There is a habit of mind that we can get into, where we sit in our own pool of victimhood, blaming others, and saying that we are receiving no help.
In this state, we get into tighter and tighter corners, and everything becomes more and more urgent. We insist that there are no choices, and we list incessantly the problems that have befallen us. ‘My relatives are mean to me and won’t help,’ we say. ‘I have no money,’ we say. ‘I have no security,’ we say.
The world feels a cold place. In our minds, we crave love and friendship. We desperately want to get closer to others, to achieve some kind of intimate acceptance. But every time we try it, it seems that our attempts are thwarted – people betray us, are mean to us, and leave us alone. When phone calls end, we feel desperately alone and unable to function.
We try to make things work. We make some phone calls. Sometimes we explain our problems to others. But they don’t understand, and seem to criticize us, and make suggestions that apparently prove that they have no comprehension of the real situation we are in. Occasionally we become impassioned, upset. But often we become silent. There is no use in speaking out, if we are just going to get that back.
There are two truths about this state of mind. The first is that we feel unable to help ourselves. Completely helpless. The second is that we feel unloved. Abandoned.
THE FRIEND’S VIEWPOINT
When we go through this state of mind, this is how it looks to a friend.
‘I can see that she has huge problems with finances, accommodation, and relationships. When she phones me, I feel helpless. Sometimes I try to suggest things. But she won’t listen. She gets really upset if I suggest things. She tells me she’s already thought of that, it doesn’t work.
‘Then she goes back to explaining how hurt she is that her relatives and others won’t help her. She tells me about the times she has felt desperately alone. When she has been up against it, and needed help, and those closest to her have just turned away. I know that if I make suggestions at this point, she may say ‘oh, so you think it’s my fault,’ and the conversation will get tense.
‘I talk as long as I can, but I can’t talk for ever. When I try to end the call, she begins to get hysterical and starts to cry. Sometimes she gets argumentative, and I back off, because I really don’t want a fight. Sometimes she just says she’s scared, and I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to be responsible for her doing something silly. But I have to live my life.
‘Afterwards I feel awful. Often, it goes quiet, and I don’t hear from her for a while. If I check on her, I either get no reply, or a brief reply that doesn’t really say anything. Or, occasionally, a long message that lists out the problems again. And then we end up speaking again. We go round that cycle of long conversation, she goes off upset, silence.’
BREAKING THE CYCLE
Neither party wants to be in that role. Do you think the sufferer wants to be suffering? No way. Do you think the friend wants to feel helpless? No way. And yet this situation repeats itself,again and again. It is so common that there are many people who will think this article is about them personally.
How do we start to break the cycle?
The tragedy, and also the key, is in those two truths mentioned earlier:
- The sufferer feels unable to help themselves
- The sufferer feels unloved
This helpless, unloved role has become a second skin, so that the sufferer cannot imagine there is another way to live. Helpless. Unloved. Helpless. Unloved. This is being lived every day, intensely.
Built on those two truths, there are two delusions:
- The sufferer believes that their helplessness is unsolvable. If they could help themselves, they would.
- The sufferer also believes their aloneness is unsolvable. If they could become loved, they would.
These are delusions, founded on the removal of the agency of the sufferer. It is assumed that the sufferer simply cannot help themselves, or be loved. No agency. No ability to act.
Now, in a sense, this is true. Not one of us can help ourselves or love ourselves independently. We are all interdependent.
But, in an important sense, this is false. Being interdependent, we are all able to initiate and negotiate help for ourselves, and love for ourselves. It does require others, but it also requires us.
In the dependent-victim-helpless-friend paradox, the dependent victim has lost the ability to relate, to negotiate. They have fallen into the believe that they have lost their agency. Therefore, they believe their future depends only on others helping them. And therefore, they believe they are suffering BECAUSE others are not helping them.
The problem is only solved when the sufferer rediscovers their agency, their ability to initiate help and love for themselves.
In the meantime, exactly as I say above, the world continues to feel a cold place. In our minds, we crave love and friendship. We desperately want to get closer to others, to achieve some kind of intimate acceptance. But every time we try it, it seems that our attempts are thwarted – people betray us, are mean to us, and leave us alone. When phone calls end, we feel desperately alone and unable to function.
I repeat, the problem is only solved when the sufferer rediscovers their agency, their ability to initiate help and love for themselves.
Life isn’t a solitary dance. It’s not a dependent dance. It’s an interdependent dance. When we forget that, we fall into that coldness again.
We are not helpless.