Tag Archives: Helplessness

Damsel in Distress-2For many of us who are organized and task oriented or even just moderately productive we are viewed by others as have energy and momentum in handling life’s issues and responsibilities. Many people who may feel timid or at a loss for handling their own responsibilities often see us as an opportunity to acquire the completion of their obligations through our efforts. This perception often becomes compounded if we exhibit kindness and consideration for others which is frequently misinterpreted by them as our being an “easy touch” or manipulatable for getting what they want or need with a minimal effort, if any, on their part. Whether this is thought through or simply instinctual on their part is not as important as the fact that we must deal with them in a way that conserves our own energy for our own tasks, obligations and pleasures. Handling these kinds of people can be a real challenge especially for those of us who have been raised in our contemporary culture idolizing altruism. In this article I’d like to cover:

• The origins of helplessness,
• The ploys used by those to manipulate our attention and energy and
• 5 strategies to disarm their ploys and maintain our own direction and energy.

Origins: How might someone find themselves in a situation that they would consider themselves helpless? The simple and assumed answer is that they are simply incompetent or incapable of performing the tasks that are required of them. But it goes much deeper than that. With all the responsibilities we have in our daily lives and aside from those who are obviously handicapped we are all eminently qualified and able to deal with what our life throws at us. The chink in the armor comes when we’ve grown up in an environment where we’ve been subjected and encouraged toward the belief by our caretakers that we ARE incompetent and incapable. This coupled with the need to get on in life leaves us in an untenable position. How do we do what we need to do but avoid exposing our laziness or incompetence? Easy. We just get someone else to do it for us and no one is the wiser.

There are many reasons by which someone may feel incompetent. But, also, their personal ethics often come into play and they may not just use others to hide their perceived lack of ability. They may also have a diminished work ethic or lack consideration for others and their comfort and simply decide that there is nothing wrong with getting others to take care of their responsibilities. Whether through lack of competency or lack of ethics, the methods that others use to manipulate us into performing their obligations basically follow the same pattern. They play on our indoctrinated belief that it is our responsibility to take care of those who appear to be helpless and weaker than us.

Colonial Survivors-1But where did that belief come from? Two places: During colonial times we actually needed the help of others to survive and from our western altruistic and religious foundations declaring that the welfare of others is our responsibility before our own benefit or convenience. It’s a simple jump in our perception to see how easily this might be used to capitalize on our perceived obligations.

The ploys used by those to manipulate our attention and energy: This story has many variations but comes from two basic perspectives: either we believe that we are helpless or incompetent and solicit help or assistance or we know we’re not and simply use the ploys for our own selfish gains. Either way, the ploys are just as effective against us and need to be dealt with in a way that will conserve our energy and efforts so as not to be drained or subjugated.

Ploy #1: “Woe is me. I’ve been deserted and left in a position where the only way for me is down. You're my last hope!” This ploy is based on tapping into our compassion and our capacity to feel guilty if we decide to not assist. Our historically western religious belief that we are expected to be our brother’s keeper plays a major role in how we respond. This ploy has also been quoted as “the tyranny of the weak.” It also includes those who can be perceived as sick and assumedly unable to perform the tasks that are being solicited. We see this ploy Little Red Ridinghood-1primarily operating in family situations. If we accept the premise that the person is incapable or “too sick” to take care of their responsibilities, we’re dead meat. Our compassion will be seen as a weakness and we’ll be played as far as they can take us. Whether they are conscious of what they are doing or not is not as important as the process. The only difference is that if we confront the person who is unconscious of what they are doing we will most certainly solicit an honest denial and, if this is a family member, create a long term resentment on their part. Many elderly parents utilize this type of guilt and will use this ploy to maintain their children in close proximity to them.

