One of the most toxic patterns I see in patients is that of learned helplessness. Learned helplessness occurs when people (or animals - it was originally described in dogs) "learn" that there is nothing they can do receive help or relief from their afflictions. They "learn" "helplessness." They learn that no matter what they do, no one will help them, no one cares, and there is nothing they can do themselves to remedy their situation.
If you feel helpless when it comes to how you get your medical care, then you should sign up for my next webinar, “How to Get Your Healthcare in 2023.” Register here. I’ll be covering the biggest barriers to good care and mistakes that people make because of them. You won’t want to miss it, so make sure to register today!
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I've experienced this myself as the target of narcissistic abuse within the healthcare system. I didn't realize it at the time, but the fact that my cries for help were met with calloused disregard took a terrible toll on my psyche. Most healthcare practitioners, whether they realize it or not, are struggling with this. They complain that they are under-staffed, over-worked, and emotionally exhausted. They complain that their patients aren't getting the care that they need.
This is why I made two webinars on narcissistic personality disorder.
I wouldn't be writing about this if it weren't for the fact that I see this in patients like you, dear reader, all the time. And for the record, I'm very grateful that you subscribe to this blog, that you make purchases through my affiliate links, and that you buy premium subscriptions to this blog, because you allow me to not only remain independent of the medical-industrial complex, but to rescue practitioners from it through employment at my practice. When I posted a health coaching position last month, we had over 100 applicants. The number of doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners who applied was staggering. People are desperate to flee the system and are happy to work for less money, just so they can fulfill their true purpose as the healers they want to be.
We now have practitioners at my practice who are accepting patients. I'll be holding a webinar next month to explain our new services, which are very different from those I've offered previously. Again, the webinar is "How to Get Your Healthcare in 2023." I'll be sharing insider-only information that could save you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on medical bills in the coming years. Register today!
Many modern people are struggling with learned helplessness. Here is what you need to know about it, so that you can protect yourself from the dangers that come with it.
Humans are meant to live within communities. The strength of our communities is actually our primary objective of our minds. That's why we have phenomena like martyrdom. No other animal in the world engages in martyrdom. And every martyr has one thing in common - they're doing it so that their people might be stronger, happier, and healthier. That's it. That's the only reason for a martyr to do what they do.
"The thief cometh not but for to steal, to kill, and to destroy, but I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly."
- John 10:10
Communities are kept safe and strong by one key emotion - empathy. Empathy is what prompts us to reach out and help those in need. There are other emotions that prompt us to reach out to help those in need, that might be described as pseudoempathy. Helping people can be self-serving. We're all painfully aware of this. Just look at the Big Pharma narratives of the last few years. Read all about them in (affiliate link alert) my book.
Empathy keeps communities safe when the people in power have it, and societies fail when their leaders lack empathy, competence, and courage.
Empathy is what prompts us to reach out and genuinely help people in need in a way that truly serves them. Much of modern medicine serves patients in ways that only serve the medical system, rather than truly serving the patient. I write more about this in my book (last plug for buying it for now - I promise). This is why we don't accept insurance at my practice (I'll talk more about this in my upcoming webinar).
One of the keys to your survival is being able to spot people who lack genuine empathy. These people generally fall into the cluster B personality disorders. Fun fact, diagnoses like psychopathy are being edited in new and creative ways to excuse bad behavior and pathologize normalcy (DSM-5). It's almost as if the people who run the world are editing the medical textbooks to make it harder for the people to recognize them for what they truly are - wolves in sheep and shepherd's clothing.
Of the cluster B personality disorders, narcissistic personality disorder is by far the most common in society. I believe that understanding narcissistic personality disorder, as I unpacked in this free book club episode and this premium book club episode, is as instrumental to your survival and success in life as understanding things like "calories" or "circadian rhythms."
Because narcissists and psychopaths lack empathy, they are the creators of the phenomena of learned helplessness in real-life. No one with genuine empathy lasts in modern healthcare. They burn out, they quit, or they commit suicide. More on physician and healthcare-provider suicide rates later.
Modern psychiatry is committing the ultimate evil of medicating patients who find modern life depressing with drugs, when in reality what is depressing about their reality is the fact that their world is run by psychopaths and narcissists. The more I reflect on what learned helplessness is, the more I realize that many, many modern people are dealing with it at work, at home, and in society in general.
Look at the lockdowns, mask, and vaccine mandates of the last few years. We made as much noise as possible about the damage the lockdowns were damaging our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health, as well as our economy and our society. And what happened? We were mostly ignored by the psychopaths and narcissists who run the world, down to the most rudimentary levels of local government.
The places people flocked to were places that responded with empathy (or at least some semblance of it) to people's genuine and legitimate concerns about how they were being treated elsewhere. People value empathy over almost everything else, because it is the ultimate gift. It is the most precious thing in the world.
Why am I telling you all of this?
Because the great danger of learned helplessness is succumbing to the myth of its reality.
What does that mean?
You're never truly helpless, you just don't see a way to get your needs met. You don't see a way out of your current problems and challenges in life. I'm lucky to get to talk to highly successful people all the time, and the funny thing is, you will find highly successful people in the same business or profession who lead very, very different lives. Some find a way to make their living and be successful without sacrificing their emotional, physical, and mental well-being. Others create a nightmare where their business runs them. Regular folks - people who live paycheck to paycheck - will do the same thing.
The more I practice, the more wary I am of words like, "I can't," or, "that can't be it," or, "there's no way." The language of disability creates disability. It sounds ridiculous to some, but I see the reality of it in the lives of my patients. Patients with a solid can-do attitude generally do great. Patients with a negative attitude might as well expect failure. I see this in doctors too - the more they expect what they do will work, the better the results they tend to get. The more negative and pessimistic the doctor, the worse the results they tend to get.
We've actually documented this abundantly in the literature on the placebo effect. This is the gist of the research that Ted Kaptchuk has spent his life on at Harvard. Yet the average doctor at Harvard is completely ignorant of the implications of Ted's work, and if they understood what he was really saying in his carefully worded, politically correct research papers, Ted would be fired by morning, because the truth of what he says cuts to the foundations of the modern medical-industrial complex and exposes it for what it is - 50% smoke and mirrors, 49% snake oil.
The truth is that people have for a long time been groomed into a state of learned helplessness in our society. We complain to our government, and they only make things worse. We complain about police brutality, and they don't just pull back policing from tough neighborhoods, they weaponize and militarize the police so they are more dangerous and terrifying than ever. We complain about bad working conditions and a lack of focus on serving the patient, client, or consumer, and we get worse working conditions, more rules about how we serve patients, clients, and customers, HR trainings that are a complete waste of time, and lower pay in order to afford the extra expense of the HR trainings and extra rules that we didn't ask for. I could go on, but I probably don't need to. You've probably lived this in your job already.
The point is that they're grooming you into a state where you accept the tyranny and inequality that they are foisting on the world, and the greatest danger of this is that they might succeed in tricking you into believing that you really are helpless and you might as well give up.
"Never tell me the odds."
The tendency of people over the last three years has been to accept that things are hopeless. To accept that they are helpless. That they can't resist and that they can't do more, because it will not do any good, or it will be too painful.
That's how you lose.
Successful dissident movements are defined by their willingness to endure pain, loss, privation, sorrow, and disappointment.
"The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."
When Tertullian spoke these words, Christians were being martyred in great numbers in the Roman Empire. You think you have problems? Take five minutes to read about Christian martyrdom in the late Roman Empire, and your problems will seem a lot less serious.
“We cannot solve our problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
A change in perspective is often vital at the initiation of healing. This is what a change in thinking truly is.
Every great performer I have ever met knows that not only must they be determined to succeed - they must be certain that they can succeed. They enter their arena, whether it is a Zoom call with a patient, a football pitch, a hockey rink, or a jiu-jitsu mat, with iron-clad certainty that they can and will win.
To become healthy and to remain healthy is no different than to succeed in any other area of life.
While I was writing this, I asked Jim Laird what he thought of this. He has coached thousands of people over two decades, including Olympic-level, D-1, and professional athletes. He added that, in addition to this mindset of invincibility and assured victory, winners also have, "the ability to stick to the basics and fundamentals even when things are imploding all around them - when things are literally going to hell."
There are two things I try to do with this blog. First, share valuable information with you that can get you healthy if you're willing to fully engage with it. Second, encourage you to live a life of meaning, because health without meaning is empty.
A lot of people read through the advice in my posts (like this one) and think, "I can't do that. That won't work for me. But I have to (insert responsibility here), so I can't do that." I appreciate where you're coming from. But the reality is that every time you make an excuse for why you can't do more to free yourself from the systems of control that are closing in on you, you play right into those systems.
