The "I Give Up!" Pattern

The "I Give Up!" Pattern


At some point in the past year, I became aware of a pattern of thinking and behaving that I'd been displaying for decades, possibly most of my life. This is the structure of that pattern: I get my hopes and dreams set on a particular goal or outcome. I visualize it, imagine it, fantasize about it, dream about it, and invest a tremendous amount of emotional energy into it. (This is not necessarily a problem in itself, but it was an important part of the pattern.)

I begin taking steps toward achieving that particular outcome. (Again, not a problem in itself.)

Along comes an obstacle or a setback and I am completely waylaid, flattened, totally undone. Sometimes I would be so devastated that I would be unable to get out of bed for a week, obliterated by despair. Depending on the circumstances, I would eventually make a recovery and get back on my feet -- literally and psychologically. If I saw a strategy for moving forward and continuing to pursue the outcome I'd set my sights on, I would initiate that strategy. If not, I might give up altogether.

My response wasn't black or white; rather, it was on a spectrum, depending on the variable of each situation. But two things I can say for sure are that it severely hindered my success in life because it slowed me down, wasted resources, and sometimes stopped me cold in my tracks; and for most of my life -- up until this past year -- this pattern was invisible to me.

How I finally became aware of the pattern is complex, though, I definitely credit my training in non-violent communication because it taught me the power of self-empathy and mourning. By using the processes of self-empathy and mourning, I was able to step back a bit and see that "being devastated" was in response to the story I was telling myself, not the actual facts. My depressed response of curling into myself like a sowbug was a defensive mechanism, but also a habitual, addictive behavior, a means of escape. Although I had quit drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes 19 years earlier -- effectively removing the toxic chemicals -- I never learned how to remove or neutralize the toxic behaviors and thought patterns until NVC taught me how.

Once I recognized the pattern, I realized something profound: Most people, when they set a goal and take steps toward accomplishing it, expect to encounter obstacles and setbacks. They understand that it is a natural part of human life on planet earth. They are not living in the delusion of "magical thinking" (which, by the way, I've heard is typical of adult children of alcoholics). The idea underlying magical thinking is that "if only I am good enough, perfect enough, and do everything right then all will work out well." The other side of this thinking is that "if things don't work out then I must be fundamentally flawed and worthless."

If one approaches a goal with the understanding that setbacks and obstacles are a natural part of the process -- like solving a puzzle -- one will take them in stride and not be undone by them. This actually saves time and resources and leads to more successful outcomes.

When summer arrived, I had opportunities to spend time with both of my parents (separately) and observed these patterns in both of them. When either experienced an inability to meet authentic needs, they turned immediately to their addictions for comfort. One of my parents experienced a significant setback and went immediately to the addiction, then talked about how "my life-long dream has been taken from me; my heart has been ripped out; I give up!"

I did my best to listen, reflect back, and offer empathy, but it was clear to me that this event might lead to years of "giving up," whereas someone else would simply re-adjust to the new information and continue moving forward.

My proverbial jaw dropped as I watched this pattern unfold. I had even described this same pattern in myself two days earlier, but my parent couldn't see the connection. It was still invisible and unbelievably powerful.

So, I let it go. We cannot teach others what they aren't ready to see, but the lesson was not lost on me. I can see very clearly where my patterns originated. I'm not saying that as a way to blame anyone. I'm just pointing out that we all have habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving, our go-to strategies for meeting needs that are sometimes "tragic and suicidal."

The benefit of NVC is that it offers a new strategy that I find to be significantly more effective. I hope that you, too, have found this to be true. It doesn't necessarily happen overnight, but with committed persistence, it is possible to reshape the way we interact with life events. I can honestly say that NVC has given me a strategy that always meets my needs, particularly the need for emotional resilience, which means I spend a lot more time in joy, fulfillment, and gratitude.


Send Evon A Privite Comment