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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.
 
Cheers,
Susan

[email protected]                                                                 603-431-7131

“5 Foolproof Ways to Ruin Your Holidays” on BlogTalk Radio 12/14/16 8:30 PM EST

Don’t miss my next 25 minute BlogTalk Radio episode on Wednesday, December 14th at 8:30 PM EST

If you’ve been telling yourself a story about all the stresses, expenses, difficult relatives, ridiculous gifts, cards to send, the hassles of putting up and decorating the tree, Chanukah forgotten, cleaning the house, making flights on time, too much eating and drinking, getting too fat, cleaning up the house, no time for anything, then this episode is for you!

I’ll give you 5 sure methods to make all the negative spin come true, individually, and as a couple. Enough chirpy info about how to do better! Let’s look at how you can SABOTAGE any fun, joy or meaning!

Tune into www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager for live streaming, or for the recorded episode afterward, OR to join me live on the air with your own Grinch stories or ideas call into the studio at: 877-497-9046  I’d love to make it a conversation!

Another Birthday!

Yesterday was my birthday, and once again I was astonished at how fast this past year went. Zip! It flew by! Again I’ve had the dreaded thought that my remaining birthdays may be limited, as I’m now officially tripping off the top of the”middle age” peak. Ugh! Not a good way to think about the passage of time. So, I’m on a mission to reframe aging, so I don’t spend the rest of my days playing “Beat the Clock.” (If you are gloriously young, you probably have no clue about that reference, as you wouldn’t have been born when that show was on TV. Well, hooray for you).

So far, I’ve decided that one clear antidote to aging with dread is to stop focusing on the outside of things and more on the inside – to not be seduced by appearances, but more cognizant of substance. That way, wrinkles and gravity’s effect on bodies, including my own, will be less central, (and horrifying!). So, who cares if your butt is two inches lower now than when you were 25? It’s the quality of your mind and heart that protrudes with significance!

One other antidote seems to be less focus on the endlessly undone things in life – the “bucket list” of amazing, challenging, creative, fun or obligatory things remaining untapped or unfinished, and more focus on one’s achievements. What accomplishments do you feel proud of? What will you be remembered for? What relationships and experiences have you had that you cherish right now? It’s a “glass half full” frame, much less melancholy, more grateful!

While I’m working on my list of antidotes to aging with dread, I did see one affirmation on a birthday card which says it all perfectly: “At this moment in time you are the youngest you will ever be for the rest of your life.”  Ah, youth……

4 Tips for Effectively Pushing Yourself

When was the last time you got out of a warm bed at the crack of dawn to sweat on a treadmill – with eagerness? Or relinquished the beach on a gloriously sunny Saturday to do tax preparation? Or gladly put your openly introverted self in front of a group of 300 peers to give a lecture? You may have done all or any of these things, but chances are that you had to push yourself out of your comfort zone to do them in the name of some kind of benefit or reward. If, on the other hand, you’ve made a habit of staying in your womb-like routine without taking any risks into the unfamiliar, then you’ve probably missed out on some novel experiences, learning, excitement and rewards.

So, if you’d like to be less risk averse and get better at pushing yourself to do new things, here are a four of my seven tips and tools I’ve developed from my years of working with individuals and couples in therapy:

  1. Create a clear vision for your goal, defined specifically. (Ex: By tax time in April I will have all my financial data tabulated and formatted, ready for the accountant in Quickbooks).
  2. Identify your potential saboteurs and what your options are to head them off at the pass. (Ex: Self, wanting to do more fun stuff. Fix: Reward self with the fun stuff after I’ve done the work each week).
  3. Formulate a clear action plan for the “Push,” defining it specifically and behaviorally. (Ex: I will do two hours of Quickbooks entries every Saturday from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM regardless of the weather or invitations I’ve received to do fabulous things).
  4. Identify the intrinsic and concrete rewards to yourself / others in making this effort to move out of your comfort zone. (Ex: I will feel more organized, centered, and prepared for tax time. My accountant will appreciate the timely, orderly data. My friends and family will get to see a cheerier version of me more frequently on weekends).

For more free tools and tips about this and many other issues, subscribe to my list on the right. “Pushing Yourself” is the 92nd free article you will get about all kinds of issues related to the relationship with yourself and with others.

In addition, if you’d like individual help with self-motivation or any other dilemma, feel free to contact me at my Portsmouth, NH office anytime for an appointment at: 603-431-7131. I’d be glad to help!

