Saturday, November 5, 2011

Star light, star bright

I don't remember large chunks of my childhood (hooray for repression!), but I do remember wishing on the first star I saw every night. Star light, star bright -- it was always the same wish. I wished for things to be different -- for the house to be cleaner, for my mom to be happier, for my life to change.

Wishing on a star didn't get me all that far, although it did provide a tiny beacon of hope during some pretty bleak times. Unfortunately, the wishing stemmed from my having learned that when something is making you unhappy, you're powerless to change the situation. Psychologists call this learned helplessness. Rats in captivity, when repeatedly exposed to a painful stimulus, will eventually learn that there is nothing they can do about it. Later, when an escape route is presented to them, they won't leave. They just hunker down and wait for the pain.

As a child I learned that, no matter what I tried, nothing I did would make any difference. As an adult, this learned helplessness manifests itself in a tendency to hunker down and wait for things to pass. I wait for difficult situations to change on their own, instead of taking action. I know now that this isn't a logical or true belief. I try not to let it too deeply affect my actions. Yet I still find it difficult to truly believe that any attempts to change my life will have any more lasting effect than those long-ago wishes on a star.

1 comment:

  1. I wish on stars, too.

    But it's really merely hiding my head in the sand. Whether it's health, relationship, or finances, once I take action it always feels better no matter how ugly the truth I face is, and that simple, free action removes the attached fear, and I always feel a bit more power.

    And I'm not even a COH; I cannot imagine your anxiety and self-doubt. Fight it and you will be stronger.