If you’ve had a normal life (and life is so crazy that normal is very hard to define), you have had, or will have, or now are having some very hard times. All of us do. That is simply the way life is. These might include huge mistakes we’ve made or a bankruptcy or a job loss or many job losses and/or all the other tragedies that befall us.
It is times like these when we feel desperately defeated, and those feelings can spiral downward to emotional paralysis. What can we do then?
Anyone who glibly advises us to “Don’t worry, be happy!” only hurts us with his insensitivity. And yet new forms of psychology are teaching the art of never feeling desperately defeated. Are they being inconsistent? Not really.
Let me start by saying I have no idea what will make you happy.
As a unique individual, what makes you happy will not do it for someone else. You may adore a walk in the country, a good meal, getting that job or making love; for others it might be a day by the beach, reading a good mystery novel or loving their job.
I can tell you what makes me happy, but I tell my clients that I cannot predict (except by encouraging them to experiment) what they will find gratifying. I can sometimes guess what it might be; perhaps absorbing work or a vital interest in a cause will make them happy. However, I cannot predict what work or what vital interest will do the trick. In the final analysis, only you can answer that question.
However, I can, to some extent, tell you how to avoid feeling desperately defeated.
By showing you that while people differ in what makes them happy, all of us actually make ourselves feel desperately defeated, miserable, anxious, depressed or self-pitying. And psychologists who have worked with tens of thousands of miserable people have learned (and subsequently shared in books and papers and conventions) what we do to ourselves which makes us feel desperately defeated, and how to stop doing it.
Am I saying that we are never justified in making ourselves feel desperately defeated? No. Not quite. I am simply suggesting that some of us tend to create a lot of pain, suffering and misery in ourselves that is unnecessary. In fact, cognitive psychology has confirmed that almost all of the sustained and unbearable anguish we feel (except for what goes with prolonged physical pain) is unnecessary. We mostly manufacture it. (Albert Ellis, Ph.D. A Guide to Rational Living, page 88).
“Oh come on, Steve! You don’t mean that to say that if my father dies, or I have lost a fine job, or am bankrupt, or my mate leaves me, that even then I don’t need to feel desperately defeated or depressed!” I mean exactly that!
Let me clarify. No matter what happens to you or the mistakes you have made, it is natural and normal to feel disappointed, frustrated and grieving. However, it not necessary to feel desperately defeated.
“That doesn’t make sense! You are saying that feeling desperately defeated is unnecessary, but being disappointed or frustrated or grieving is desirable and healthy?”
In one word – yes.
Why? The answer is your feelings of being desperately defeated are not coming from the huge mistakes you’ve made, a bankruptcy, a job loss (or many job losses) and/or all the other tragedies that befall us.
Do you know where they are coming from?
They are coming from your own personal beliefs about the huge mistakes you’ve made, or a bankruptcy, or a job loss (or many job losses), or the other tragedies that befall us.
Your feelings are coming from your beliefs. Since the early 1960s, psychology has discovered that virtually all of us actually produce our own feelings of desperate defeat with our self-defeating beliefs.
Why is that so exciting to me, and why do I love sharing this in my seminars? Because dear reader, you can change those beliefs, and your feelings will follow!
And here is what is even more exciting: As your brain accepts everything you tell it, whether it is true or not (V.S. Ramachandran, M.D., Ph.D., “Phantoms in the Brain”), your brain accepts those new beliefs as absolutely true. And then over time it rewires itself (Eric R. Kandel, “In Search of Memory,” winner of the Nobel Prize) and then your feelings follow. Not only that, but those feelings of desperate defeat can be replaced by the feelings that you decide to assume through your beliefs.
When I was let go from a teaching job that I absolutely loved, at the age of 62, in 2008 at the beginning of the Great Recession, with no one wanting to hire me, I felt desperately defeated. When I told Mary, she looked at me from across the breakfast table, and said, “God’s going to do something wonderful!”
That changed my beliefs. If I had not been let go, I would not be writing this today, and instead of sharing this message with hundreds of students, I’ve shared it with more than 32,000 all over the world.
Steven Campbell is the author of “Making Your Mind Magnificent” and conducts “The Winners Circle” every two months at Sonoma Mountain Village in RP. Contact Steven at 480-5007 or go his website at stevenrcampbell.com to ask about his one-day free monthly seminar.