On Discouragement

Do you ever get discouraged? When life isn’t going well and it seems like the whole world is conspiring against you, you can get that down-in-the-dumps feeling. Saying, “I’m discouraged,” can practically make your head droop and your shoulders sag; you might even add a heavy sigh for emphasis. In Reality Therapy, we use active language to refer to behaviours. For example, instead of saying, “I’m terrified that something horrible will happen,” we might say, “I am catastrophyzing.” (Try saying that quickly a few times to take your mind off potential terrors!)

Similarly, the state commonly known as depression would be discussed like this: “She is depressing” or “He is choosing to depress.” In his book, Choice Theory, Dr. Glasser refers to the behaviour of a young man who described himself as depressed as “choosing his misery.”

Now that’s a statement that needs some interpretation! Glasser isn’t suggesting that one chooses misery directly; it’s that we choose the acting and thinking components of our behaviour.

While I’m not prepared to discuss depression, I can offer some information about discouragement, or, using Glasser’s active language, about a person who is “discouraging.” Please note that the word “discouraging” here suggests that one is choosing actions and thoughts that correspond to discouraged behaviour (not that one is discouraging someone else.)

What are typical actions and thoughts of a person who is “discouraging”?

The actions that come to my mind are passive and low-energy: sitting, staying in bed, mindlessly watching TV, playing video games, and snacking even when you’re not hungry. Does that sound about right to you?

How about thinking behaviours? A continuous repetition of the same unhappy thoughts, probably along the lines of: “I shouldn’t have… What was I thinking? If only… Who do I think I am?… I wish I had… I’ll never…”

Reaching a state of discouragement implies that one thing after another has piled on. It has the flavour of an old country song—wife leaves, house is gone, and then the dog dies too. You feel like a passive recipient, with nothing under your control.

How could a change to active language be helpful? One benefit is that it reminds you that you do have an area of control, at least to some degree; it’s that space between your ears.

If you recognize that your state could be described as, “I am choosing to discourage,” then here’s an interesting question to ask yourself: “Is there another behaviour that I could choose that would work better?”

Remember that the easiest behaviours to change are what you are doing and what you are thinking, rather than what you are feeling. So, telling yourself “feel better” will likely lead to disappointment (or more discouragement) when nothing happens.

What behaviours would you suggest for a friend who is stuck in a “discouraging” state?

This article is the first in a series on discouraging.
The next article in this series is here.
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