(Source: Dr. Martin Seligman)
The feeling of oppression and not being in control or in charge is the opposite of the top of the UpSpiral which is “feeling good and feeling free.”
These feelings of either the threat or the actual loss of control create DownSpiraling, and then we lean toward one end or the other of either passively internalizing anger and rage or externalizing it.
When we DownSpiral, we do characteristically one or the other.
Some of us internalize and smolder, and others of us “shoot from the hip.”
What do you do when you want to control and can’t, and the only resort is to admit that you are powerless? Even as this significant speck of the Universe, connected to a vast Universal intelligence in some unique and perfect way, the experience is still the same: powerlessness.
Go ahead, you can admit it, there are times when you feel up against the wall, backed into a corner, it’s piled on top of you and a squeak of a pulsing “peace” “peace” “peace” seems to be a million miles away, if you can remember it all.
The truth is that we want it our way, in our time, and like we think it ought to happen.
Why not just begin with admitting that we are powerless and let it unfold? Why not just throw open the whole process of living and just take it as it comes in a resigned acceptance that does not provoke frustration or a sense of oppression?
Why not just give in to the past oppressors, to the past cues and threats that we have so well learned, and be as passive as we have learned to be hostile and rage?
And let the whole thing just unfold as it will…
Why not just move to this place of just generally, as best you can, accept whatever comes down and try to do your best with what you cannot control, never will control, and admit that you are powerless and just let a power beyond yourself do the deal?
What I have just described is “learned helplessness.” And it is a state that happens when you feel that no matter what you do, nothing matters, that you have no control over the outcomes.
The result of learned helplessness exactly matches the state of clinical depression except for one feature, and that is the absence of suicidal tendencies.
Small difference, huh?
When oppression happens we are holding on to a way of exercising our power that doesn’t work.
You are probably being your mother or your father, or reacting as if it were some past situation rupturing your world. That doesn’t mean you need analysis and 60 weeks of insight.
It means that you have to reassess how to use your strengths differently, or for some, just begin to use them at all.
In learned helplessness, some strength isn’t being used, but rather its opposite. Our perception or belief that we are “on top of it,” that we are “in control,” that we are “free” and “feeling good” is always a perception grounded in using our strengths. It emerges from using our strengths, and then learning how to use them even better.
Learned helplessness comes from knowing you have strengths and not using them, which results in believing that you have no power.
© Dr. William K. Larkin