Ploy #2: “My goodness! How well you do that! Everyone can see that there is no one as compassionate as you! I would be so grateful if you could do that for me. Where else could I find such perfection and consideration?” This premise is obviously focused on energizing our pride and ego. The controlling and hidden factors in this interchange are that if we don’t submit to what is asked we would, number one, be seen as lacking in compassion, number two, “everyone” else would see and be told that we are lacking and, number three, we would be held in contempt by the solicitor. This is the “build us up to break us down” ploy. This also includes the age old “damsel in distress.” Those of us who have fragile egos are highly susceptible to this ploy. The last thing we want is to be publicly “dissed” and our incompetence and “lack of compassion” exposed. Why incompetence? Because when we are so invested in our ego and its appearance it becomes a predominant factor contributing to how we overcompensate for our perceived lack of personal status. We will do almost anything to keep our publicly perceived image strong and intact.

Out on a limbPloy #3: “It’s your responsibility to have this taken care of. If you don’t, this will leave me in a very untenable situation.” This ploy is a combination of ploy#1 but with the added dimension of bullying us through using the performance of our perceived obligations as a gauge for how others will perceive us. In a sense, this is sort of a blackmail. Much the same as in Ploy #2, if we don’t acquiesce to their demands we risk not only exposure but the spreading of our “dis-commendation” to our family, business or peer groups.

5 strategies to disarm their ploys and maintain our own direction and energy. These three ploys will cover the majority of the ploys that come from the origin of helplessness. We must remember, however, that all these types of ploys derive their effectiveness from our own perceived frailties and failings. The fact that we believe that we have them is ample enough fuel to power our subjugation by them. However, the more Self-Trust that we are in possession of, the less these ploys will have an effect on us. But as adults and humans we all know that we have weak points in our self-confidence and until we are able to “plug the gaps” with the needed confidence building we will need to have strategies to keep the “users,” conscious or instinctual, at bay in order to maintain our energy and self-respect.

Strategy #1: Accept and displace the compliment. This is mostly in response to Ploy #2. Two things are happening here. First, our culture expects us to be humble when being complimented and then to somehow defer the “honor” to another recipient. This is considered a contemporary measure of humility. The second is a play on our desire to maintain our “granted” image of “better than.” Both actions require us to diminish ourselves in order to stay within the limits of “modesty.”

applause-1There is nothing wrong with accepting a compliment. It is only our own self-consciousness and expected modesty that encourage us to deflect it. Our self-consciousness is proportional to the amount of Self-Trust we are in possession of. If it is strong within us the next part is easy. Do project an exaggerated honor on another recipient claiming that their proficiency is better than our own, that they would do a much better job than we would and that they would more likely than we have much more time and consideration to answer the solicitor’s needs. In doing so we will have played into their demand for humility but deflected it to a worthier “contestant.” We’ve effectively acquiesced to their demand of humility and used it against them. Realize that if we can’t diminish our own need to be “better than” this will not work for us. We must remember and accept the fact that we are OK as we are. This will pull the rug out from any solicitor’s exaggerated compliment and free us from any assumed obligation.

Strategy #2: Actually “help” them but put limits on your time and energy. By telling someone that we have commitments to someone else we negate the “responsibility factor” implied in Ploy #3. Then if they threaten us with blackmail we have a counter with an obligation that meets their terms but just not with them. This will also enable us to gauge our time and energy in a way that meets our needs and obligations so our interaction with them can’t be pushed beyond “reasonable” limits. This salves our desire to be helpful and useful but keeps the degree to which we can be manipulated under our control.

You can do it-1Strategy #3: Cite circumstances where the person soliciting help was fully competent and able to complete their obligations without our assistance. This amounts to using ploy #2 against our solicitor. In pointing out circumstances where the solicitor has been competent and able is eminently contradictory to their claim of helplessness. In pointing out their successes they must acknowledge our observation and “compliment” on their proficiency and ability. This, essentially, frees us from feeling obligated to “save them” as well as letting them know that we know that they are able to do it themselves. They cannot, in good conscience, continue to solicit us unless they have neither shame nor self-respect. If that’s the case, or they pose additional reasons for their inability (unwillingness) to perform the task(s), our response would be, “That’s just something you’re going to have to work out for yourself.” We’ve offered a culturally accepted response to their request (demand) and they must acquiesce in order to remain in good standing with us and their peers.

