we see is a problem with no solution.
In Psychology, this is called learned helplessness. It’s an innate response found in generally all animals. When we are put into a situation where we constantly fail to succeed, our psychology encourages us to give up.
In many cases, this is a healthy response. The last thing you want to do is funnel all your energy into a futile effort, but for obvious reasons it can be a problem. Recently I had my own struggle with learned helplessness, so I want to share with you how I overcame it.
Not too long ago, I felt like I was really struggling with managing a coaching business. I felt burnt out and overworked. Around this time I was also dealing with the overwhelm of Tia (my girlfriend) being incredibly sick and hearing the possibility she could have cancer or a terminal illness. I felt very useless. I couldn’t do anything for Tia short of wait for test results and hope that the doctors did their job well, and in my business, it felt like I was totally lost.
I found myself feeling constantly negative and victimized. I felt like no matter what I did, nothing told me what I needed to know to run my business effectively, and no amount of care or love could help Tia. I was defeated, and all I seemed to do was sit, feel burnt out, and wrestle with a guilt that cause me to feel like I wasn’t doing enough to make my business flourish.
This all turned around when my girlfriend, emotionally wacked me on the head. She pointed out I was not acting like me. The “me” she knew was resourceful, intelligent, and always came up with a unique answer to problems. I have always the sort to listen and take advice from others, but then carve my own path. When my girlfriend forced me to start thinking about my strengths, I found myself no longer feeling helpless. I felt energized. On the spot I immediately started brainstorming new solutions to problems I was just throwing energy at instead of fixing.
This reminded me that one of the fastest ways to deal with learned helplessness is to rediscover your strengths. We all have amazing qualities, things that set us apart from others and make us capable people, sometimes though we forget this. This is especially true if it’s something that comes natural to us. Often this means when we feel trapped we just need to remember what makes strong.
So here’s an exercise for the next time you are stuck. Think back to a time you felt successful in life, a time when you felt like you did something pretty awesome. Take a moment and think about how you felt, then ask yourself, “what was a strength you used that allowed that to happen?” After you have thought about it some, think about how you can apply that strength in your current situation. Doing this will allow you to step out that helpless mindset we all get stuck in from time to time.
We’ve all experienced what it’s like to feel stuck–it’s hard to move forward if you feel victimized and trapped, but that feeling is something that can be overcome. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort, but it’s doable. Always try to have a friend or loved one who can knock some sense into you and always, always go to your strengths. Human beings have the capacity to overcome just about anything– the real challenge is remembering.
images provided by Artemis-Twitches via Deviant Art and PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay