Tag Archives: abuse

The basic motivation that keeps us going.

I noticed an uptick in my motivation this morning. My zip contrasted with the nagging zapped feeling several of my clients reported.

My energy was also right on the heels of a client’s sense of victory over the issue that drove him to therapy: his lack of motivation. It is sort of a mystery why some of us change and others struggle. I sometimes feel like I am surfing the tempest more than channeling the stream, myself.

8 Reasons Why You Feel Unmotivated – Psych2Go

Why are we unmotivated?

So, I started a little research project on motivation. I was intrigued (OK, appalled) by one of the first articles Google supplied (there are hundreds). It was from a website called Medical News Today, which looks like it is based in Great Britain (it uses an “s” for organize) but exists mainly on the internet. It is led by fortysomethings (apparently) who may be interested in making hay on the web. They boast 85,000 readers.

I want to improve upon their teaching on motivation. But first let me complain about it: What makes people lose motivation?

Like most articles for professionals now, this one starts with a summary so you can decide whether you want to read for another 5 minutes. Here is theirs:

A person may experience a temporary lack of motivation when they are overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt out. However, a sense of apathy, or lack of interest in doing anything, can be a symptom of something more severe.

Lost motivation could indicate a mental health disorder, such as depression or schizophrenia. It may also occur in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

I can only hope my more tenderhearted/anxious/traumatized clients do not read this article and worry, “Oh no, I have Parkinson’s!” Apart from scaring people, the only thing the writers have to suggest is the common idea that lack of motivation comes from being “overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt out.”

But, of course, people may be overwhelmed, stressed, or burned out because they are unmotivated. I think there are medically trained people who do not just look in their textbook for symptoms but also have some sense of deeper places: light and dark, known and unknown, obsessed about and shunned – all the things that motivate people!

I think “overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt out” is usually applied to the workplace. There, people need to stay motivated to do all sorts of semi-interesting things in semi-conflictive relationships. I think the article is probably looking there for readers, since that is where the money is — one has to keep the workforce working, somehow! Being burned out is a real condition, especially in the workplace. But I have usually thought the designation feels superficial. Identifying burnout rarely resonates with anything beyond a certain track in the frontal lobe.

What fuels lack of motivation?

Instead of plowing through Google I decided to bring to mind my clients who are concerned about or afraid of their lack of motivation. I jotted down about thirty reasons that seem to cause it or fuel it in them.

While I think they might just be going through what humans always go through, I also think they might be like canaries in the coal mine for humanity as it barrels unconsciously into the next era of troubles. They might be the ones who can’t respond to superficial diagnoses by doctors handing out ill-attended-to medications. They might be the people who can’t cope because what they experience should not exist in the first place. They might be honestly shutting down in the face of something that can’t be conquered by indomitable will or a positive view of human potential.

For the sake of dialogue, I boiled my brainstorm down to four big elements that de-motivate people I know or leave them listless and looking for wind in their sails. By listing these things, I think you might see your own condition. Even more, I hope you will take heart in my conclusions.

Why are some people unmotivated?

They are addicted.

Addiction colonizes motivation (“colonises” for Brits).

These are my acquaintances’ addictions: Marijuana/alcohol/street drugs/nicotine, their “meds” (some of which are crucial, of course, but some probably aren’t), TikTok (and anyplace there is a “reel”), online games and gambling, porn, food or trying to control food.

Long before they met me, most of them knew they were medicating their lack of motivation with substances, prescribed or not. Many suspected they were vainly searching for how to avoid that lack, or get around it, by using the predatory offerings advertised in online markets.

They are trapped

They feel like they can’t change.

Their living situation is or feels unchangeable. The leaders of the nation, workplace, or association are terrible, and they don’t know where to turn. They are married and parents (or one or the other) and it does not feel good.  The weather is frightening. They are aging and their bodies feels more like a cage than an ally.

Feeling trapped and thinking one has to be responsible to survive or escape leads many people to shut down. It is too much.

They have been or are being abused

The terrible past is present.

They were bullied, neglected, stunted, injured, especially in their childhood, and every similar circumstance triggers their deeply-installed reactivity. They were betrayed loved ones and it challenged their sense of worth. They are in or on the other side of power struggles that sapped their energy. Society has no morals so they live in fear. Huge corporations and bureaucracies demand a lot of energy to get basic necessities or to avoid jail.

