WORDS TO THINK ABOUT
G. W. Abersold Ph.D
There are two psychological and behavioristic concepts that are seldom talked about and even less often suggested in therapy.
The first is referred to as compensatory thoughts or behavior. It is defined as: “A psychological mechanism by which an individual attempts to make up for some personal deficiency by developing or stressing another aspect of personality or ability. “ (Webster)
Anthropologists would place this capability in the evolutionary process. As the human brain developed, humans used the thinking process to compensate for lack of strength and speed in combating wild animals.
They climbed trees, developed barricades and made weapons (spears, bows and arrows) for protection and sustenance.
These same compensatory skills also provided shelter from storms and warmth from the cold. Of course, the discovery of fire was a great step forward in dietary considerations.
A major use of mankind’s compensatory skill was his development of the wheel. And subsequent wagons. Being the only “beast of burden” demanded other means of carrying a load.
From a practical stance how does this work out? Jimmy Durante, the great comic with the big schnozzle (nose) told a moving story. At a military hospital he was waiting to “go on.” Looking out behind the curtain he saw two veterans who had lost arms applauding the “warm up” comedian. One guy (with a left hand and arm) clapping with his friend (who had a right hand and arm). That’s compensation.
Think about this. Beethoven wrote some of the greatest music ever composed; AFTER being stricken with deafness. President F. D. R. had polio. Van Gogh, Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles Dickens, Alexander the Great and Danny Glover all had epilepsy BUT compensated in their successful careers.
Britney Spears, Harrison Ford and Abraham Lincoln became successful in spite of being bi-polar. All have compensated.
Think of Mel Tillis (a stutterer,) Oprah Winfrey (abused severely) and Jimmy Carter (defeated for second term.) All of them compensated: by singing, making money and serving humanity. Or, Stephen Hawking (great scientist) who for 50 years has had Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Magic Johnson, Bruce Jenner, Carl Lewis, Greg Louganis and Jason Kidd (along with many other sportsmen) compensated while suffering learning disorders.
Going back to Jimmy Durante. I heard his classic comment; “Everybody has a schnozzle.” He implied that all of us have some thing for which we must compensate. Mental or physical liabilities. Again, compensation is a psychological concept.
The second psychological and behavioral concept is referred to as “learned helplessness.”
Habits come in all shapes and colors. There are addictive habits like smoking, alcoholism, drugs and sex. These are exceedingly difficult to break. Ask President Obama about smoking.
There are behavior habits that we have by mimicking others. Usually significant others. I walk like my Dad, whistle and use tooth picks like my Dad did.
There are social habits, such as work habits, study habits, practice habits, etc.
The way you dress, cook, talk, etc. are habits. They are hard to break. Psychologists are divided over how long it takes to make a habit and how to break one. Some say 66 days, others say three months, either way.
Habituation is the term used to describe habit formation. The above mentioned “learned helplessness” is probably the most esoteric.
The American psychologist Martin Seligman defined the theory of learned helplessness. “It is the condition whereby a person has learned to behave helplessly, even when the opportunity for action is presented.”
It is reflected in chronic depression, laziness and a sense of hopelessness.
A pervasive sense of powerlessness is accompanied with a feeling of “no options.”
Seligman found that learned helplessness is not genetic in origin. It is learned. Natural evolution gives each human an inclination a drive to succeed. As with any habit, this attitude can be blunted. Thus “learned” and an ensuing helplessness.
There is a physical and mental well-being that is threatened. Also a sense of loneliness and passivity.
This condition is deadly for seniors. With the elderly, learning to be helpless and concluding they have no control over losing their friends and family members, their jobs and income, getting old and weak, is a living death.
Cognitive therapy can bolster people’s self esteem. Focusing on a Higher Power (God) and positive words from others will also aid.
Novelist Dean Koontz said, “The more you expect from life, the more your expectations will be fulfilled. By laughing, you do not use up your laughter, but increase your store of it. The more you love, the more you will be loved. The more you give, the more you will receive.”
I say, “LEARN HELPFULNESS”
Amen. Selah. So be it.