The Power of “Learned Helplessness.” How to Spot it and What to Do

Hello Reader,
Do you have a friend or relative who consistently screws up, forgets things, fails to follow through, or in one way or the other doesn’t take care of their own “life business”? If so, you may be in the presence of “learned helplessness.”
Unless these people are clinically depressed or physiologically compromised, this state often has more to do with someone operating at a “youngest sibling” level, expecting that others know more, are more capable, and can assume responsibility for things. They have usually developed unconscious life “scripts” about being inept, or ignorant or incapable, often not challenging these deeply held beliefs. As a result, they lack a sense of “agency,” the courage to try new solutions, and the ability or willingness to try to act effectively on their own behalf.
Your friend or relative may make lame decisions or procrastinate endlessly, and is likely to create a need on your part to take over and rescue them. If you feel that you’re watching someone who operates like a train wreck in slow motion, and that you can’t seem to help yourself from taking over to fix things, then you may be a target of their “learned helplessness”! People who demonstrate this are usually experts at training the people around them to go into overdrive “rescue” mode.  They often don’t directly ask for help, but seem to be so helpless that the people around them feel they have to take over.
And don’t be fooled – their “helplessness” is generally very powerful! They get you to take over, pay for things, organize things, make appointments, ask the right questions, and generally fix whatever problems they are faced with.
So, if you’ve been feeling exhausted in a relationship which plays out with this “parent – child” dynamic, and feel that there’s a lack of reciprocity, or that you’re pouring lots of effort down a bottomless pit, watch out! You may be feeding someone’s “learned helplessness”! Consider backing off into a more supportive or facilitativrole, allowing them to struggle more directly with problems, and learn that they can direct their power more appropriately into developing solutions for themselves. You’ll be doing yourself, your friend and the relationship a giant service. 
If you feel that you need help to deal with this issue in any of your relationships feel free to contact me for an appointment.

[email protected]                                                                 603-431-7131

Winter, (No Spring), Now SUMMER! Time to Practice the Fine Art of Reframing

So, here I am on our boat celebrating the end of Winter, a missing Spring, and now…. Summer! But wait – today we’re all hiding out indoors escaping the scorching 94 degree temps outside! This is a classic case of “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch!” or “Be flexible! Regroup!”

When weather dishes out doozies like it has been here in New England, sometimes the best you can do is “reframe”:

On another rainy day in June: Great opportunity to do book work and seasonal clothing hauls.

– On another 50 degree day in June: Great time to do the mulching and other backbreaking yard work you’d never do in the heat. Also great time to do all the cooking and baking which calls to you.

– On a 94 degree Monday when you’re “off” work: Great time to write blog posts, post radio shows and catch up on emails, not to mention play your guitar and read a book before midnight. Who’d want to be indoors doing that when it’s glorious outside?

So, as the old adage goes, “When nature gives you lemons, make LOADS of lemonade!”


“Avoid the 3 Mistakes Many Women Make that Repel Love” BlogTalk Radio show Wed., 6/14/17 noon

Tune into this 30-40 minute episode I’ll be co-hosting with a unique relationship mentor, Valerie Greene, who helps couples to stop fighting and fall in love again, and who helps women inspire their husbands or partners into deeper love and intimacy, not relational dread. Providing a highly successful alternative to relationship therapy, Valerie helps women and couples move beyond problem-solving and communication skills to create a secure emotional CONNECTION.

Tune into this special episode to learn more from Valerie about how to transform relationship conflict into deeper intimacy, avoiding the relational moves that repel love.  Join us live with your questions or comments by calling into the studio at: 877-497-9046. If you can’t make the live show simply go to: to hear the recording afterward.

Welcome to my new website!

As many of you out there probably already know, developing a new website is like making a new marriage – exciting, scary, and VERY unfamiliar. The old relationship may have gotten a bit stale or outdated, but the “devil you know” often feels more workable than the one you don’t!

This new website has been a four month collaboration with the ever patient saints at Dexmedia who put up with my endless questions and fussiness over little details. They all deserve high praise, and hopefully, some time off after dealing with my obsessiveness for all this time.

On this new site you can more easily contact me via email and phone, connect with my social media sites, access my forms, search your concerns or topics in my “Search” bar (upper right), get into my Amazon Store where you can find and buy books you’re looking for, and more easily find my office, among other things. The other thing I hope you notice is that the site is not heterosexist, but conveys my strongly held value of servicing same sex couples as well.

I’m open to productive feedback regarding your experience on this new site – how easily it functions for your needs, how to find what you’re looking for, and overall if it’s a pleasant experience using it. So, here we go!

BlogTalk Radio 2/15/17 8:30 PM: “How Noticing Can Change Your Life”

You don’t want to miss my next episode about “noticing” and how it can enrich your life!

In this 45 minute episode, I’ll co-host with Cindy Giovagnoli, a photographer and writer who believes in curiosity, enthusiasm, meditation, and mistakes and who offers dynamic workshops and retreats focused on developing the art of noticing in our lives.

Listeners will gain an understanding of what real ‘noticing’ is, how it can be practiced, and how that practice can be a transformative force for more centeredness, calm, presence, and joy.

