What's the Point?
Posted on 31st March 2022 at 23:28
If I was to capture a frequent question from the past couple of months, it would be “What’s the Point?” It’s not an unusual question inside the therapy room, where it can summarise despair and pain but these days, it’s to be heard everywhere. It correlates in particular, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Having just done multiple battles in a war with an unseen, indiscriminate entity called Covid-19, to be reminded in no uncertain terms of the enemies inside the gate of mankind itself, demands too much from our depleted resources. What’s the point of planning? What’s the point of working? Studying? Starting a family? Why would you bring children into the world that’s in it now? What’s the point of this world we live in? What’s the point in trusting anyone? Yes, there is despair in these cries imbued also by a lack of trust in leaderships who not only seem to have confirmed that they really don’t care, but now make no effort to hide it. Our grip on hope is weak. I have talked about the importance of this before in terms of resilience. When global existence is threatened by lethal nuclear attack, our wishes become very simple. For most, it is be with our loved ones if it happens. Any possible survival is bleak unless you are content to live the bunkered life. Motivation, already battered, has taken another dip. Meaning is elusive. Within that, our value system is undermined. The effect is powerlessness or at the very least, the feeling of it, as is familiar in neurosis.
I am reminded of Erich Fromm’s paper entitled On the Feeling of Powerlessness, which has as much relevance today as it had in 1937 when it was written. In this paper,Fromm describes the effects of the feeling of powerlessness within authoritarian states and modern democracies. In such constitutions, people are credited with power and responsibility but actually don't experience having either. It is materialism that has true power. Mass unemployment and the threat of war increase individual feelings of powerlessness and we have experienced both over the last while. Now we watch prices soar and feel a powerlessness towards the social and political structures. Despite our knowledge of social processes, a fatalistic tendency sets in and we resign ourselves to our lot. We quote 'knowledge' to be 'power' yet it does not seem powerful enough to combat the sense of powerlessness we experience or the belief that anything can change. A helplessness in basic functioning sets in together with a paralysis in the face of injustice. Lacking confidence in our own ability to control, we over rely on others to do so. This becomes evident in everyday life when we move from relationship to relationship, doctor to doctor, religion to religion, country to country. At its extreme, there is an absence of desire for anything at all and a yielding to what others want of us in the order of whose anger we fear most. This sense of powerlessness is accompanied by deep anxiety, the source of which may be only partly conscious. A magical intervention, rescue by a hero or a totem gesture offering (as in certain OCD behaviour patterns) is necessary to overcome -even temporarily- the feeling of powerlessness, a common feature in obessional neurosis. Repressed feelings of powerlessness present as ‘busyness,’ an overcompensation type behaviour, a strive to control or at least the fantasy of it where we feel we can’t. The repression may be successful in removing the feeling of powerlessness from the conscious, but it still exists in the unconscious so its effects will still be felt. Rage is a consequence of feeling powerless and in turn, the consequence of rage is also anxiety. In the typical format of the reaction formation defence, the rage is projected onto others such that they are the ones we experience as enraged and we feel persecuted by them instead. This seems much easier to bear.  This is Fromm's take on when powerlessness takes on the pattern of clinical depression at the individal and societal level, when the effects are turned inward and respresented in the defences. When the defences are exceeded, the nice quiet person who wouldn't hurt a fly, becomes explosive.
In his account of life in a Nazi concentration camp, entitled Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl claimed that the prisoners did not die so much from lack of food and medicine, but from a lack of hope and purpose. The experience bolstered his belief that life was not a search for pleasure or power but a search for meaning which he believed to be found in work, in love and in courage during challenging times. Suffering is futile unless we give meaning to it. He believed that external forces can never remove our freedom to choose our response in difficult situations:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of
circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
This, he believed, allows us to retain a belief in the purpose of life and that it is ourslves that has the power:
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” 
Perhaps we need to keep it really simple right now. This excerpt from Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, might summarise the sentiment:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do
with the time that is given us.” 
It is in such decisions that we take back our power.
If you are struggling with feelings of powerlessness or lack of meaning and purpose, take a step in taking back your power and get in touch here. 'Meaning making' is central to psychotherapy and its process.
1. Fromm, E. (1937) On the Feeling of Powerlessness https://www.euppublishing.com/doi/epub/10.3366/pah.2019.0310
2. Frankl, V.E. Man’s Search for Meaning. 1992 edition. Boston. Beacon Press,
3. Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. Part 1: The Fellowship of the Ring. 2001 edition. London. Harper Collins.
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