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Old 03-12-2011, 04:27 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Insight of the Day:Learned Helplessness


Well, as I said, I'm hunkering down here in my rental, truly going "Solo" and working on myself--attending Al-Anon meetings, going for long walks, and doing readings.

Last night I was meandering through Amazon books on alcoholism and I came across "No More Letting Go" by Debra Jay. The title put me off because I'm a biggie on letting go, and when I saw she's an interventionist, that also put me off because it made me think, "OK, here's a book that's going to tell me it's MY responsibility to FIX him. Not going to happen."

Nonetheless I explored it, wound up downloading it, and learned quite a bit.

What I got the most from was the GREAT insights she gave me about myself and others who accommodate the drinking (and how some people use letting go and detachment as a way to stay stuck "Detachment is not a synonym for inaction").

Many things resonated with me, but mostly the idea of learned helplessness. Not sure if I can explain it in a post, and frankly I don't have time at the moment, but boy did I see myself in that. I saw myself in the styles of adaptation she explained. Her description of how WE psychosomatically take on the same physical impairments as the A, therefore contributing to our own physical demise in the same way they do, was frightening.

So, it's not a book about "It's Your Job To Fix Them" (well, it's a little of that)-- the key message that I took away was:

Quote:
Family is our springboard into life. If our family life is robust and healthy, we have a head start on the world. But when addiction distorts and twists our households, we begin at a disadvantage. The longer we are subjected to another person's addiction, the more we change and the farther we diverge from the world of the well-adjusted. We cannot sacrifice the sanctity of our lives to the rapacious nature of addiction. We are only given one life to live, and it is precious. Each of us, including the addicted person, has a responsibility to stop addiction from stealing away with the best of our lives.
Amen to that!

I wish I had time to explain the whole learned helplessness thing, but if you think it might apply to you, perhaps you could do a Google search of this book, and then search those keywords, maybe you'll be lucky enough to get that excerpt.


ETA: Man I just reread the following quote and it's a great one, so I'm gonna say it again: We cannot sacrifice the sanctity of our lives to the rapacious nature of addiction.
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Old 03-12-2011, 04:50 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I have to reply to my own post to say one more thing regarding this learned helplessness. The first thing I thought about were things two of my kids told me recently:

My son at Christmas told me that he felt I was enmeshed--that I had lost part of myself (he actually very skillfully drew the insight out of me rather than "attacking" me)

My daughter told me how she felt at New Year's, when AH and I entered DS's party. AH was drunk and belligerent. I was "going along"--not wanting to make things worse. But, she said that after we left, she wept copiously, not just because of how her dad was behaving, but because of how I was reacting to his behavior--like a robot just accepting it.

That old song is going through my head..."I can see clearly now, the rain has gone."
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Old 03-12-2011, 05:06 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Thanks for the great quote.
Sounds like you are right where you need to be. Congrats! Wonderful insights!
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Old 03-12-2011, 06:14 AM   #4 (permalink)
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"Learned helplessness" was an early concept when domestic violence first became the subject of serious study. The concept is that when someone learns that whatever she does, she can't control the inevitable violence, she becomes too afraid to even try to do anything to escape or to better her situation, or to hold the abuser accountable, because internally she feels the abuser cannot be stopped.

I worked closely with a woman who endured 25 years of abuse (only a year and a half of it physical, but it was probably the most sadistic physical abuse I ever came across). She completely believed all of his threats (not without reason) and was too frightened and helpless even to tell anyone what was going on until it came to light and someone helped her to plan her escape. Throughout the criminal case, she was POSITIVE he was SO smart and powerful (as he had taught her) that he would find a way to get out of it. Even when he was sent to prison for a lengthy sentence, part of her is POSITIVE he will figure out a way to get out of it. He taught her that. He constantly told her she was stupid, and he was smart, and that she couldn't get along without him. She was completely brainwashed. Thanks to some excellent therapy, she is finally healing a little bit at a time.
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Old 03-12-2011, 07:01 AM   #5 (permalink)
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I first heard about learned helplessness in a book about depression, I think written by David Burns.
There was a very descriptive experiment with dogs.
the dogs would get a mild shock, and learned to jump to another pen where there were no shocks.
some other dogs learned they were helpless.
even after jumping to another pen, they were still shocked, so they gave up trying.
they learned that no matter what they did was useless.
since i have a depressive disorder, i can understand this.
getting mistreated over and over again, learning you are helpless keeps you stuck in the misery.

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Old 03-12-2011, 08:00 AM   #6 (permalink)
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SoloMio,
Great recommendation - I have read and re-read this book many times in the last two months - at least the first half. It's very insightful to read about the different patterns of behavior in families with addictions going on...I found myself really relating to much of what she writes.

I am amazed at how some of these behaviors - learned helplessness being one - creep in so silently. It seems that in the last two months of separation, I am really only now objective enough to see how I became someone that I know I wouldn't like if I met her. How easy it was to internalize all the blame and stop listening to my intuition telling me there is something really bad wrong with this picture. To overlook so many things - like a robot as you say.

I was the Perfectionist. When everything was spinning hopelessly out of control, I worked equally hard at maintaining a picture of perfection so no one outside of our family ever knew there was any trouble at all. I still think his family doesn't believe he is an alcoholic since they never saw anything except the charming, perfect facade. My Mother knew, but I told no one else either. The worse things got for my A - the harder I tried. And the harder I tried, the more things unraveled. Around and around we went...no wonder I was depressed and exhausted!
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