Call into the show live with questions or comments at 877-497-9046 on Wednesday, February 15th at 8:30 PM EST. If you can’t make the live podcast, tune in anytime afterward at

The Many Ways to Say “I Love You”

Here we are on the eve of another Valentine’s Day. Chances are, you’re running around frantically looking for flowers or chocolates for your honey, wanting to tell them how much you care. If you’ve been remiss and haven’t expressed these feelings in words or meaningful actions then you’re behind the eight ball right now. But, there’s hope!…..

There are thousands of ways to show your partner that your care. It may be a bit late for this Valentine’s Day, but not too late for every day of this year! If you’re lacking ideas about how to express your love in ways that will resonate with your partner, don’t give up by just doing the perfunctory Valentine’s Day stuff. Here are two terrific books I encourage couples to buy and use every single day of the year. Remember, change doesn’t happen in one giant Hallmark moment, but through thousands of choices, large and small, throughout your life.

Marital Crisis After An Affair

Although tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, not everyone in a marriage will be celebrating.  If you are in a marriage and have experienced infidelity or an affair, then you know how painful a close relationship can become. As the hurt spouse you have been robbed of trust, joy, self trust, your history as you’ve known it, a feeling of specialness, and most importantly, any secure sense of the future you had anticipated. Certainly, the romance and promise of Valentine’s Day has been shattered, at least for now.

If your spouse who has had an affair minimizes the circumstances and your response to it, trust that it is a function of their dread of consequences, / their entitlement, / their refusal to take responsibility for their behavior, and certainly their lack of empathy for the impact on you. Get support from a trusted friend, family member, group, and especially, a  therapist. Whatever you do, DON’T buy into your spouse’s denial about the seriousness of the situation. Get help, and honor your experience of grief and betrayal as valid. Know that you or you and your spouse are probably ill equipped to go this alone!

Here are two terrific, must-read books I recommend to anyone who has or is currently going through this ordeal. One provides invaluable insights about the process, including the challenges and mandates for the “hurt spouse” as well as the “affair spouse.” The second book, about forgiveness, provides choices for how to move on, and vital repair tools for individuals and couples:

How Your Lens Effects Everything


This is a pretty winter scene, wouldn’t you say? When you look at it do you see stillness, silence, the beauty of nature imposing itself on a cityscape, maybe a snow day off to relax and refuel? Or do you see a frigid, lonely, oppressive, colorless storm aftermath with probable power outages and traffic shutdowns? Well, it’s all in your lens, or the way you take in the visual experience and the meanings you give it. If you’re a Southerner, or a pessimist you probably zone in on all the discomforts and possible inconveniences associated with this scene. If you’re a hardy New England nature lover, or just an optimist, you probably see the exquisite beauty in the scene. You might view it as an opportunity for a snowshoe hike or a hilarious snowball fight. It’s all in not only what you pay attention to, but the meanings you assign to your selection.

The 2016 election was, (and continues to be!) a perfect example of this issue. You hear from three Trump advocates / surrogates about his behavior in a particular situation and they frame it as “take charge,” “authentic,” “strong,” “warranted.”  You then hear from three liberals about the same events and they frame his behavior as “authoritarian,” “deceptive-lying,” “bullyish,” and “provocatively inappropriate.”  The two sides, based on their lenses can’t even agree about the occurrence of the same exact events.  (To this point, we now even have a new term called “alternative facts” coined by the incoming administration).

Whether you’re a democrat, a Republican, an independent or apolitical, how you see political events and the world in general entirely depends on your lens.

As a psychotherapist part of my work is to a) encourage clients to notice what they pay attention to, and b) challenge the lens through which they take in events, or the meanings they give their experiences. I try to practice what I preach, knowing how radically it effects my moods, energy states and world view. I would encourage you to do the same!

Discernment Counseling Update on BlogTalk Radio 1/25/17 8:30 PM EST


Tune into my next brief BlogTalk Radio episode on Wednesday, January 25th at 8:30 PM EST. I’ll be giving you an update about Discernment Counseling – how and when it’s most effective, who is and who is not a candidate for this form of brief treatment, and most importantly, how, even if there’s a decision to divorce, it can transform your relationship with a current spouse.

Call in live with questions or comments at 877-497-9046 or listen to the podcast anytime at

The Winter Blues: Make Peace with the Season or Be Miserable!

IMG_8362.JPG Susan at Lincoln Woods, NH 1:15:17 with friends

This past weekend it was a balmy 24 degrees for the high on most of Saturday and Sunday here in the Northeast. Many of you might grimace at this information, especially if you live in Maine or New Hampshire and routinely experience a six month winter. You’re even more likely to look at this photo of me on the Lincoln Woods trail, deep in the heart of the mountains, and think I’m crazy, right? What you may not realize is that, along with some good friends and my husband I was practicing the art of making peace with the cold, given the fact that we can’t change it and would certainly get very depressed hanging around inside all winter. (What you can’t see in this particular photo is the fact that all four of us had just driven two hours North to see the Ice Castles, basically, an ambitious bunch of ice towers near Loon Mountain – all freezing stuff)!

But, there’s method to the madness: Get out in nature after you’ve sufficiently bundled up, experience it’s beauty, yield to it, and you’ll be taking a natural anti-depressant! So, whatever feels most comfortable to you – downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, ice skating, or just plain trail walking with your dog, if you have one – any of these activities will help you not only get through the very long New England winter, but will give you exercise, social contact, a happy dog and communion with nature. All very good things….

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Susan Lager

I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with skills and tools to transform your life.

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