Monday, January 3, 2011

Permanence: Part 2 of 5

People who give up easily believe the causes of the bad events that happen to them are permanent: The bad events will persist, will always be there to affect their lives. People who resist helplessness believe the causes of bad events are temporary.

In 1965, Seligman and some of his colleagues set up an triadic experiment for creating an animal model of helplessness. The first dog was given escapable shock: By pushing a panel with its nose, the dog could turn off the shock. The second dog was given inescapable shock: Nothing the dog could do would cease the shock. And the third dog was given no shocks at all. All 3 dogs were then placed in an experimental shuttlebox. All three were given shocks but they could easily escape the shocks by hopping over the low barrier dividing one side of the box from the other. Within seconds the dog that had been taught to control shocks discovered that he could jump over the barrier and escape. The dog that earlier had received no shocks discovered the same thing. But the dog that had found nothing it did mattered made no effort to escape, even though he could easily see over the low barrier to the shockless zone of the shuttlebox. Pathetically, the dog gave up and lay down, though it was regularly shocked by the box. It never found out that the shock could be escaped by merely jumping to the other side.

What do all these depressing animal experiments have to do with me and my heart palpitations? Well, sometimes I feel like I'm the dog that has learned that no matter what I do, I will be permanently "shocked" by heart palpitations. In fact, sometimes when I get them bad, I literally feel like someone is zapping at my heart and making it go into arrhythmia. At this point I feel helpless and start to whimper. I get anxious and even more depressed that I'm so powerless. I feel like the permanence of having to forever deal with heart palpitations and the anxiety that comes with it is just too much for me to bear. Even though I know that there are things that can help alleviate them, sometimes I'm just too depressed to even try again.

But there is hope. Once I believe that heart palpitations are never permanent, that they will come and go in my life like the passing of the wind, that the future of medicine and technology will someday discover a cure for heart arrhythmia, that I have the choice to take care of myself and reduce my stress levels, that I can trust my doctors and their benign diagnosis, and that I'm in the hands of a loving God, THEN they will only bother me temporarily. They'll still bother me, but they will go away. I will learn to leap over the barrier from depression to life.