What defines successful dissident movements is that they are willing to endure whatever losses it takes to achieve victory. The Marines have a great motto that defines a positive attitude for life - "improvise, adapt, and overcome." I am told that the Taliban would say, "the Americans have all the watches, but we have all the time." Afghanistan has been called the graveyard of empires. It has chewed up the best and brightest of empires from the time of Alexander the Great to Joe Biden. As sad as that may be, we might as well learn from them, because those who love liberty are now an embattled minority in our own country, fighting to preserve and restore the values that should forever define our nation.
I believe it is better to confront the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. I have certainly learned that the worst thing for a doctor to do is to reassure the patient, when what is needed is radical honesty about the ugliness of certain clinical situations. That's why it's, "Dr. Stillman Uncensored," and not, "Dr. Stillman's Reassuring Distractions from the Realities of Modern Life." But the unfortunate realities of the present time are simple, and learned helplessness is but one sign of the times. The people who run the world are trying to force you to do things you aren't comfortable with, that violate not only your deepest sense of honor and integrity, but that may mean your life. Even if it costs you nothing in terms of your health and vitality, they are working to create systems of control that leave you entirely dependent upon them. And why would anyone trust a person who wanted them to be dependent upon them?
The only people who try to create the state of dependency of one person upon another, is a narcissist or a psychopath (I'll throw in the sociopaths, but they're usually too dysfunctional to reach positions of power). They thrive on it. Their whole existences are defined by trying to enthrall people in that state - dependency. This is why I believe, of all the nonsense in modern psychiatry and psychology, they have done us a service by defining the personality disorders of narcissism, psychopathy, and sociopathy.
The greatest gift a parent can give a child is independence. That includes all skills necessary to thrive as an adult. The ability to be in nature and derive the resources necessary to life from it (food, air, water, shelter, etc). More importantly, perhaps, is the emotional maturity necessary to regulate their nervous system to cope with and respond to stress so that they do not turn into the kind of overly-stressed-out, nervous wrecks who come to my practice.
I recently joked with Jim that we run a rehabilitation practice for overly stressed modern people. He replied, "yea, that's pretty much it." We teach them to do a lot of things that great parents teach their kids as a matter of course.
What's the first thing God says when he appears in his son's life? "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." He gives him every liberty and freedom imaginable on earth, even to do deals with the devil.
Is the definition of divinity being able to control yourself in the face of overwhelming temptation? I'm not a theologian - I'm just a doctor.
I have found that people tend to do things they're ashamed up, that they regret, when they are overwhelmed by their emotions. Setting people free from their addictions comes down to setting them free from the cycles of shame and guilt that can come to define their lives.
What creates overwhelming emotion? Fear of abandonment, privation, pain, or death. Fear of change stems from one of these. If you can induce these feelings in people, you can get them to do things they will one day wish they hadn't.
If you can provide people with unconditional love, on the other hand, you can inspire them to martyrdom. Interesting dichotomy, isn't it?
Unconditional love is the hallmark of healthy relationships. I submit to you that anyone trying to make you dependent upon them is, therefore, not loving you unconditionally and is therefore, if not a narcissist or a psychopath, then at least not worthy of your unconditional trust. Try not to depend upon them in any significant way.
But what about parents or bread-winner spouses? Most parents or husbands will readily tell you that they will lay down their life for their wife or child. Not so with narcissists and psychopaths. Or at least, if the narcissist or psychopath says they will, they're lying.
Pay close attention to how the people in your life respond to your requests for help. When you feel overwhelmed, helpless, sad, or afraid, who do you turn to for help? If the answer is, "no one," then you need to read this book, and maybe this book and this other book. Pay close attention to how you feel when you think about asking the people you love for help. Does the thought make you feel relief? Hope? Or does it make you feel despair, pain, fear, or anxiety? If the thought of asking someone you love for help fills you with negative emotion, do those people love you unconditionally? Are they capable of empathy?
I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from my favorite Founding Father.
“The battle, Sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, Sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable; and let it come! I repeat, Sir, let it come!”
As they say in the Granite State, live free or die,
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"If the answer is, "no one," then you need to read this book, and maybe this book and this other book."
Which books exactly?
You are an impressive writer. Your writing style and words evoke thought. Thank you.