“I have had it!”
“I am NOT doing this anymore.”
“I’m done. I’m done. I said ‘I’m done’ and I meant it!”
“Why should I live? I have nothing to live for. I want to die. I’m tired of life.”
“I don’t have goals. I don’t have dreams.”
“I can’t live with this pain!”
“I give up.”
There are times when we want to give up rather than endure more psychological or physical pain. Some of us endure anyway. Others don’t. Social media and popular myths are full of inspirational sayings about why a person should never give up. Then again, there’s some wisdom in “Never saying ‘Never.’” Let’s sort this out as best we can so we can have a clearer understanding of the “giving up” issue, and a better understanding of what someone means when they decide “I give up.“ Giving up is not always what it seems to be.
None of us are born with instruction manuals. We struggle to learn how to be smart, how to be efficient, how to deal with loss, and how not to be taken advantage of. But we also need to learn to be flexible, when we should give in, or when we should surrender. What are the guidelines to know when to do one or the other? And what if all we’re doing is expressing a sense of burnout when we give up? The best response to that is to step back, to reassess the situation wearing out your patience, and maybe to take some time off from the stress to strengthen yourself.
Setting and Sticking to Limits
Yes, we feel anger when someone fails to comply with rules or our wishes. If that someone is an employee, they might receive warnings, compliance instructions, or a notice of termination. If that someone is a relative, neighbor or other person whom you can’t fire, you might need to reduce your exposure to and reliance on them. It is reasonable to set, and to enforce, limits on poor performance.
But what if it’s you or someone you love? If you want to thrive and don’t know how, then announcing your sense of frustration and/or defeat could be a call for help. If it’s someone you love, they might be calling for help, too. It might even sound like this: “NOTHING is important to me anymore. Really nothing.” Or, the sound of weeping, curses and other expressions of pain, anger and frustration fill the air and hurt the hearts of anyone witnessing them. Limits of endurance have been reached, and apparently so have the sufferer’s limits of insight and coping skills. It’s not the time to scold the sufferer, or to tolerate being scolded if you are the person in pain. It is a time for compassion.
Unlimited Compassion and Reverse Psychology
Many people who’ve given up on something, including life, simply need a sense of hope, that the pain will end or at least serve a constructive purpose. They might need to know that someone cares about the pain they’re in. Australian Don Ritchie saved 160 or so people from committing suicide by simply offering them a cup of tea, a compassionate heart, and a listening ear ready to hear whatever the person wanted to say. Suicide hotline staff members try to offer the same unlimited response of compassion. The technique works, sometimes, because it is the sense of hopelessness that tempts a person to give up on their hopes and expectations for a better future.
Sometimes, though another technique can startle a person into taking back and pursuing their future. They can imagine better outcomes, and gain rapid insight into how to accomplish them, with reverse psychology.
The television show M*A*S*H had a poignant episode in season six, episode 35. A soldier disfigured by a gunshot wound and scared that his girlfriend will desert him, tries repeatedly to kill himself. A doctor named Colonel Potter tries to save him by shoving an ether mask, set on full blast, on the young man’s face. Potter yells, “You want Death? We got plenty of it around here! Suck it up, punk, come on!” The soldier realizes that what he actually wants is his sweet married future, so he removes the mask of poison, and stands up with a sense of purpose. Potter responds sympathetically, telling the soldier that now he’s “… fighting to live instead of fighting to die.” The young man weeps, and viewers realize that he will figure out how to accept his deformity, and that his fiancée just might, too. His suicidal thoughts and goals were a cover story masking his true desire that life would turn out alright.
The reverse psychology technique has been used by teachers, doctors, friends and neighbors. It is a reaction from the heart, a rescue effort. Think about that before you consider “is this the end?” and “I give up.” You might need to rephrase the thoughts. Make a statement of what you long for, plan to achieve it, and ask for therapeutic help to pursue your goal if necessary.