Dumpster Diving-1Strategy #4: Commiserate. This strategy is the easiest and probably the most fun all. I was working for a boss who was very people savvy and could read them like a book. When she responded this way I was shocked at its effectiveness and laughed almost until I peed in my pants. When the solicitor complained about how difficult and how hard her life had been my boss responded with, ”Oh, honey I know. It’s so hard. Dealing with that circumstance has hurt me so much too and put me in such a bad way that I just don’t what to do.” In commiserating with the solicitor she had put herself in the same position as the solicitor and disarmed her ability to put her in a position of having to be responsible for “saving” her. In the same position the solicitor could not reasonably assume that my boss would have anything to do with her “rescue.” What a beautiful and harmless way to turn the tables on being used! (Not to mention funny).

Talk to the handStrategy #5: Simply state “No. I’m not comfortable doing that.” DO NOT give reasons for your decision. That gives your solicitor armament and a door to badger you. If your solicitor threatens you with harm or diminished social standing, just respond with, “Well, that’s just something that I’m going to have to deal with.” Your solicitor will then, most likely, realize that they have misjudged you as an easy touch and move on to easier prey. In these days and times there is a large component of us who simply have no fear or regret in dealing with those who would use and abuse us. Our Self-Trust is developed to a point where our image in the eyes of others is minimally important and our feelings about ourselves and what we do has a lot more sway over how we conduct our lives. This does not mean that we lack compassion. It simply means that we maintain the right to determine where and how we will apply it. But until we reach that point of trusting ourselves and attending our own needs, these strategies will serve to mitigate any “coercive” experiences we might encounter.

These strategies take our time, awareness, practice and patience to be implemented to full effectiveness. We must be patient with ourselves and recognize where we must simply “cut our losses” with certain people who will not acquiesce in favor of our comfort and our necessity to care for ourselves before addressing their needs. Unfortunately, our western altruistic approach to social relationships has metastasized into a voracious cancer eating away at our Self-Trust and confidence through implied obligation. Moving from perceiving ourselves as a victim to being in charge of our own love, work and energy is an ongoing process. Remember, it took a long time to train us into being susceptible to manipulation. It will take a reasonable amount of time, patience, and practice to change us from being reactive to being proactive in our own interest. There is nothing shameful in looking after our own welfare.

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Sysiphus-1Stress has certainly become a buzz word relating to just about anything in life that appears to give us difficulty. For many in our current culture, who find ordinary life issues falling into patterns that either thwart or block their efforts to make life run smoothly and easily, they tend to view their difficulty as being stressful. Then what's the difference between stress & challenge? In this contemporary instant gratification society stress has become the catchall label applied to whatever doesn’t come easily according to our expected preferences.

Granted, our world is moving faster now than a generation ago having intensified personal and social pressures and creating the perspective that life is more difficult now than it used to be. However, we can’t completely blame changing external circumstances for the difficulty we perceive. The slow introduction of expected instant gratification to our culture has cast adrift qualities that were present when things weren’t instantly gratified and while we also accepted the premise that we would have to work toward the things that we wanted. With that earlier perspective also stood the learned qualities of patience, tenacity and the acceptance that some things actually require time and effort to bring to fruition. With the advent of instant gratification all of these qualities appear to have fallen by the wayside, especially when we list what we feel is required of us for our personal accomplishments. What is even more unfortunate is that they appear to have been forgotten by many parents and are no longer taught to the younger generations. With the younger generations, and some adults, instant its-all-about-me-1gratification has regrettably metastasized into entitlement. And as entitlement has gained a foothold, we also find that we are also losing the learning manners and compassion. Granted, they are, or were, also taught but seem to have also been forgotten. So now, as we concurrently focus on what we feel is stressful, we have either forgotten or come to ignore patience, tenacity, manners and the need for compassion as they have been prioritized to the bottom of the list, if considered at all, all in the name of battling stress. At this point I also have to say that stress should not be used a valid excuse to be rude. Before the encroachment of instant gratification and entitlement, patience, tenacity and acceptance were strong component representatives of an important perspective and quality we considered in our approaching life; namely, challenge. So, what has changed that has made such a big difference between what we label as stress and what we label as challenge? Aren’t they the same dynamic but just with a different label? I believe that they are. The difference is in why we approach the issues differently that their label has been applied to. Let me explain.