Self Criticism: Silence It With the Ultimate Nuclear Weapon

self criticsm photo: self DSCN0769zcopycopy.jpg

Many of us become our own worst enemies by putting ourselves down and focusing on our weaknesses or negative qualities. If you are prone to this, it’s important to know that a bit of self critical thinking can become motivation for positive change and growth, but when you go overboard with it, feeling worthless, incapable of effective action, etc., it prevents you from taking healthy risks because it robs you of confidence in your own capabilities. It raises anxiety and stress, and can lead to depression.

Most of us already know about the importance of learning to accept our mistakes as part of learning, and being kinder and softer to ourselves in general. We’ve also heard a lot about looking for solutions to problems instead of berating ourselves about them. But here is the ultimate nuclear weapon to blast away self criticism: The Howitzer Mantras.

Because self critical talking and behavior is driven by habit and reflex, its important to find words or phrases that are designed to hit the critic like a cannon blast. When you hear your internal critic saying nasty, derogatory things about yourself use a mantra that helps you feel angry and outraged, like “Screw you!,” “Stop this crap!” “Shut up!” “Get off my back!” Use the anger and indignation as a productive way to drown out the critic. Yell out loud if you can, but most importantly, mentally shout the mantras at the critic.

If using the mantras alone is insufficient, take a stronger measure by putting a rubber band around your wrist and snap it while subvocalizing your mantra. By doing this you’re emphasizing your stop commands and making thought interruption more likely. The sharp, stinging sensation breaks the chain of negative thoughts and acts as a punisher so that the critic is less likely to attack in the near future.

Try this method as a routine way to silence your damning critic and you’ll be amazed at the results!

When Things Fall Apart: BlogTalk Radio Episode 9/17/14 8:30 PM EST

Don’t miss my next BlogTalk Radio episode tonight about the subject of dealing with life when things fall apart. We’ve all had the experience at times of dealing with crises which create a sense of chaos and uncertainty – maybe the loss of a loved one, or a debilitating health issue, or the loss of a job or business. It always feels horrible and destabilizing, and often creates a story of victimhood or bitterness for us. But the fact is that misery is just another part of life – it inevitably comes with the joy, relief, and triumph that are also part of our story.

Tune into this half hour episode tonight and join the discussion or just listen in, and hear about some attitudes and behavioral tools which may help you to accept some of these hardships as part of being human, and move through these experiences with more wisdom and perspective. Call toll-free 877-497-9046, or if the lines are busy call 760-542-4114. I hope you can join me! If you can’t make the live show, listen to it online at your convenience by going to the web player on my website, www.SusanLager.com or at www.BlogTalkRadio/SusanLager.com

Information Overload

I spent all day today taking an online social media training. I think I learned a lot, but it’s hard to say, as I’m now in “brain scramble” mode. Is it just me, or do any of you get totally overwhelmed when you learn a bunch of new, foreign things? I end up feeling excited/inadequate/determined/bewildered/curious, etc.  It’s odd, because when I teach people in relationships new skills I always encourage them to not get too fancy or hard on themselves – to incorporate and practice baby steps until they get more proficient, and to congratulate themselves on little pieces of progress.

I think I’ll try to take my own advice, and not stay up till the crack of dawn attempting to master the new information in one fell swoop. So, if my Instagrams appear upside down, or my Facebook posts show my own “likes,” or my Tweets have five redundant hashtags, please be patient while this old dog learns some new tricks. And I’ll try being patient with myself… 😉

End of Summer 2013

Unbelievably, we’ve already arrived at the last week before Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer. Here in New Hampshire, parents are sending their kids off to school this week! Mercifully, in Maine, where I live, nobody goes back to school until after Labor Day, but even then, everyone groans about letting go of the long, langorous days of summer. (Except parents who are sick of their kids).

I’ve had a terrific summer with boating, hiking (light), swimming in the ocean and lakes, barbecues, reading, friends, family, and some wonderful long weekends away at lovely new places. I’ve also taken somewhat of a break from the internet to be outside more, doing active things. So, I can’t complain about it all coming to an end soon, as we in New England enter the Arctic Freeze Winter for the next seven or so months.

