Therapy is weird. You go to your appointments not really knowing what to expect. Some sessions fill you with dread, some sessions help you feel relieved and some just absolutely baffle your mind. On Monday this week, I had my 8th therapy session and I was told something that I’d never ever heard of. I was informed of a behaviour that can be learnt throughout childhood. Something that, with persistence, can be picked up by anyone. Even animals. I was halfway through the session, talking away in my own little world when my therapist just stopped me in my tracks. She very rarely interrupts me so I knew she had to get something off her chest.
‘Can I just stop you, have you ever heard of the term ‘learned helplessness’?’
She might as well have spoken in a foreign language because I had no bloody clue. I just looked at her and said ‘Eh?’, which in turn made us both chuckle before she proceeded to explain. Let me just say, I cannot remember the last time someone told me something that made me so stumped that all I could say was ‘Well, fuck’. Yes, maybe it is an overreaction to some, but I feel like all the pieces on my broken jigsaw edged their way closer together. So, for those of you who haven’t heard of it either, I’ll try explain the best I can whilst relying on memory and google.
“Learned helplessness is a psychological condition in which a human being or an animal has learned to act or behave helpless in a particular situation, even when it has the power to change its unpleasant or even harmful circumstance.”
My therapist explained that it is something that has been used as a torture technique. No matter how hard someone tries to escape a difficult situation, they never get anywhere. The more times this happens, the individual learns to accept that they never will get anywhere, no matter how hard they try. They’re always faced with the same end result, and therefore don’t feel the need to try anymore. If you need more information on it yourself then just google it. I’m still trying to get to grips with it myself.
It’s a term I had never heard of before. It’s something I have never been familiar with but when my therapist made me aware of it – it blew my mind. Those with psychological disorders are more likely to experience learned helplessness e.g.depression, anxiety, elevated stress levels. Not only did that help me see the link, but because it just makes sense. It left me feeling incredibly strange. My therapist actually offered to cut my session short because she knew she’d ‘lost me’ – a phrase that is quite frequent in our sessions. I completely fell into my own world and tried to analyses what she’d just told me. I tried to make sense of it. Almost 4 days later, I still don’t think I have.
Looking back over my childhood and teenage years, I spent a lot of time trying to get people to listen to me, to hear what I had to say and take me seriously. 90% of the time, the response was not what I needed. My feelings and thoughts were rarely taken into consideration. Over time, I stopped seeking help and support because I knew it wouldn’t get me anywhere. That’s when the snowball effect began to take its course and ‘learned helplessness’ became apparent, unbeknownst to me. Now, I struggle to voice my thoughts and feelings just because my mind has been trained into thinking that no-one will care, no-one will take me seriously and my needs won’t be met. A lot of my anxiety stems from not being good enough, not being able to fulfil and meet the needs of those I care about. Thinking that everyone will be better without me in their lives. Knowing that there really is no point in even trying. If it’s not been the case for 15 years, why would it now?
My therapist then said to me ‘have a think about how learned helplessness can explain your troubles and demons’. Yes, I’ve thought about it, and I don’t really know what to do with it. She explained that it came to her attention because I’ve adopted a ‘I don’t know and I don’t care’ attitude towards those who have failed me over the years. And it’s true – the way my therapist just ‘gets me’ is still something I can’t quite get my head around. When asked about how things made me feel, in regards to my current situation and the struggles I face, I just don’t want to bother anymore. I’m getting to a point where I really do not care what happens other than how it affects me directly. I’m done being dragged into situations that have nothing to do with me, I’m done being a messenger between those who aren’t mature enough to sort their own issues out and I’m done putting effort into the relationships that only bring me anxiety and upset.
I have the power to see that there is a way out and I’ve touched it with my fingertips. Typically, recovery doesn’t stay in my eye line for long enough to get a taste of it. But, it’s there. Now, I’m thinking about me. I’m thinking about how I can become the person I’ve always wanted to be. The person I want to be for me, and for others. The person who sticks up for herself, knows her worth and spreads nothing but love and care to those who deserve it. I’m thinking about my future with my Burnie, building our own family even more, spending our lives together and living out our days as happy as we can be. I’m not naïve into thinking that there won’t be bumps in the road. If my past is anything to go by, there’s another just waiting for me around the corner. But, I am done letting my past follow me. I am done letting my anxiety rule over my life. I am done begging for love, support and care in places where I know it’s just never going to be. I have found a love that is deeper than the ocean and a life that I am so excited to live. Yes, I still struggle and I always will but I’m learning my triggers and overcoming them. I know there is a chance of relapse as I have done just that before. But, I have come to the realization that once you remove the toxicity, the negativity and really make effort in putting yourself – and those who matter – first, that jigsaw starts to fall into place. My light is there and it’s shining brighter than ever before.
Love, M x