I am amazed at the courage people demonstrate as they come up against forces that threaten to destroy them. They face truly overwhelming things; I often feel overwhelmed vicariously.

They are immature

They missed a developmental onramp.

Their parents did not or could not provide the love they needed as a young child or help them through the crucial teens and twenties. They are run around by negative, often secret, self-talk: “You are a loser. You are damaged. You are unlovable. You are stupid. You are unwanted. You are a bother. You must not let them know you or you will be abused or cast off.” They believe the myth which says it is all up to them. They just need to believe in themselves. Never give up. Do it right or don’t do it at all, etc. They are alone.

In the U.S. The “invisible hand” generally does not value adult development or wisdom.  I am surprised at how much knowledge people have but how unable they are to feel it or do something with it. Instead of growing into who they know they are and doing what it takes to embody their true selves, they shrink back. They give in to their resistance. They blame or criticize others and perfect many other defensive behaviors.

Any one of these realities will undermine one’s motivation. You probably saw what you were up against as your were reading them and maybe even did that thing you do when you are faced with what needs to change and grow. One client had to say “No porn.” Another had to resist “blanking out.” Another had to tell themselves, “Turn away from that damning voice!” Another had to resist dismissing all I said because they could not trust it, or me. The deeper things that undermine our motivation are not simple or easy. I rather resent the article I read for implying, “If you aren’t handling this you might be schizophrenic.”

The basic motivation

I love and hate that heading. I love it because I know life surges from a basic, common fountain and we can all drink it. I hate it because it implies that something is basic in the sense that you’re a dummy if you haven’t achieved it yet or it is basic equipment and you are missing the part. Motivation is not a one-size-fits-all dialogue. It is about the deeper, mysterious parts of us that are not easily measured.

For instance, several clients lately have expressed beautiful looks at their inner life and felt enthused about what they could do and intended to do. They even felt some joy. But they immediately, almost automatically, followed up their joy with a set of observations about themselves and why they would not or should not change: “That’s not me.” Or “I remember when my ex-wife told me she never loved me.” Or “How will I ever find time for this?” Or “I’m not very good at self care; I’ve failed before many times.” Or “I never truly stop my addictions.” Or “It will all work until my husband comes home.” They often don’t know they are contradicting that other “sunshiny” self! Their inner dialogue is just rolling along.

Beyond the Horizon | Dark Life Note
Click the pic to meet Vadimka Rassokhin making music for the soul in Izhevsk, Russia

I have told a couple of people who have introduced faith into their development that they may need something more than just their own capacity. The love of God, the truth of God, the Spirit of God, the prayers of Jesus may be what they find when they stop trying to avoid hitting bottom. Beyond the parameters of their top and bottom, that uncontrollable control system, is the kingdom of God.

I think surrendering to the reality that God is with me is highly motivating. I experience it every day and throughout most of the day, even when I deal with Comcast (like I did last week, AGAIN). Refusing the grace of God, not being beloved, contradicting the Lord when she sees you worthy of his relationship is the sin that keeps us pushing a rock up a hill and seeing it flatten us every day.

Better to feel it like the Psalmist:

we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a spacious place  — Psalm 66:12 (and James Taylor, NPR)

What if God really is on your side? What if you are created beautifully? What if you are loved? What if the future holds possibilities? When such questions take root and hope starts building a narrative, a new story tends to overwhelm the other one that tells the old, enervating tales of being alone, in charge, or impossible.

Hope for Us and the Church Beyond Learned Helplessness

The other night we began our public meeting at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington with Eminem’s and Rihanna’s squalid ballad Love the Way You Lie. We were trying to acknowledge that we are entangled in the ways of the world. And now I continue to be tangled up with Rihanna’s haunting chorus. That is, I am entangled with 547,269,483 (and counting) youtube viewers since the song premiered in 2010.

learned helplessnessRihanna said she joined the collaboration with Eminem because she could relate to the theme of the song, as she and Eminem had experienced domestic violence on “different ends of the table.” Eminem and his ex-wife Kimberly Scott had been in a difficult relationship, having divorced in 2001 and again in 2006 after a remarriage. In February 2009, Rihanna’s notorious relationship with Chris Brown ended following his felony assault on her. She described Love the Way You Lie as unique, realistic and deep, saying it “broke down the cycle of domestic violence because few people had insight on the topic” [MTV]. She tried to exploit the popularity of the original with a Part II that celebrates death and masochism with even less subtlety, if that is possible.