There is a very strong movement toward spirituality in our current culture. I feel that it is a reaction to our overemphasis on our physical comfort and survival as our perceived outside pressures have led us to focus more on tangible issues than our emotional well-being. Granted that our emotional well-being has a lot to do with how we fare in our physical world but I also believe that it has become a casualty as have our other inner qualities lost through the advent of stress having morphed into entitlement. The point I’d like to make here is that the over-emphasis on tangible issues has over-emphasized the importance of how we allow the external world to influence us. There should be a balance between the inner and outer issues for us to find peace. This emphasis intensifies our belief that the world has much more of an effect on what we can or can’t do or be in our daily lives. As our belief switches to the premise that the world determines our fate, we slowly move into the perception that our efforts are helpless-1controlled by external circumstances. This can create a growing and persistent feeling of helplessness leading to depression. Both are symptomatic of constricting or even halting our energy flow. This brings us to the historical definition of stress dating all the way back to the 1300s. Explaining stress as a verb it’s quoted as “to subject someone to force or compulsion” and “to draw tight” and as a noun it’s quoted as portraying “hardship, adversity, force, pressure, narrowness and oppression.” We can plainly see that all these definitions relate to our reacting to outside forces.

obedience-1There are many factors, most of them aforementioned, that would lead us to assume this perspective, where one, least of which, is not being encouraged to trust our own judgment in our child rearing years. I believe that as the younger generations have been raised to primarily focus on conformity, obedience, restricting their expressiveness and attending to the welfare of others over their own personal well-being that we have, effectively, sabotaged our youth and ourselves through neglecting to apply encouragement at crucial points in their development.

When children receive encouragement, they no longer see what life presents them with as an immutable fate but something that they have the power to work at changing if not completely overcome. If we are not given the opportunity to at least test and confirm our own effectiveness in changing the world and adjusting it to fit our own comfort level we are left only with a confirmed belief that we have no personal power and that the world controls every aspect of our fate in our daily lives. Without encouragement we are beaten before we begin. Challenge is joust 1defined in the 14th century as an “act of laying claim to something,” a “calling to fight” and “one who challenges another in a contest.” If we have no confidence in ourselves, no trust in our abilities stemming from discouraged childhood efforts and no belief that we can change our personal circumstances, what hope do we have of moving past the perception that the world determines our fate? This is the essence of challenge; that we have the ability to contend, that we have the self-confidence built on tested and encouraged childhood efforts and that others in the world are no better or worse, no more deserving or confidence-sumoundeserving, no more capable or incapable than we are. This is the major difference how and why we differentiate between stress and challenge. Stress says we are hopelessly bound by what the external world presents us and challenge says we can change most anything we put our minds to. The first is bred through discouragement and imparting a fatalistic attitude to our children and the other is bred through parental encouragement and the allowance and encouragement of confident self-testing.

Whether we realize it or not we have done ourselves a terrible disservice by giving so much power and permission to the outside world to determine our individual fates and well-being. Is it any wonder that the spirituality movement has taken on such momentum against the self-help booksemotional oppression that we feel under the wheels of the modern machine? There are a plethora of books, programs and videos instructing us on how to overcome overwhelming odds but if we are devoid of the hope that comes from encouragement, we will remain dead in the water despite all the ingenious methods available to us. So, where do we begin? First we begin by encouraging each other of us to follow our dreams and to understand and accept the fact that it takes time and effort to mold our own world into a place where we can find peace and comfort. But the most important place is in the hearts and minds of our children who need to feel that they can and that they are allowed to change their world. confidence-2This can only be accomplished by giving them hope through encouraging them and cheering them on to actively work at changing their world into their vision of peace and prosperity and of not burdening them with our belief that they can do no better than we have. Overprotecting them and buying them off of putting in the effort is the worst thing that we can do. We have to let them scrape their knees and fall down a few times while we still cheer them on and urge them on with the confidence we have in them. If we believe in them, they will come to believe in themselves. Then they will see life as a challenge not as a fated dead end as many of us have allowed ourselves to accept.

emotions-1Just about anyone we talk to interchanges the meaning of feelings and emotions. However, if we ask directly, most people will equate feeling more with being in the moment and emotions as if they’re talking about feelings but somehow a little more distant or removed connecting to other people and events. In asking, most people would assert that there is little or no difference. The only exception might be someone who is very tangibly oriented and relates the senses as being feeling and emotions as being something else. My take on them is a bit different than most.

