December 20, 1996

I Can't Do It!

Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined.

Samuel Goldwyn

"I can't do it!" is the cry of a group of people who constitute a gold mine to the helping professionals, physicians, helping organizations, manufacturers and distributors of all sorts of habit-forming products, professional gamblers and others who make money on the large number of people who claim that they are unable to control elements of their own lives.

Besides professional therapists of all sorts, there are organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, organizations to help people to quit habits such as overeating, smoking or drug addiction. There are also drugs for sale that are supposed to accomplish the same thing. While Alcoholics Anonymous is non-profit, its existence and survival depends on the same paralysis of will that supports the other organizations.

I remember hearing a woman who thought that the organization called EST was what had solved her big problem. What the founder and guru of EST, Werner Ehrhardt, had done was to get her to believe that he, Ehrhardt, had all of the answers to her problem. Once she believed this, he told her to simply throw her problem away. She threw away her problem and it worked. Whether she actually took control of her own life, or simply got rid of one problem, that would later be replaced by another, is unknown. This is one main tool of psychotherapists. Once the therapist has his patient believing that the therapist can solve anything -just like his parents did- he simply has to tell or suggest to his patient to either do, or not do, something. The patient is imbued with the power to change. Unfortunately, therapists and organizations have a financial stake in keeping their patients dependent.

An inability to take charge of some aspect one's own life seems to be passed on from parent to child. It is an insidious thing because children need help, and often a lot of it. At some point, the help must be withdrawn in favor of letting the child take charge. It is a narrow line, and often parents and skilled teachers don't know when to help and when to let go.

There is a stage when a parent decides that a child can cut his own food. After the kid makes a few futile tries at using the knife, he will invariably say "I can't!" The response of a parent will be "Of course you can; just keep trying." When, however, ten or more years later, a person still can't cut his own food, we begin to suspect that, in some way, the parents have dropped the ball.

When someone who has had his spinal cord severed is sitting in a chair and you ask him to stand up, his reply will be "I can't!" He is, of course, correct; he really can't. When someone with all of his nervous system intact, who has been seen standing up, is asked to stand up and he says "I can't!" we can assume that he is lying to you and/or to himself. Many helpers believe that if they help him to stand up, that they are doing him a service. On the contrary, they are not only not helping him, they are supporting his delusion. Supporting delusions is the American way. It is the American way because it is very profitable.

People who go to helpers will ask incredulously: "You don't really think that a lifetime of habit can be changed by simply deciding to do it?" Not only do I think it, I know it. I have seen lots of people do it. Those who did it are really no different from those who repeat, over and over again, with an almost convincing fervor, "I can't!"

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