We all experience helplessness at times. YUK! And double YUK!
Helplessness is one of the most painful emotions human beings can feel. Helplessness is a state of acute powerlessness that is almost unbearable. So unbearable that people will do and tell themselves almost anything to get rid of the feeling.
When helplessness is severe
Suicidal feelings are often a result of helplessness. When we are so helpless and out of control of our lives, it can make us feel empowered to think that we have a solution at hand, and that solution (suicide) is something within our control.
Anger and rage are also feelings that stem from helplessness. Murderous feelings and actions can stem from feeling helpless. Again, we so desperately need to feel like there is a solution because nobody likes to feel helpless.
Is helplessness a normal feeling?
While suicidal feelings are severe symptoms of postpartum depression (requiring immediate help and attention from an expert who is experienced in working with PPD), feelings of helplessness are also normal in new mothers.
Why do new moms feel so helpless?
Anne Pleshette Murphy, author of the book, “The Seven Stages of Motherhood” describes this beautifully:
“One of the reasons we’re so acutely aware of our newborns’ helplessness is that we feel so helpless ourselves. But unlike the preceding nine months, during which you were often fussed over and pampered, treated as though you were a helpless baby, now you’re expected to act like a grown-up, to be a mom!
..Some part of our unconscious self identifies intensely with our babies; we experience a kind of fierce neediness, a feeling of vulnerability athat runs counter to everyone’s expectations of how we should behave. Yes, we’re allowed to be exhausted, weepy, even unwashed, but to curl into a ball in bed jut won’t fly in most Western households.
Of course, if you happen to live in the Japanese islands of the Goto Archipelago, you’re expected to take to your bed. There, new mothers spend at least one month wrapped almost cocoonlike with their newborns while their own mothers feed and serve them. The doting grandmothers even use a kind of singsong “motherese,” underscoring their recognition of a new mother’s vulnerability and helplessness.”
What can we do about feeling helpless?
When a new mom is feeling helpless, one of the most comforting things she can hear is that somebody understands she is feeling utterly helpless and (if suicidal or depressed or anxious) she may see no way out of her helplessness. Before helping her find a constructive solution, she first needs to know that her feelings of helplessness are recognized, understood and accepted.
Next is to figure out the actual issue that she is feeling most helpless about. What is she trying to do that she cannot do? For some moms it has to do with getting the baby to nurse, to grow or to sleep. For other moms it’s about being able to find time and energy for other things – work, housework, other children etc.
Next, begin to actually write down a list of the things that are causing the feelings of helplessness. Keep going until the list is exhausted.
4. What cannot be changed?
Next divide the list up into things that cannot be changed. These are the things that must be accepted. Place an “A” for “Accept” next to those list items. For example here are some things that my clients talk about that cannot be changed.
-I am a single mom and I have to work. I wish I could be a stay-at-home mom.
-I want to be a perfect mom so my child grows up without any problems.
Both of these things require acceptance. The single mom has to work and nobody can mother perfectly! Not one of us!
5. What can be changed?
Next, write a “C” for “Change” next to the list items that can be changed. For example, here are some things my clients talk about that can be changed or modified.
-I am neglecting my own needs.
-I am exhausted.
-I can’t get my baby to sleep long enough for me to rest.
6. Create a plan of change.
Once these changeable things have been identified, you can brainstorm and problem-solve ways to begin modifying them. Talk to friends, other moms, your partner or a new mother coach.
7. Take action
Choose one item to tackle first and decide what steps you can put in place that will create the change and the results you want, and then TAKE ACTION.
When you take action, you reduce your feelings of helplessness!