If I were to describe a feeling (not related to the physical senses), I would define it as a movement of energy within us that arises involuntarily and elicits or imparts a “flavor” to the experience or person to which we’ve connected. An emotion is something much more that includes a “pairing” of the same rising feeling, having the experience but with an applied mental judgment that we commit to our memory so we may be prepared with a response or course of action the next time we repeat the same experience or one that is similar. This may sound somewhat convoluted but you must understand that we’ve experienced feeling as an infant long before our mind came into play enabling us to create words to describe it. From that perspective we can easily see how feeling can be involuntary. Emotions contain more of a voluntary component in that if we change our thoughts and judgment about the feeling it will trigger a different response from us with the same or a similar experience. Notice that the feeling remains the same but we apply a different meaning to its “flavor.” All emotions or “composite” feelings are derivatives of the six Elementary Feelings.

6-feelingsThe work of Dr. Paul Ekman has been dedicated toward expanding the work of Charles Darwin who postulated that animals have six elementary expressions based on what they feel. Remember, we are still part animal. However, we’ve learned to hide that fact from ourselves through social training and programming. Dr. Ekman has refined the feelings in humans to include happiness, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger and fear. These six on their onset do not include any mental or mind generated component. They can be viewed on our face almost instantaneously in what he calls micro-expressions occurring in one tenth of a second. Then, in humans, our mind quickly recovers its control and replaces them with the socially expected and appropriately trained expressions. Micro-expressions are a key tool in determining whether someone is lying or not. Many of us have this ability innately, don’t recognize it and simply attribute it to being instinctive (an animal characteristic).

Each of the six Elementary Feelings rest on a scale which extends from feeling the most comfortable and in control to feeling the least comfortable and out of control. When I speak of feeling in control or not, I refer to a psychological term called locus of control. An internal locus of control is when we feel we are in control of our life circumstances and an external locus of control is when we feel that our life circumstances are controlled by outside influences. The six Elementary Feelings embody qualities of both in different degrees. On the furthest of the internal side of feeling the most in control we have happiness. On the furthest of the external side where we feel others have control is fear. The other four range between the two extremes at varied points. The following are my perceptions of each of the Elementary Feelings and how they relate to our feeling in control or not.

6-happyHappiness – For most people happiness is a feeling of being free to be able to be and do what we want with little or no interference from the outside world. And if there is any interference, it is something that is so unimportant or irrelevant that we barely perceive it. It is the feeling in which we feel the most in control.

6-SurpriseSurprise – It is very similar to happiness on the scale but with an element of outside play or influence making us feel that we’re not quite as free or in control as we might have thought or liked. Usually, its occurrence is not of our own doing. However, it usually has a minimal dampening effect on our feeling in control.

6-sad-Sadness – In sadness we acknowledge that there are also some circumstances in the world which are beyond our control. But, we do mind them being so, however we do not need to resist or challenge the experience knowing that we cannot change it. We also do not feel trapped in the experience and we know that we have other options to feel free and mobile if we choose not to react.

6-disgustedDisgust – Disgust is similar to sadness but with more of an active component. The repulsion of disgust resonates with our Shadow which we refuse or deny and consequently project on others. The rise of disgust feels less in control of our environment and circumstances than with sadness but with enough of a feeling of control to still push it away as our Shadow. Here we refocus on other options that present more of an opportunity for self-determination. Unfortunately, in this case the balance between feeling in control (internal) and feeling out of control (external) leans a little more toward the out than the in.

DeterminationAnger – Anger holds much of the same impetus as disgust, does but there is much more of an urge to pursue the object of our anger with the intention of either eliminating the cause or changing the perspective of the person who, besides us, creates the tension. Anger is where we feel the flow of our energy blocked and counter the blockage with our own resistance. This resistance gains its power from our perceived immobility resulting in our failure to refocus on an easier path by virtue of our continued belief or assumption that external circumstances have more power and influence over our chosen path or direction than we do.

