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January 5, 2024

It Can’t Be Helped? Really?

Learned helplessness.

Many of us who have experienced abuse have absorbed this toxic behavior.

It can possibly be described as a kind of enforced powerlessness, often between adult and child, but it can exist between any abusive person and the individual they have power over.

So, the results of this learned helplessness can be such things as not knowing how to manage money, have a job, and reach the milestone developmental markers that often signify adulthood and independence.

“It can’t be helped.”

One of the adults I grew up around had this as their go-to phrase regarding many things in life.

It was a statement that was uttered whenever there was a disappointment, an obstacle, or an unpleasant situation. It was the response to dealing with something that, perhaps, could have been handled in another way. A better way. A healthier way.

But instead of choosing those options, the white flag was waved, and nothing was done.

Give up. Accept defeat. Don’t work to change or improve anything.

“It can’t be helped.”

This is different from the concept of “radical acceptance.” Radical acceptance is when we accept a situation for what it is, one that is beyond our control.

“It can’t be helped,” however, is the toxic, passive, and learned helplessness response to a situation. When we do have the power, the ability, the opportunity, and the help/resources to deal with a situation, and we say no to that? That’s learned helplessness. We could do something, but we choose not to.

And, like the term states, it is “learned.” We learn to approach things in this manner.

But what, exactly, do we learn?

There are more complicated and disempowering messages embedded within the statement, “It can’t be helped.”

Looking at things a little closer, we can see other things that we often unknowingly internalize.

Things like…

“I can’t do anything.”

Disempowered completely and thoroughly.

How’s that for a great start in life?

Yet, that is often a root, hidden message we can absorb with learned helplessness. There is the built-in, disempowering question of “Why try?” It taunts and intimidates us, as we face tasks that encourage growth, independence, and maturation.

From childhood into adulthood, we are to develop and change, hitting life skill targets like separating from parents, getting a job, embarking on relationships, and taking care of ourselves financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

If those milestone markers are thwarted, discouraged, or withheld from us, we can wrongly believe that we cannot do anything. We are helpless and hopeless. There is no point in us trying to learn, grow, and change.

It cannot happen, anyway.

We learn to be helpless; we learn to not discover our potential.

There’s a payoff to internalizing the “can’t.”

Perhaps, nothing is expected of us. Perhaps, we expect nothing of ourselves because we “can’t.” That has the potential to relieve us of a lot of duty.

We don’t require things of ourselves because we absorb learned helplessness and its lie: we can’t do anything.

But come on. We need to challenge that.

Is that really the case? We can’t do anything? Absolutely nothing?

That’s not accurate.

But if we don’t want to do something, it’s a handy “reason” to not do it.

We can’t.

But, often, we “won’t,” or we “don’t.”

It’s not a matter of “can’t,” even if we don’t know how to do something.

But we can learn. What is preventing us from learning?

Well, maybe, for starters, perfectionism.

I can’t do anything right.

Perfectionism is the unrealistic, unattainable, unsustainable, and demanding taskmaster. It haunts and taunts us with the “if” lie. “If we just do everything perfectly, then, it counts. But anything short of complete perfectionism is worthless.

We are worthless, therefore, if we are not perfect.

This is exhausting and depressing. Sooner or later, if we try to achieve perfectionism, we will hit a wall. We will fail, or we will fail to sustain a certain level of what we deem to be “perfect.”

And then the “all- or- nothing” lie yells at us.

“Right” is defined as rigid perfectionism. “Wrong,” or even, in some cases, “sin” is defined as anything that is not that level of constant perfectionism.

When, as flawed human beings, we arrive at that reality, we condemn ourselves…

“I can’t do anything right.”

Instead of viewing merit, value, effort, and results as gradual, ongoing, filled with mistakes and lessons learned all along the way, we do the “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” approach. And we can reach a hopeless paralysis of “Why try?”

There’s no point in putting effort, and to being motivated. And there is no reason for us to change and grow.

We assert that we can’t do it “right,” anyway.

So, we shut down and stop trying at anything.

“It can’t be helped.”

We simply accept the defeat without challenging it.

There’s a payoff to internalizing “right.”

All or nothing.

The reason, the excuse.

It can appear to be the easier, more comfortable answer. Maybe it promises happiness, as we are never “failing” to reach and sustain mandatory perfection. We hate being miserable. We hate feeling like worthless failures. So, we opt out, and we choose this passive option.

We wallow in the pointlessness as the reason to stop making any effort to change and grow. It is hopeless.

“It can’t be helped.”

There. Done. Giving up now.

But it is not that simple when we look for an answer to our elusive happiness.

And soon, we will probably reach another encoded lie of our personal disempowerment…

“I am trapped.”

That is yet another despairing low we can reach from the message of “It can’t be helped.”

Doing nothing, not making efforts, and becoming paralyzed by the unrealistic demands of perfection soon produces a trap of our own making. We may not have initially placed ourselves there, as abusive individuals can often set up that template.

But now, we are self-trapped. We cut ourselves off from hope, potential, health, and a better quality of life.

We can do that on our own.

“Why try?”

That question is the bars to the jail. We wrongly accept that it is our lot in life to be trapped.

“It can’t be helped.”

There’s a payoff to internalizing “the trap.”

Again, a payoff can come when we resign ourselves to a life of defeat and passivity.

We sentence ourselves to lives that were never meant to be ours. Despair, hopelessness, a lack of joy, enthusiasm, and, yes, happiness is not what we were meant to live. That portrait is a lie.

What we do with that lie is largely on us. When we choose to say no to life, to love, to growth, to developmental life lessons, we choose a soul death.

A definition of the soul is the mind, the will, and the emotions.

Think about that. We give our consent, however passive or conscious it may be, to kill our minds, our free will, and our emotions. It’s not a blame or a shame game. Many of us have lived through horrific experiences: abuse, trauma, and loss. Those things are real and valid.

And what is also real and valid is we can stay stuck IN those things. We can choose not to move through, to process, to deal, and to learn through those things. We can tell ourselves that it just hurts too much; it’s too painful.

But how much pain are we experiencing by believing “It can’t be helped?”

That belief can cause unbearable suffering when we see the absence of things that could be wonderful for us.

We have a choice. We can choose.

“It can be helped.”

There’s a payoff to learning help and selfhood.

We can make a shift in our thinking, however minute. We have more power than we have been told we possess.

Abusers and dysfunctional people would have us believe otherwise.

“The only way out is through.”

What do we think of that statement?

What do we believe about going through our own unique process of getting help?

We can make choices to move closer to help and healing for ourselves. Therapy is integral to that process.

We can learn help. It takes time, work, and disabusing ourselves of toxic and harmful lies.

We can learn though. Let’s learn who we can be.

Copyright © 2024 by Sheryle Cruse


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