How we cause ourselves to fail

Politicians often say that they are ‘concerned’ about an incident. This concern is often political speak and means that they haven’t done anything about it and don’t intend to, but they don’t want to convey the impression that they don’t care. This syndrome is not confined to politicians. There is a subconscious tendency in some people to concentrate on destructive emotions and is often a subconscious desire to stymie themselves.

Here is common way of thinking: A person has done something that they feel they shouldn’t have, something they feel guilty about. They think there will be consequences of their actions. Somehow, they feel that by feeling bad about what they have done they can prevent these consequences. It’s as if they can circumvent a disaster by causing small problems. They feel they deserve it and subconsciously make bad things happen. They are doing in private what politicians are doing in public. When they say they are concerned, and demonstrate it, they are hoping to prevent a more serious result, that is, that people will see them as uncaring and consequently withdraw their support in the polls.

These belief systems are instilled into us at an early age.

By way of illustration, imagine a family where the parents believe that all people who are rich get their wealth by exploiting others. In other words, for every winner there is someone else who loses out.

Now imagine three children from such a background. The eldest daughter leaves school and goes into charity work. She is not paid very well but considers that she is helping others and that her lack of wealth confirms this. She may become disillusioned with such a life but feels unable to escape from it.

The next son hates being poor and considers that if by making money he has to exploit others then so be it. He gets involved in every scam and pyramid scheme going as he believes that the only reason other people do not use these methods of getting rich is that they have a conscience which prevents them taking advantage of the opportunity. He becomes a con man, someone who nobody trusts.

The eldest also hates being poor and strives to escape from poverty. He goes to university, studies business and befriends the elite, rich people. Using these contacts he is able to obtain very lucrative work in real estate. He still believes that people get rich by exploiting others but does not consider himself rich on his two-hundred and fifty-thousand dollar salary. He sees rich people as those making more than ten-million dollars.

Each of these people have been moulded by their belief system, albeit in different ways. Each one, however, has the potential to stand back from their preconceptions about rich people and change their behaviour. The eldest could see that it is possible to make money even by helping others. This could happen naturally as she meets people in different situations, or she could make a conscious effort to examine her own assumptions. The second son may enter into a spiral of petty crime and finish up in prison, which could either result in him becoming resentful and a hardened criminal, or could enable him to turn his life around. As far as the youngest son is concerned, by the time he ever moves into the ten-million dollar plus set the beliefs of his parents would probably have been overlaid by other experiences.

So we can see that although people’s behaviour is moulded by the belief system they hold, they also have the opportunity to escape from it. Either because their belief system creates problems which force them to change (as in the case of the son who finishes up in prison); because they wish to escape from the life they have followed (as in the case of the eldest daughter) or simply because life layers other belief systems over the top of the ones they were brought up with.

Few people completely escape their belief systems, and indeed it probably is not possible. It is worth noting that sometimes when a belief system is exposed, that is, when a person realises that their beliefs are based on misconceptions, it can trigger mental instability (a so-called ‘nervous breakdown’).

In the book ‘Operators and Things’ Barbara O’Brien is triggered into schizophrenia when she realises that her belief that she will progress through the company through hard work and ability is faulty, and people who play the system move ahead of her.

Similarly, some men have problems with women, and women with men, as they see themselves as being single. They may not be happy with it but, like a married couple who have familiarity in their ongoing quarrels, they always return to the familiar. Some men are so over eager to be friendly with women that women run from them.

A woman who was severely obese had a daughter. She said that her one desire was to be thin enough to run and play with her, and to not be embarrassed simply to be out in public. She wanted to be normal and so she had a stomach by-pass operation to thin her down. It worked, but rather than making her happy she started excessive drinking, taking drugs and sleeping with the wrong people. She said that she had discovered something from the operation and that was that her obesity was something she was able to hide behind. It was her excuse for not participating in the world and after the operation she realised that she couldn’t escape from herself.

Getting what she wanted didn’t make her happy. However, it gave her an opportunity to get an insight into herself that otherwise she would probably never have seen.

The strange case of W

A clinical hypnotherapist, David Calof, tells the story of a client (we shall call ‘W’) who came to him with a social problem. Nowadays W would probably be diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. He was a social misfit and felt he was unable to function in ‘normal’ society. For instance he was unable to talk to people without getting very nervous. David told him that this was a difficult problem. He would have to consider what he should do but in the meantime could W pretend that he was normal? “You know you’re not normal, and I know you’re not normal, but until we can come up with something better can you just pretend?” W agreed he would try.

Some weeks passed and David went on holiday leaving his secretary with instructions to not be disturbed unless there is an emergency. The phone rang. It was his secretary and she told him that W needed to talk to him urgently. David agreed to talk to him:

W: You know you told me to pretend that I’m normal?
David: Yes. How is it going?
W: I’ve got a problem.
David: What is it?

W: I don’t if I’m still pretending.
David: Yes. That’s okay. You are still pretending.

So if you can’t make it, fake it. Depressed people look down and don’t smile, so to get yourself out of depression look up and smile.

Mark Stanley and the Zeebrugge ferry disaster

On March 6th 1987, only a mile from the port of Zeebrugge off the coast of Belgium, the Townsend Thoresen ferry ‘The Herald of Free Enterprise’ left port with 459 passengers, 80 crew and around 130 vehicles. The door through which the vehicles are loaded was still open. As a result the ship keeled over and 193 lives were lost. As the ship left the harbour Assistant Bosun Mark Stanley was still asleep. He was supposed to have closed the bow doors, which was standard procedure. The enquiry report stated:

From the outset Mr. Mark Victor Stanley, who was the assistant bosun, has accepted that it was his duty to close the bow doors at the time of departure from Zeebrugge and that he failed to carry out this duty. Mr. Stanley had opened the bow doors on arrival in Zeebrugge. Thereafter he was engaged in supervising members of the crew in maintenance and cleaning the ship until he was released from work by the bosun, Mr. Ayling. Mr. Stanley then went to his cabin, where he fell asleep and was not awakened by the call “Harbour Stations”, which was given over the Tannoy address system. He remained asleep on his bunk until he was thrown out of it when the HERALD began to capsize. Mr. Stanley has frankly recognised his failure to turn up for duty and he will, no doubt, suffer remorse for a long time to come. If the Company regards it as appropriate or necessary to take disciplinary action against Mr. Stanley it has power to do so under the Code of Conduct for the Merchant Navy. In fairness to Mr. Stanley it is right to record that after the HERALD capsized he found his way out of the ship on to her hull where he set about rescuing passengers trapped inside. He broke a window for access and, when he was scooping the glass away his right forearm was deeply cut. Nevertheless he re-entered the hull and went into the water to assist passengers. He continued until he was overcome by cold and bleeding.

Sometime after this happened I saw an interview with Mark Stanley. In the interview he accepted full responsibility. He felt he was personally responsible for the loss of 193 lives and was the only person who accepted responsibility for the accident.

Now, ask yourself, if you were responsible for the deaths of 193 people would you ever be able to enjoy yourself afterwards? Certainly some of the people who had lost loved ones would say that you have no right to enjoy yourself whilst they are still suffering. Were you to begin to enjoy yourself something would immediately stop you. You would feel guilty for being happy.

Even without a legacy of being responsible for multiple deaths many people have a similar feeling of guilt whenever they start to feel happy.

Something in them says they have no right to feel good.

By Philip Braham on .







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