There are varying degrees of anger that we can feel which depend on how free or blocked we may feel. The more blocked we feel, the more intense the anger. The anger itself is powered by the hope or belief that an impasse can be moved beyond with force, the right intensity or the right external manipulation.

6-fearFear – Fear is a lot like anger except that its intensity is consequently turned inward as a result of the belief or assumption that the external environment is totally in control and that we have no option or ability to refocus other than to simply withdraw from, avoid or escape the situational consequences. It is the feeling in which we feel the least in control. It is also the feeling of fear is often tightly paired and interwoven with depression and helplessness in that its most common effect is immobility, either out of fear of losing the self (physically, emotionally or egotistically) or of losing or having lost an important person in our lives. Again, we feel totally out of control. Helplessness is a primary contributor to the manifestation of fear and depression. It is the most dominant factor in perceiving that our life operates totally from an external locus of control.

Apathy – This is the last feeling which is not included in Ekman’s pantheon of Elementary Feelings. I hesitated in assigning it a position in the range between feeling in control or out because its flexibility allows the dynamic to be activated anywhere along the internal/external continuum depending on our resiliency and fortitude in processing the other six feelings. Let me explain.

6-apathyWhen we think of apathy most of us perceive someone who doesn’t care or appears to have no feelings about a situation. To this day we idolize characters like Dirty Harry who appear to be immune to circumstances that would have ordinarily triggered fear, anger or any other feelings or emotions in the average person. But we know that this type of projected persona is simply a ruse. We know that they are actually experiencing the feeling, but being “brave” or “tough” to cover the evidence of it.

But, when the dynamic that occurs with a person who has received a traumatic physical or emotional injury happens as a result of that trauma, we go into shock. The body shuts down. Our awareness of pain is turned off. It is my belief than anyone who has had a trauma eliciting the intensity of one of the Elementary Feelings beyond their tolerance and personal limit can also shut down to the point where their feelings couldn’t even be perceived through micro-expressions. When the feelings are involuntarily blocked in this way, any feelings below that level are also masked or muted. So, if we shut down at anger, fear, helplessness and depression would psychiatrist-2also no longer be perceived, yet, we would still feel their effects. I believe that this is why so many of us are depressed and don’t even realize it; not necessarily because we have all been through a trauma but that any pressure or influence over a long period of time has the effect of desensitizing us to where we no longer feel those same stresses and pressures. We become automatons going through our daily routines unaware of the stresses we have let imprison us. The sad part is that as we desensitize ourselves to the hurtful influences, the empathic, compassionate and loving influences fall into the same chasm.

It has been said that the depth of our love can be measured by the depth of the pain we have experienced. If this is so, where does this leave us in allowing that empathy, compassion and love muted or diminished through desensitizing ourselves to our pain? This is truly a sad and paradoxical conundrum.

I have given you this list of Elementary Feelings and their correspondences to feeling in control because I want you to look at your close relationships and determine which of the six Elementary Feelings you feel most frequently when you interact with them. In this way you can see how much you feel in control of your life or not through keeping them in your circle while, freedom-1at the same time, expecting emotional support from them. When you realize that their influence on you rests on the bottom or close to the bottom of the emotional scale it will let you know which of them you would like to begin to minimize your contact with. In maximizing your contact with those on the top or near the top of the emotional scale you will begin to increase your feeling of being in control which will, in turn, start to reverse what you have desensitized yourself to. This will have an overall effect of lightening any depression or helpless feelings you may have been “plagued” with. Recognizing that we may be depressed is the first step toward lifting it.

So, the next time someone asks you what you’re feeling, perhaps, you may think a bit more deeply as to the “flavor” and whether it has arisen in you involuntarily or if it is the product of a past experience to which you have attached a changeable judgment or a preference. Either way, I don’t think you’ll look at feelings and emotions the same way ever again.

Please note: There is a companion workbook available for the self-work presented in the book ENERGIZING SELF TRUST: 7 Steps for Reclaiming You Power. Its cost is $10 plus postage. Contact me if you wish to receive a copy. Also, a two day seminar is being planned for Sarasota, Florida for mid-November.