3aib! And The City.

An everyday girl who happens to be a psychologist

Ask 3aib: My Take on Helplenssness and Powerlessness

13th December 2016 - 4 mins read

Disclaimer: Today’s post is written by and for myself. However, it does not mean that certain aspects cannot be applied and implemented in any life situation of helplessness. It so happened that my state of helplessness was triggered by the things described below.

At some point in time, long before obtaining a degree in psychology and while still naively working on getting there, I have been what people call a political activist, standing up for humanity against injustice. Everybody who got to know me post Arab Spring and several revolutions, missed out on a side of me that I have successfully suppressed, it is now buried deep down inside, along with my first steps and attempts to start a career in journalism which has always been a passion of mine. Had I been one of my clients/patients, I would have had the duty to challenge that behaviour or the aspects of suppression and try to correct it by mending what was broken in order to heal the wounds. But as anyone in this world, also therapists/counsellors, have their problems. They are not equipped with a guideline or a rulebook that shows them a way through every single problem and challenge they face in their lives. In fact, their own helplessness to fight certain impulses can make them a client/patient themselves. How do you treat such a person? Many of the techniques we recommend in overcoming fear sounded stupid to me when I first started learning about therapy, and it did not matter how strong the evidence was that was found in researches and studies, it did not seem to work for me. Having that in the back of my head, I had to quickly understand that not every client/patient will react like the textbooks suggest and real life therapy will often look completely different than what I was taught. After years to experience you will detect similarities faster and you will know what to do quicker, but every single case you take on will be different. Every human writes their own story and to that you have to listen and pay attention to.

But what happens if the case is you?

I trained myself to abstain from political statements of any sort and often found myself deleting statuses, tweets or comments on news. Time is fleeting and in a few weeks, especially in the era of internet, new incidents will replace the current ones and what happened yesterday will be long forgotten. Hardly anyone remembers what happened in 2009, so who will remember what happened yesterday? Yet, something happened that awakened something that was a long time lingering in me. Yesterday the people of Aleppo sent out final tweets to say farewell to this world that wronged them so badly. What a morbid situation. I cannot claim to know or feel what it is like to be in that situation even after working with war victims for many years, but I can tell you what reading those tweets caused in me. For the first time in years I had to pay attention to the gaping wound that my former self still carries around. Salt was rubbed in. And I remembered that I turned away from all political actions because of the helplessness and powerlessness I felt when an incident of that sort happened. There is nothing that one individual could do to change injustice. And I realised, I might have had suppressed the causes but I very much coped with the situation so I can move on.

Here some recommendations and my very own mantra on how to cope with helplessness and powerlessness:

Have a look on the things you can control and make use of that.

You might not be able to change the situation itself but you might be able to influence details in your own surroundings. Use what you have and do what you can. You see, in my specific case I resorted to something that I knew I could, even though I do not know if it will make any difference, one can at least try. I started writing this post. We can all be very resourceful, we just need to trust that we have in tools and talents can still contribute.

Helping one person effectively does more than doing nothing.

Do not let the sense of helplessness fool you. Yes, you might not be able to help someone far away but you can always help someone around you. Do not judge the sufferings of someone close to you to be smaller than your own and someone else’s. While in the scale of things, someone around you might not suffer from the same things you see on TV or in your newsfeed. suffering will remain suffering. Do not demean someone’s perception of this world to be less worthy only because they perceive suffering differently. We call carry baggage and what might make you sad, might be easy to handle for somebody else. None likes to be looked down upon.

Respect your limitations.

That is by far the hardest part. Helplessness and powerlessness can easily lead to severe depression. Being a victim of someone else’s decisions is one of the worst things that can happen to a human being. As long as you are not stuck in a very traumatic situations that surely needs professional help, you can always decide to not be a victim. By that you need to understand your limitations and know when to stop. When helping someone in need makes you feel miserable, it will not help anyone. Sooner or later you will break down and none is benefitted.

Sometimes we feel shame and guilt but be realistic about what you really have to do.

One dear colleague of mine worked in war zones most of his adult life. One specific mission in the the last two years, he turned down. Guilt dictated his life since then. It took great effort from him that he had obligations at home as well. He has family now and he has a responsibility towards his children to be their father, leaving them behind to serve other is not wise. It took him a long time to realise that he can still help effectively in his direct environment. There is always something to do. And that brings me back to point 1 and 2.