How does Apathy look and feel?
Apathy – that feeling of despair and helplessness we all know and experience from time to time. All of us come in situations where we feel devastated, hopeless and powerless, really apathetic. We are discouraged to the extent that we withdraw from all and everything. But then it passes after a while. I want to talk about a person whose total being and existence is one of despair and powerlessness. This is living in absolute contrast to a life of expression, expansion and fulfillment.
An apathetic person’s energy feels heavy and draining and as person he/she may be quite dependent on other people. Lack of ambition, listless, no significant emotional expression, just existing from day to day seems to be enough. No drive towards some positive nor negative endeavor. What causes someone to grow into the attitude of apathy?
What causes Apathy?
What causes a person to live in total lack of hope, enthusiasm, passion, motivation, listless, dispirited, and uninterested in total despair and dis-empowerment? Children are usually excited about life and are ready to conquer life by themselves! That excited, daring attitudes can be encouraged or dis-encouraged with devastating results. In most cultures children are spanked, punished, shamed or belittled for unwanted behavior, and praised or rewarded for accepted behavior and feelings. Feeling unloved is synonym to death for a child and this devastated feeling goes on into adulthood. Explaining this with the next example may bring clarity on how the process normally unfolds.
Say for instance a child grows up in a household where the family structures and rules are rigid and mostly serving the parents. The parents don’t consider the needs of the child that important and it is expected of all family-members to abide by and fit the ‘set standards’ of this family, irrespective of their personal needs. Now this boy is all excited about sport, wants to do sport, but his parents are not into activities of any kind and, only focused on academic results. They enroll him for extra math-classes. That will be good for him, his parents decide. Good for the family prestige and his future.
This child’s excitement and need (positive feelings) to express himself through sport was invalidated by the parents, by ignoring or dismiss it with shaming words… He distrust himself for his need of expression, his excitement for growth is discouraged or put limits to. He does not need extra maths-classes, but is forced into it and when he protest against the math-classes he is ashamed for being selfish and unappreciative. He is told how he should be thankful for what he have, he should appreciate what is done for him. Again his protest (negative feeling) is made invalid and a stack of guilt is laid on his shoulders for not being grateful. In this case striving was made bad, and speaking up for himself and going against the norm was made bad.
Learned Conclusions giving rise to Apathy
Given the above situation (there would be stacks of the same scenarios for this child) he cannot fulfill his own needs: he cannot drive himself to sport, he cannot put food on his plate, and have to give up on what he wanted. To emotionally survive in this family set-up, he came to the conclusion that what he want is bad, he is bad, useless, not good enough and suppresses all feelings and gives up on himself.
Your needs aren’t met! Your feelings condemned!
He learnt that it is dangerous for him to have the feelings that he does have. He cannot trust his feelings, neither good nor bad and abandons his entire emotional side, and thus himself. He now lives to please especially the parents and other people in order to survive. He learns to be good, tolerant, and considerate to others to his own expense. By being a ‘good boy’ he may get his basic needs met by experience the feeling of being loved, accepted, certainty, security, significance, praise and a sense of belonging, while some his physical needs may also be met as a bonus.
Your Compass in life:
Our emotions are our compass in life for what is right/wrong, wanted/unwanted, liked/disliked, what makes you happy/unhappy, etc. Feelings let us know whether our needs of love, significance, certainty, security, acceptance, belonging, growth are met or not. When you deny and suppress these emotions , you will be living without compass, you will become stuck – there will be no way forward, and more, towards what? You won’t know anymore… drifting deeper into despair and helpless powerlessness.
Motion of change you may consider?
Please don’t expect of yourself to move from despair to feeling exited about life. That is cruel. Be patient with yourself and decide to grow back into life again. Your life will not change overnight. You are not as an adult in the same constricted situations as a young child. You NOW have choices to choose from. Staying put is also a choice, creating what you have now. Decide to be brave. Stop distracting yourself from what you feel. Your feelings are valid, acknowledge it, feel it, and embrace it. Stop distracting yourself into some addictive behavior. Ask yourself what nice thing would you like to have, right now, in this moment and go for it! Even if it is to take a bath.
Suggestions on how you may move out of a state of Apathy:
- Admit to the feeling of Apathy, despair, powerlessness and depression. Admit that it is where you are right now! Monitor your thoughts – what thoughts makes you feel despair, hopeless, powerless? Question those thoughts and turn it around and re-question it for truth. Change e.g. when you think ‘There is no way that…’ to ‘How can I get …’ or who can help me with…’ ‘ What can I do to…’ Get support/help!
- Routine and stagnation are your enemy – Stop and interrupt what you are constantly doing, e.g. Watching TV, and go for a walk in your garden, or street. Choose on purpose to do different.
- Anger is your best friend against Apathy – it is a higher and stronger emotion than apathy and will get you to take action in one or the other direction. Get yourself into situations that aggravate you to start feel something.
- Look around, think with what you can get involved that is of interest to you. Watch a bird in the sky or watching how dogs communicate, anything that may be of interest. Find what it is, that makes you interested. Start painting, writing, or sing along with a song on the radio. What do you like to do?
- Any movement is your friend against Apathy – No action is right nor wrong. If you fancy horse riding, find a way and do it. Find what excites you about it…the company or acceptance of the horse?
- Keep journal of your good experiences. When apathy and despair hits again, re-read your good-feeling journal.
- Find someone to share your experiences, hopes and expectations with. Find support. Start talking.
- Get involved with sport groups, hiking groups, anything that you may think that will be nice and exciting for you. Some will irritate you, others may attract you. In this way, you will learn to know yourself. Dare to be vulnerable! You have nothing to loose, except to start living again.
- Decide to experience life for the first time. Eat a pear, feel your teeth bite into the pear, the texture of the pear, taste it, and experience it as if for the first time. Do you like/dislike it. See your spouse, friend, child, as if, for the first time – what do you see NOW for the first time? What can you appreciate?
You are enough, good enough, and worth giving yourself a try. Dare to give yourself a treat!
Till next time