What does locking myself out of the car, depression, learned helplessness and CBT have in common? Read on.
You'll have to wait a few days for the critical analysis of our survey because my car has once again, with a little help from me, provided the inspiration for this blog.
Currently I am working in a beautiful rural area and was enjoying my drive to a clinic, I had plenty of time so I stopped for a snack and then it occurred to me that I wasn't sure I was going to the right clinic. Now before you worry too much I have only been doing this job for a week and the clinics occur in five or six different places. As I ate my sandwich I popped open the the boot (or trunk if your in the USA) as I knew my secretaries contact number was on some paperwork in there, phoned her, confirmed I was indeed in the wrong place and jumped back in the car. It was only then I realised I had locked the car keys in the boot !
After beating my head against the steering wheel failed to open the boot i tried pressing every button in the car, again nothing. I then consulted the internet, on the one hand it was reassuring to discover I am far from alone in locking keys in the boot, on the other hand it was depressing to discover there was no way of getting in the boot without the spare keys or dismantling the car.
Well, after embarrassed phone calls to my secretary (who laughed at me), colleagues (who laughed at me) and my wife (who sighed, she has had to put up with this kind of thing for years) the clinic was rearranged and my wife eventually arrived with the spare keys. It was somewhat humbling as she had in the car my mother-in-law and my daughters, so three generations got to see me look like a fool!
What's the psychological message? Well, there are many, but as I contemplated in disbelief as to why these things always happen to me the concept of learned helplessness came to mind. This is a concept initially developed by Martin Seligman in the late 60's and describes a style of thinking where the individual feels bad things just happen to them and there is nothing they can do to stop this happening.
Eventually people just seem to give up and even when there are things they can do to make life better they seem unable to act. It is easy to see how this style of thinking can lead to and be part of depression.
All I will say about the original experiments is that they involved electricity and dogs, which suggests the psychologists of the 60's and 70's had their own issues. The concept seems to hold true for humans and it is used as a target for therapies such as CBT.
Well after the initial distress had passed I decided the best response was to laugh quietly to myself and finish my sandwich, oh yeah and never put the keys in the boot again!