The Malta Independent 5 December 2021, Sunday

Conquering helplessness, one small step at a time…

Sunday, 24 October 2021, 08:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

Lucy Chetcuti

As I write this piece, a ladybird landed in my enclosed yard and spent some time colliding against the walls, unable to find her way out. At some points in our lives, no less as we live through the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us become familiar with the feelings of vulnerability, uncertainty and powerlessness. Helplessness can lead us to experience ourselves as being at the mercy of our circumstances and unable to have agency over our own lives. For some, this is a fleeting experience that they are able to to cope with. However, for others, helplessness may be a repeated, prolonged occurrence which can lead to the development of learned helplessness. At the point of learned helplessness a person loses hope and stops trying to better their situation. This in turn is linked to heightened stress, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Hence, I feel it is of great significance to look at how a person can support themselves from helplessness to empowerment, in order to take care of their wellbeing.

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The reality is that at times there are circumstances we cannot control and which impinge upon us negatively, just like the ladybird, propelled into my yard on accord of the uncontrollable strong winds. However, at times it is essential to remind ourselves that as human beings we possess the ability to creatively adapt our perspective of, and response to, a situation. That is, to alter what we can, and work towards accepting what we cannot change. This is the power of the human spirit: to adapt, persevere and find beauty in even the bleakest circumstances. One needs only to reflect on the writings of Anne Frank during World War 2 or on the paintings of Van Gogh as he struggled with his mental illness. Their creations helped them to find strength in seemingly helpless situations. Likewise, within each one of us is a unique kit of resources that may support us towards empowerment.

As we deal with the ups and downs of life, we develop ways and means to get our needs met and survive. These resources may be come from within, such as attending to what we feel and need, taking care of our body, being kind to ourselves and creating a more supportive perspective of a situation. In addition, we may also turn to resources from outside ourselves, such as our support network, community, professionals, religion, nature and art. Sometimes it may be difficult to see ourselves through the helplessness, and these external supports may enable us to get back in touch with resources we possess and develop a new perspective or new tools. In the same way, the ladybird in my yard was graced with wings to fly and a red spotted body to ward off predators. However, it also needed a little help from me to get to a place where it could use these resources again.

Let us keep in mind that the aim is not to eradicate the experiences of helplessness, those will come as inevitably as the wind to the ladybird. Instead, we may work towards being able to anchor ourselves with the resources we have and ask for support when we need it. Professional help may provide us with fresh perspectives which may not only help us to survive but also grow through our experiences and realise our additional potential for more positive life experience going forward.

Anybody experiencing a sense of helplessness, low mood, anxiety or other emotional issue may reach out to professionals at Richmond Foundation on 1770 or OLLI.chat on a 24/7 basis.


Lucy Chetcuti is Mental Health Recovery Officer, Richmond Foundation. If you or someone you know are struggling, reach out. Our 1770 helpline and OLLI.chat are free and available 24/7. 


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