I can remember a time some years ago when I felt absolutely helpless. I had recently gone through a divorce, my girls were in counseling working through the loss, I had just gotten a great promotion and bought my first home – a tiny townhouse in Virginia. My life was not only negativity, but I had some wonderful things going on at the same time. However, you may not know that good events can be stressful also.
The call I made to my therapist at the height of my helplessness changed my life. At least, I did have the wherewithal to make that phone call, rather than going through the downward spiral alone. I felt so helpless, as if I was losing my mind – medically, it would be called having a ‘nervous breakdown’. Whatever it was called, I was experiencing it and felt like I could not hold on. Frantic and almost incoherent, I screamed into the phone that I could not take any more, that I was ‘losing it’ and that I couldn’t help myself. After calming me down a bit, my therapist said something that changed my life…she gave me ‘permission’ to lose my mind; to be totally helpless! She said something to the effect of, “you can go ahead and give up if you want; I know things are really difficult for you right now. But, I want you to think about one thing – what is going to happen to your children if you decide to ‘check out’? Who will take care of them while you are away; have you considered that?” This different approach to my situation gave me a new way of looking at my life. I began to understand the ‘authority’ I had over my life – even to the point of feeling so totally helpless, I still had a choice.
Needless to say, I chose that day NOT to have a nervous breakdown. I did the difficult work required to rise above my circumstances and become a stronger, healthier woman and mother. The results are still evident in my life to this day.
Helplessness doesn't just happen. It's a learned emotion, and it takes time for it to take hold of its victim. We have to pay attention. Like many emotions, it can be difficult to recognize which one came first; the stress, depression, anxiety - or the feelings of helplessness? The late great Jim Rohn once told a story of how fleas were placed in a jar and the lid placed on top. The fleas kept bumping against the lid, so they adapted the height of their jumps so as not to hit the lid. Then a curious thing happened. When the lid was taken off the jar, the fleas continued to jump at the lower height. They had become conditioned by negative experience.
That's how humans learn to be helpless too. We begin to adapt to the lower levels of life.
Depression and anxiety sometimes come along for the ride, too. Feelings of helplessness usually attack those who have a negative outlook to start with. Pessimists tend to take one negative event in their lives and turn it into an all-encompassing law of nature. It’s unfortunate for them, because it seems like they start out as the underdog. One bad experience starts to taint every other experience they have like a rotten apple in a fruit bowl. After a few of these experiences they begin to think it's all their fault that things go wrong all the time and there's nothing they can do about it. What a sad place to be in.
The solution to feelings of helplessness is to regain a feeling of control in your life. That seems quite obvious - but how? Stop making decisions about outcomes and basing your actions on those decisions. Notice how often things don't work out for you when you make assumptions in life? Start making choices and taking action. Writing down what is happening and then really assessing options is a good way to help regain control.
More importantly, start recognizing that sometimes you will fail in your attempts to do something. It’s life. Think about it. Baseball players don't make every home run. They probably make about 4 in 10, yet still make millions of dollars. Why don't you start taking action without assuming an outcome, and write down how often you succeed rather than fail.
Really pay attention to how you feel for each outcome. You will realize in time that you become less emotionally invested in the outcome of your actions as you start to feel more capable. This will lead you to better control of your life and you will see positive changes.
And, don't forget to get help when you need it. Contact a therapist, counselor or coach. I offer a free 30-minute coaching session on my site, so take advantage of it if you need a quick ear.
You can do it, I believe in you!
My ebook, Take Back Your Power is a good read to start you on your way.
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Copyright: Image by StockUnlimited