Escaping the Clutches of Helplessness

Feelings of helplessness can be entangled in our sense of identity.

Feelings of helplessness can be entangled in our sense of identity.

We can all feel fragile at times, fading feebly in and out like a tiny sparkle in the vast firmament. It’s easy then to feel helpless, overlooked, insignificant, and unappreciated.

An entanglement in helpless feelings can certainly dampen our light, leaving us afraid to be venturesome. We can feel befuddled, overwhelmed, or exhausted, buffeted about by the winds of misfortune. Disappointment, dissatisfaction, and the sorrow of not living up to our potential are likely to haunt us.

A chronic sense of helplessness keeps us from believing in ourselves, trusting ourselves, and pursuing our destiny. Our self-regulation weakens, and we fall prey to impulses to overeat, overspend, and overindulge. We also lose our ability to regulate our emotional life or maintain physical health, causing us to sink into apathy or become increasingly bitter, depressed, or ill.

We are indeed helpless when it comes to influencing many events and situations. We accept this fact with equanimity when we’re emotionally strong. But we can’t accept it so easily when plagued by chronic helplessness. Instead, like a turtle on its back, we experience the personal challenges of daily life through a painful sense of being unable to rise to the occasion. [Read more...]

Cynicism: The Battle Cry of the Wimp

Cynics fly the white flag of surrender thinking it's a rebel flag.

Cynicism is the bravado of the faint-hearted, the strut of the weak-kneed, the battle cry of a feeble voice. This negative mentality, while self-defeating for its practitioners, seems to be gathering like storm clouds in the West. Barack Obama delicately brought this dysfunction to our attention when he noted at a campaign stop that “it’s fashionable right now for people to be cynical.”

Fashionable, indeed! A cynical view of the world has become a form of conviviality, like social drinking, that’s perceived as cool by many students, professionals, and sophisticates when they get together to talk or party. It’s cowardly, not cool. Cynics fly the white flag of surrender thinking it’s a rebel flag.

Cynicism is a cleverly disguised expression of passivity and hopelessness. It’s the art of being disgusted by hypocrisy and corruption without being moved to action. We can see its self-defeating effects in our faltering will to solve public and social problems, as well as in the loss of confidence in leaders and public and private institutions. Should America decline in self-defeat, we’ll have our cynical selves to thank. We can stop being cynical, though, by understanding its roots in our psyche.

Cynics tend not to see their inner weakness with any objectivity. They think they’re sophisticated realists entitled to take refuge in mockery, sarcasm, biting wit, and a know-it-all attitude. [Read more...]

The Astonishing Basis of Our Addictions

We can overcome addictions by understanding our emotional issues.

It’s curious that we humans get addicted to both substances and activities. On the substance side, people get hooked on drugs, alcohol, nicotine, sugar, and fat. We can also become addicted without substance abuse, in activities involving gambling, shopping, promiscuity, pornography, video games, and even work.

Experts offer a range of theories to explain the causes of addictions, and they can disagree to a contentious extent with one another. The causes are attributed variously to neurological disorders, brain chemistry, genetic factors, and low self-esteem. One expert, psychologist and author Stanton Peele, says we become addicted because the “delivery systems”—hypodermic syringes, nicotine-packed cigarettes, ubiquitous online porn, pocket-sized game consoles, chemically flavored food, seductive marketing messages—have become so effective at breaking down our resistance.

These theories are all worthy of consideration, yet I believe we really can’t understand addictions fully without understanding deeper elements of human nature. An essential cause of addictions derives from our lack of consciousness. We’re harboring psychological weaknesses that we’re failing to recognize or understand.

Addictive personalities experience themselves through unresolved emotional issues that produce inner weakness and a lack of self-regulation. In my view, the particular substance or behavior to which they’re addicted is secondary to their compulsion to experience the emotion of helplessness. [Read more...]