If you’re feeling blue about the transition, I’d encourage you to think of it this way: Would summer be as special to you if it were all year round? If you think “Yes!” then you should move to Florida or the Carribbean! If you thought “No way!” then savor what you’ve experienced this past summer. If you didn’t experience much, then begin making a list of the things you will commit to doing next summer, so you don’t continue the “regret cycle.” (You might also need some new friends who get you out more).

Another thing you can do is to anticipate all the delightful things about the Fall and Winter. Look forward to more “tuck in” time with more opportunities for indoor activities and more reflection. Won’t it be nice to not feel pressure to be outside so much doing fabulous things? If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (depression related to lower levels of light), do the therapeutic “light therapy.” Anticipate the beauty of the changed color palette outdoors with all the invigorating things you can do outside if you’re dressed properly. Look forward to Fall and Winter rituals and holidays. And of course, you can also look forward to next summer. It will be here before you know it….

Happy trails,
Susan Lager

Dreading Another Birthday? Here’s An Antidote….

I recently turned a big number. WAY too big for comfort. I had been feeling a bit blue about my upcoming birthday, thinking about how lousy aging can be – worsening vision, hanging flesh, age spots, the need for Shingles shots, people you know dying, more aches and pains, and worst of all, time running out!

Even so, I greatly enjoyed our family’s four day celebration marking the event in Philly. After the weekend, I spent the actual day of my birthday off from work with the plan of doing intense “self nurture,” something I’m always yapping to my clients about needing to do for themselves. I felt a bit blue, however,  thinking about how fast life had gone by, so I went for a speed walk by the river nearby, feeling a bit lighter immediately. I immersed myself in gardening, cleaning out the beds and planting beautiful new perennials. Felt even better at that point. But the thing that really changed the day into something lovely was a simple thought. As a Baby Boomer, I realized what an amazing group of fearless, feisty, groundbreakers my generation was. We were the ones who initiated the women’s movement, reinvented music, fought for racial equality and sexual freedom, peace, love, and FUN, FUN, FUN!

I was a member of the club that transformed the world, and was now entering their last chapter of life. To celebrate, I brought out my stack of 60’s Rock CD’s, pumped up the volume (poor Dave next door!), and danced for hours, joyous to be at this place in my life, forever young.

So, if you’re dreading another birthday yourself, connect with all the amazing people in your own generation, celebrate your contributions, and enjoy the rest of the ride!

Cheers,
Susan Lager

2012 Year In Review BlogTalk Radio Show Summary. (You asked for it!)

On January 2, 2013 I did my last BlogTalk Radio Show, “2012 Year In Review. Options For Looking Back, Then Forward.” It was a very successful episode with quite a few live callers, and nearly 500 “listens” to the recorded show in the five days since then! As per your many requests, I’m posting the two types of reviews here, each creating a very different sense of things, and a different spin on your life, looking back, then forward.

To hear the recorded show in its entirety, go to: www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager

If you’re doing your own 2012 Year In Review you could reflect back in the most common way on these things:

  • how much money you made or didn’t
  • how often your body broke down with illness
  • how many vacations you went on, and if they were worth the cost, and the time you took off
  • how much weight you gained or lost
  • if you finally stopped smoking or not
  • how your spouse drove you crazy
  • which friends let you down, and how
  • if you got your house de-cluttered or not
  • who had a messy affair; who got divorced
  • who died and how
  • your failures at work
  • how much you wasted your gym membership
  • your guilt about not reading more books
  • your disappointments as a parent
  • tragedies which occurred, making you paranoid
  • the huge amount of taxes you paid or now owe

(Blah, blah, blah….) Any others I’ve missed?

Or you could do this kind of Year In Review:

  • what were my major accomplishments at work?
  • what positive steps did I take in my marriage?
  • how was I more thoughtful and loving to my family?
  • did I do any better at setting appropriate limits around time asked of me
  •  how well did I take care of myself physically?
  • did I expand myself intellectually and spiritually?
  • what major lessons did I learn in 2012?
  •  did I have enough fun this past year?
  • did I stand up for what’s important to me?
  • what did I model for my children?
  • was I a generous enough friend to the people I care about?
  • whose accomplishments brought me joy?

Get the difference? After you have (hopefully) chosen the latter set of reflections, you have a beginning template for an even better 2013! For help regarding negative self talk, feel free to contact me at my office at 603-431-7131 to set up an appointment for some brief psychotherapy work.

Tune into my next show on Wednesday, Jan. 30th. And have a happy, productive and meaningful New Year!

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About
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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