Hans Erni - Couple dancing with fruit in hair, 1952
Hans Erni – Couple dancing with fruit in hair (1952)

Having love and purposeful foundations that we can depend on allows us to venture out into the world with resilience, knowing that any failures occurring in the fray are not a measure of our inherent worth or unworth, since our love and foundations are already an assurance of our worthiness. This phenomenon—that we achieve independence through secure dependence—is the “dependency paradox” (Feeney, 2007).

Finding your purposeful foundations is an equipment against our existential nakedness. We need the competence and empowerment that comes from our skills and expertise. We can only hope that more people align their foundations to socially-positive endeavors, even if controversial or rebellious, that aim to enrich the world and reduce suffering, as opposed to inflammatory behavior that seeks to cause harm or fulfill pathological selfish desires, the same way that pathophysiology destroys an organism from the inside out, prioritizing its own processes at the detriment to all others’. 

The desire to learn needs a continually maturing calibration system to steer us toward the best knowledge to absorb, away from the worst knowledge or disempowering experiences. 

Our limbic system and other sensory-emotive brain areas barely know the difference between visualizations, recollections, and real experiences, so what we spend our time not only doing for real, but also ruminating on and remembering, colors our attitude and emotional states. 

If one can’t calibrate towards the right influences and people, they’re at risk of blindly or malignantly sailing into the worst possibilities. 

In the absence of agency, deprived of any control over a situation, we not only experience hopelessness but also physical illness. 

Rats who are shocked without the ability to avoid it quickly go into “learned helplessness” and resign to die, but just having a lever that lets them avoid the shock if pressed shows them that they do have some control over their lives, which makes them resilient to learned helplessness; this is a state of “learned mastery” (Volpicelli, et al., 1983). 

When rats are physically restrained, they quickly develop ulcers, or heart arrhythmias, or brain degeneration, but if they’re supplied with a wooden stick to bite down on, those effects don’t happen, because just having that wood to chew on in an attempt to wriggle free keeps their fighting spirit alive, staving off the stress of despair and subsequent physiological breakdown (Kubo, et al., 2009; Koizumi, et al., 2011; Kubo, et al., 2015). An analogous effect occurs in humans—chewing gum can significantly reduce stress and elevate mood (Sasaki-Otomaru, et al., 2011).

The contextuality learned helplessness goes even deeper. It’s not only the availability of choices but also attitudes that play a role. In one study, two groups of rats were put in the same difficult maze with an escape at the end. The rats that were conditioned to feel confident pushed through and escaped the maze, despite it being exhausting. The rats that never developed that confidence gave up before the end, lied down helplessly, and resigned to die (Zhukov & Vinogradova, 2002). Even though the escape was available to them, they just couldn’t muster the fortitude to succeed, not because they were “inferior”, but because they hadn’t learned what would have given them the necessary inner resources. 

It is such a blessing, and a curse, that our attitudes are malleable. When we know this, the sky is the limit; when we don’t, we’re vulnerable to limitless malevolence. Without awareness, we can’t have agency, and are rendered stagnant, but with an empowered self-awareness, self-direction and self-love become continually accessible. This ever-shifting process turns into one of evolution and progression, and not a fatalistic resignation to determinism, to “the cards we were dealt”.

Hans Erni - Le Dessinateur or Kybernetes, 1956
Hans Erni – Le Dessinateur or Kybernetes (1956)

Works Cited

Feeney, Brooke C. “The Dependency Paradox in Close Relationships: Accepting Dependence Promotes Independence.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 92, no. 2, 2007, pp. 268–285., doi:10.1037/0022-3514.92.2.268.

Koizumi, So, et al. “Chewing Reduces Sympathetic Nervous Response to Stress and Prevents Poststress Arrhythmias in Rats.” American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology, vol. 301, no. 4, 2011, doi:10.1152/ajpheart.01224.2010.

Kubo, Kin-Ya, et al. “Chewing under Restraint Stress Inhibits the Stress-Induced Suppression of Cell Birth in the Dentate Gyrus of Aged SAMP8 Mice.” Neuroscience Letters, vol. 466, no. 3, 2009, pp. 109–113., doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2009.08.030.

Kubo, Kin-Ya, et al. “Mastication as a Stress-Coping Behavior.” BioMed Research International, vol. 2015, 2015, pp. 1–11., doi:10.1155/2015/876409.

Sasaguri, Kenichi, et al. “Uncovering the Neural Circuitry Involved in the Stress-Attenuation Effects of Chewing.” Japanese Dental Science Review, vol. 54, no. 3, 2018, pp. 118–126., doi:10.1016/j.jdsr.2018.03.002.

Sasaki-Otomaru, Akiyo. “Effect of Regular Gum Chewing on Levels of Anxiety, Mood, and Fatigue in Healthy Young Adults.” Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health, vol. 7, no. 1, 2011, pp. 133–139., doi:10.2174/1745017901107010133.

Volpicelli, Joseph R., et al. “Learned Mastery in the Rat.” Learning and Motivation, vol. 14, no. 2, 1983, pp. 204–222., doi:10.1016/0023-9690(83)90006-1.

Zhukov, D. A., and K. P. Vinogradova. “Learned Helplessness or Learned Inactivity after Inescapable Stress? Interpretation Depends on Coping Styles.” Integrative Physiological & Behavioral Science, vol. 37, no. 1, 2002, pp. 35–43., doi:10.1007/bf02688804.

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