Couplespeak™ Blog

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

Couplesctr@gmail.com                                                                 603-431-7131

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:

The Curse of Self-Doubt

It was finally time after almost ten years, for me to part ways with my trusty old office couch. It was beautiful and comfy, but badly soiled and worn, as you can see, after being the repository for thousands of hours of client’s struggles and triumphs. Oh, the stories this tired old couch had heard!

I’d spent months noticing how the cushions were getting more frayed and soiled, obsessing about whether I should have it re-upholstered, (and how would I ever do that?), or to just let it go, hopefully to a new home. Back and forth, decided and undecided I remained for months and months. Now the issue was less about the condition of the couch but my lack of confidence about the “right” decision!

I finally pulled the trigger, after days of measuring and re-measuring, (I’d bought a couch in the past I had to return because they couldn’t get it in the door!) I found what I thought was a perfect replacement and made plans for the Salvation Army to pick up the old couch.  Before they arrived I was caught in yet another wave of self doubt: Did I measure correctly? Would it fit? Would the new one match or be comfortable enough? Did I really do my homework diligently about all this? Was it fair to just discard a couch that had served my clients and me so faithfully? (Does this kind of self-doubt feel familiar to you?) After several agonizing hours I decided to try to trust my perceptions and diligence, and move forward.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t rewarded for the moment of decisiveness when the Salvation Army rejected the donation – “too worn.” With the new one arriving the next day, should I keep the old couch if I had nowhere else to put it? More indecision, and I’m the therapist?

I finally broke the bad trance, deciding this issue wasn’t about world peace, and that I should try to trust my perceptions, as I’m usually a very thorough person. Worst case scenario, I’d have two couches, one parked in the waiting room, and a new one in my office. I put a “free couch” sign on the old one, and within an hour a mother took down my number, exclaiming how perfect this old couch would be for her son who was moving into his own apartment. He wouldn’t be put off by the optics of it, but would love the functionality, especially since it was a full size sleeper as well. Long story short, the new couch arrived the next day, fit perfectly in my office and looks beautiful, and the kid came the next day to pick up his new treasure.

I can only guess what fun he and his roommates will have imagining the therapy dramas his new couch holds. Hopefully, he won’t doubt his own decision to give the old girl a new home just because she’s a little worn out. And hopefully, next time I won’t invite the curse of self doubt into what could be an exciting decision. Maybe? Maybe not…….

Wednesday, June 3rd 8:30 PM BlogTalk Radio episode “Life Your Way” – A Talk with Author Amy Wood”

Don’t miss my next 45 minute BlogTalk Radio episode, “Life Your Way” – A Talk with Author Amy Wood.” We’ll discuss this prize-winning, vital book which provides a compelling approach on how to manage the constant “Go! Do! Be Better!” stresses of 21st century American life.

Get some really useful insights on how you can use your instincts and intuition to find balance and confidence, and how to move more intentionally toward a happier, more fulfilling life.

Call toll-free 877-497-9046 to join us on the air with questions or comments, or to just listen and benefit from the conversation about such an important topic.

Can’t make the live show? Catch the recording afterward at: www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager

Overthinking It

overthinking photo: Overthinking overthinking_zps6abaa3a7.jpg

It’s been about a month since I’ve posted, and I’m happy to say, I’m back! With the holiday busyness, a surprising surge of clients, a nasty virus and some minor surgery, it feels like my life got hijacked.

But, there was also another culprit responsible for my absence: overthinking! I’m somewhat of a perfectionist to begin with, so my mind tends to over-review details in an effort to get things right, or just so. What prompted this post however, were two situations in particular: learning Quickbooks to enter details about my business expenses for my accountant, and a return to skiing for the first time this season.

Quickbooks is a ripe medium for overthinking: tons of little details with specific ways to enter information appropriately. I thought I’d learn to do it myself rather than spend the time and money outsourcing it to a bookkeeper. What I found is that it’s an arena with loads of uncertainties if you’re a beginner, especially not a financial professional. So it’s been about a month of torture, with countless hours of entries, checking and rechecking, all on weekends when “normal” people are having some fun! Here’s what Psychology Today says about overthinking:

“The human mind hates uncertainty. Uncertainty implies volatility, randomness, and danger. When we notice information is missing, our brain raises a metaphorical red flag and says, “Pay attention. This could be important…” When data is missing, we overestimate its value. Our mind assumes that since we are expending resources locating information, it must be useful.”

(So there I was)…..

Then I went skiing again for the first time this season on my new “shaped” skis, and found myself reviewing all the instructions about proper form and perfectly executed turns I’d learned from lessons in the past. It took me about five runs before it occurred to me to just have some fun and let muscle memory set in. The ensuing runs were exuberant, and nobody got killed!

So here are a few of my antidotes for overthinking things:

1. Just do it! Take action, be willing to make “mistakes,” and be in the moment of the experience, so you get out of your head. If you’re overthinking your motivation, then make your motivation the “caboose,” not the “locomotive.” You can think about your motivation on the tail end after you’ve taken action – i.e., as with exercise.

2. Distract an overactive mind by directing your attention elsewhere – focus on the desired end result you imagine, like with skiing, do some mental rehearsal, envisioning yourself flying down the mountain with joy, rather than obsessing on the details of each turn.

3. Practice regular meditation, daily exercise, and when all else fails, get some medication to calm down your obsessional thinking.

So, for all of us over thinkers the task is also to accept that life is filled with uncertainty, to trust that uncertainties usually won’t kill us, and to relinquish our illusions of control. It’s an Eastern thing….

Cheers,

Susan

Blog Talk Radio Host

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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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