Learned helplessness should not be normalized

I admit I am an admirer of these artists because they are talented and clever survivors. If your song deserves a Wikipedia page, the least we can do is tip our hats.  There is a lot to say about a song that influences hundreds of millions of people. But I just want to say one thing: the learned helplessness being normalized in the song should not be normalized.

Rihanna: Just gonna stand there and watch me burn?
Well, that’s alright because I like the way it hurts.
Just gonna stand there and hear me cry?
Well, that’s alright because I love the way you lie.
I love the way you lie.
I love the way you lie.

Eminem: Now I know we said things, did things that we didn’t mean
And we fall back into the same patterns, same routine.
But your temper’s just as bad as mine is, you’re the same as me.
But when it comes to love, you’re just as blinded.

Baby, please come back, it wasn’t you, baby, it was me.
Maybe our relationship isn’t as crazy as it seems.
Maybe that’s what happens when a tornado meets a volcano.
All I know is I love you too much to walk away though.

Abuse, especially sexual abuse, presents the victim with a terrible choice. If she (or he) wants to live free of the pain, they must choose not to be alive in some way. She might come to say with Rihanna, “I like the way it hurts. I love the way you lie.” Or he might try to normalize it by saying, with Eminem, “Maybe our relationship isn’t as crazy as it seems.”

No, it is, and you know you are not getting the love you desire. Even though you might choose to kill the part of the soul that feels the pain, the grace of God renders you unable to destroy your own or someone else’s sense of being. But the powerlessness we may have experienced in our family, from an abuser and from our pain has terrible consequences to confront.

One consequence I want to highlight is the self-doubt that results in learned helplessness. Eminem doubts he can change and Rihanna has given up. They are helpless and hopeless. They expect to burn. The goal – a happy family, the end to the abuse, relief from the pain – is out of reach. Their perpetual question is, “Why can’t I make this work?”

I think 500 million people probably resonated with that question. The result of continued, frustrated labor that fails to reach the carrot of love at the end of the stick of an abusive relationship is learned helplessness. We learn to give up before we try because we have learned there is no hope. We are locked in a cell and no one will rescue us. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). We may leave the porch light on, feigning involvement, but no one is home; we never invite someone into our empty soul. We can’t do this completely, of course, the soul keeps popping up to be slain again. But when we try to keep it dead so we can’t experience the pain, we unleash terrible consequences.

What to do when you don’t get what you need from those who should provide it

This happens at a corporate level, too, in whole families and in the church. I want to talk about it as a church. We are a circle of hope that does not always get what we hope for. Lately we have been talking a lot about having a missional culture. I think we have been pushing some pained people to move beyond their learned helplessness. Maybe they have been “on the mission field” a long time and they have not been as successful in meeting their goals as they expected. Maybe they feel, like an abused child usually does, that if they just do better they will make it all right. But the increasingly vocal forces against Jesus have wounded them and the contempt for their powerlessness has made them feel ashamed. They have come to feel that they should not try to influence people at all; if they try, the giant forces against them will be too strong to stand against. They try to tamp down the soul of the church lest they experience it dying. Paul’s words sound like damnation, not inspiration, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).

The solution to the personal powerlessness that deadens one’s soul and the learned helplessness of the disappointed missionary is the same. Jesus and Paul both demonstrate this, if that helps convince you. We need to trade death for life, lose the life in which we are caged in order to find the life outside the cage which Jesus has provided. It will take turning off our fake porch light and walking through the darkness with Jesus until we emerge in abiding hope. We’ll have to forfeit our controlling, self-protective and mistrusting ways and turn to humble dependence on God and passionate involvement with others, which is what I think everyone wants, down in that indomitable soul.

Rihanna and Eminem exploit their pain for profit and unwittingly (I hope) teach their young fans to accept the despair of the powerless as if destruction were just what tornados and volcanos do. Connecting our powerless, pained souls with God is what enables us to stand in an evil day. When we keep connecting, as a church, we don’t end up submitting to the contemptuous forces of the world who teach us we are helpless and tell us we should just shut up and love the way they lie

[Check out Dan Allender’s book The Wounded Heart. It inspired some of what I wrote]