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Learned Helplessness: It’s Time to Help Ourselves

Becoming upset is not the solution!Allah has given us the ability to make our own choices and to be in control of ourselves, that is, if we put in the effort. After all, the struggle against the self is the mightiest.Becoming upset is not the solution!We all know the popular phrase, “why me?” But why is it that people say that? Who really is responsible for the situation being so unbearable? Many times we find ourselves asking God why He chose us to go through the fight, the loss, the argument, or the sickness. Many times we find ourselves asking our parents or our friends why they chose us to pick on and make us feel bad. In more serious situations, like getting in a car accident, losing a loved one, or our desires not coming true, we usually blame God.

It’s understandable. He is All-Powerful, right? So it is His fault that we lost our keys, He could have just left them where we put them. And of course, He could have made our interest in each other so perfect, and He could have magically made our parents be more open-minded and make the marriage happen, right? How can it not be God’s fault? It is human nature that we never blame ourselves first. This is a mental illness – not a serious one, but it can become pretty serious. In clinical psychology, when treating people with depression or the like, there is a theory called learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is a psychological condition in which a human being or animal has learned to act helplessly in different situations, even when they have the power to change the unpleasant condition.

Allah has given us the ability to make our own choices and to be in control of ourselves, that is, if we put in the effort. After all, the struggle against the self is the mightiest; nobody said it was going to be easy. In the Holy Qur’an, Allah says, “We test you with fear, hunger, the loss of wealth and possessions, death, and the loss of the fruits of your toil. Give glad tidings to those who struggle manfully on this path, those who say when afflicted with calamity and pain, ‘We are from God, and to Him we return on our path to perfection,’ – that it is they who receive kindness and mercy from their Lord together with their suffering, and they it is who are truly guided.” (2:155-57). So it is as if we have no excuse, or justification, to be the big babies that we sometimes are.

Today a very big problem, but an unspoken one, is that of depression and hopelessness. And it is a sad thing that Muslims feel this way when our Creator has guaranteed us everything we need and wish for. As we say in Du’a Kumayl, “For You have demanded your servants to worship You, ordered them to call upon You, and assured them of fulfilling (of their requests).” How can we overlook the beauty in these words of Imam Ali (peace be upon him)? Instead, we begin to throw ourselves a pity party and ask, “why me?”

We need to stop proving right the theory of learned helplessness. Allah has given us infinite blessings, and instead of looking at the mercy He has bestowed upon us, we look at the things that we think are messing up our life. Instead of thinking how Merciful Allah is for giving us parents, we get depressed at how our parents are not understanding or treating us justly. What do we do in those situations? We rebel, complain, or just act hopeless. Why instead do we not thank Allah for the blessed tongue he gave us and start a conversation with those same blessed parents and try and solve our problems? When in situations of financial need, why don’t we use our blessed hands and feet and brain to go places, get information, and do things that will help to satisfy our needs? When in problems regarding getting married or finding the right spouse, why don’t we use our blessed brain again to think about the situation and how we are going to solve it, reflect on what is wrong and how to fix it, and question if it needs to be fixed and if we are doing the right thing, instead of becoming frustrated and getting nowhere? How many times do we find ourselves pointing fingers at who did what to me, and how oppressed I am for silly matters like saying a bad word about me? Do we not believe in Allah’s justice and how He will judge and hold accountable those who backbite? Why do we weaken ourselves? We are caught too many times looking back instead of taking care of our future and our afterlife. What is going to happen then? Have we taken the time to make sure our afterlife is one that will be pleasant? Or are we too busy playing judge and news reporter for ourselves and others?

 When we learn who we are and what we really want, only then will we be able to get along and work together with others. We are constantly caught up in our own miseries and forget to look at what we already have, causing us to act helpless. As we all know, the best examples on how to deal with the struggles of desperation, depression, hopelessness, and the like can be found on the plains of Karbala. We are commemorating Arba’een these days. We are remembering the aftermath of the triumph of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him). We should be learning from the strength, the character, and the hope that our great Lady Zainab (peace be upon her) graced the people with. We should learn from the fact that when she watched her brother and sons get slaughtered, the first thing she did was to go into prostration and thank Allah for allowing her to sacrifice her family for the cause of Islam. Or we can learn from the eve of Ashura, when instead of crying all night, she offered her Night Prayers in order to connect with her Creator and seek help and not be helpless. Many a times we forget about the beauty and the real life lessons we can learn from Karbala and apply to our own lives. The Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) always looked at the beauty of the situation, as Lady Zainab’s famous reply to Yazid, that everything that happened in Karbala was beautiful. And with that beautiful experience they had, as they were paraded through the towns, they spread the message of true Islam. Were the family members of Imam Hussain not eligible to act hopeless and depressed?

Just as we struggle today, they struggled then, as did all of our Ahlul Bayt. But the difference is in the way we handle our challenges. They struggled in a way that they held their character and spread the message of Islam in ways unimaginable, yet so simple, like giving charity during prayer. Some us have become so picky in our lives we may even question if that broke his prayer! We have been created to attempt to be complete human beings, at peace with ourselves, and understanding and propagating right and wrong .But if we are too busy crying ourselves a river, we will never truly understand life and the blessing it is.

Let us look at the bright side of things; it’s not like we’re going to live forever.

About Madiha Zaidi

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  • Shia_2008

    A superb article. It really puts ones problems into perspective and gives one the necessary tools to confront them!

  • Avid reader

    Jazakillah sister for the beautiful article. At times. I would feel helpless in regards to some situations, but having read this article, I learnt to be proactive and not reactive to any situation I will be facing. Once again thank you for this englightening article

  • Sarmadi Rizvi

    Salamun alaikum

    It sometimes happens that you have a problem and by chance you stumble upon the exact solution.
    I just came across this article, thanks to the Almighty, and it solved a lot of my problems.
    Thanks sister Madiha for writing this beautiful article. May Allah give you a place near AhlulBayt[as] in Jannat.
    Wassalam