Apathy is essentially the absence or suppression of enthusiasm, excitement, passion and inspiration. Even though apathy is seen as a lack of emotion, it is anything but. People, who are apathetic, have plenty of emotion. It’s just that early on in life, they learned that emotions (both positive and negative) are not valid and are not ok and as a result; they rejected their entire emotional side. They disowned, suppressed and denied their emotional self entirely.
One of the problems with apathy as a result of disowning one’s emotions is that emotions are your guidance system. They are what lead you in the right direction in life. How else is someone supposed to know what they do not want, except for that it feels bad and is therefore unwanted? How else is someone supposed to know what they want except that it feels good and is therefore wanted? Intrinsic motivation, which is the internal drive to do something when no external reward is present, is motivated by the positive emotion that something evokes. A monkey in a laboratory cage is intrinsically motivated to solve a puzzle. The act of doing it feels good. When we are young, we have no problem following our feelings and thus intrinsic motivation to the ends of the earth. But when someone our survival depends on, makes that selfish or otherwise wrong, we suppress those emotions as well as the motivation. Basically the person who struggles with apathy has learned that it is not safe to want. Pretty soon, we have no motivation to speak of. We don’t know what we want. We are lost. If you are struggling with feeling lost or with not knowing what you want, it might benefit you to take a look at two of my videos on YouTube. The first is “How to discover what you want”. The second is “Feeling lost and Ten Steps to Becoming Found”.
Let’s peel back apathy for you and look at the root emotion that is actually there; the root vibration that causes apathy. It is despair, the complete loss or absence of hope. This is sheer powerlessness. It is the ultimate form of discouragement. Look back at your life and try to see when you started to loose hope. Recognize how you were discouraged. You decided that there was no way to win or that there was no way to have what you want and so, the only option was to give up. Nothing will work. I have yet to meet a person who struggles with apathy, whose childhood and teenhood and then adulthood was not cursed with unmet needs. What needs did not get met for you when you were younger? Better yet, why were you absolutely powerless to meet those needs? These unmet needs are really why people who struggle with apathy cannot trust the universe. We are born trusting the universe completely. We are traumatized into not trusting it and we only begin to trust the universe again when we start to experience our needs being met by the universe. But we have to stop denying our needs and own up to them and give ourselves permission to get them met for that to happen.
Here’s an example of what causes apathy, a child is born into a family that believes that the children are not their own people, but rather extensions of themselves. Duty to the family is a big deal in this family. The child, like any child knows what he likes and wants to do, maybe he discovers that he loves dancing. But when the child wants to become more involved with dancing, the family says “no, you need to do your studies” and enrolls him in even more math classes. The child is shamed for being selfish when he protests. The child is even guilted for being obstinate based on the fact that he should feel grateful for having the family that he has and the schooling opportunities other kids don’t have. At this point, the child’s positive emotions have been made wrong and the child’s negative emotions have also been wrong. As the child cannot literally drive himself to dance class and cannot put food on his plate, there is no way to meet his need. Also, his need for love is not being met. And his need for encouragement is not being met. And his need for validation is not being met. And his need for significance is not being met. And his need for certainty is not being met. And his need for growth is not being met. His only option to try to get any of his needs met is to in fact please the parents in any way he can. So he abandons himself completely. He literally lives his life for them. But to do this, he must suppress any and all emotion within himself. Until the only one that remains is despair. But he tries to suppress and deny that feeling too and when he succeeds in making that feeling a subconscious one, what he feels is a pessimistic numbness. He becomes depressed. This is why apathy is one of the main symptoms of depression. The self-abandonment that is at the causal origin of apathy is also why apathy is a symptom of anxiety as well. The apathetic person does not feel safe with himself of herself because he or she has already demonstrated that they do not have their own best interests at heart. Most of us who are lazy as a result of apathy have suppressed all trying and striving within ourselves. To us, it was dangerous to strive especially in areas that are not acceptable to parents. We were either shamed for being selfish in our wanting or were told we would never succeed or had a limit or bar to what we could do. We were raised by discouragers, shamers and defeatists. So we learned that it is not safe to try and not safe to strive. We learned it’s safe to conform to what is wanted of you, because then you’re good. Or it’s safe to not strive because if you never strive you never have to fail and meet with abandonment, being criticized or being worthless.
It also must be said that those of us who are apathetic, have developed the skill of distracting ourselves. When we feel despair, like life is hopeless and meaningless and we can’t get our needs met, we loose our enthusiasm for life and we have two choices. The first choice is to take ourselves out of this life by committing suicide. The second choice is to distract ourselves from the pain of living. We develop addictions. Some of these addictions are quite overt, like addictions to drugs and some are quite covert, like addictions to porn or reading. Anything to sedate the pain. We become addicted to whatever distracts us the most.
So what should you do if you find that you are apathetic?
1. We need to realize that we are committing passive suicide. Just because we are living, does not mean we are committed to life. Instead of living our entire lives stuck in this state of living death, we need to decide if we are more committed to death or to life. Death is not wrong. So make this decision based on the truth of what you want, instead of what you think is right to want. If you decide you want to live, then you need to commit to life. Throw all of yourself in that direction. The following are ways to do that.
2. Stop distracting yourself. When we distract ourselves from the pain we feel, we are committing passive suicide. We really are making our life meaningless and not worth living. And what you are doing to yourself on an emotional level, is the same as someone deciding to leave the room and distracting themselves to tune out the sound of their baby that is crying to be held in the other room. When you feel tempted to distract yourself, recognize what you are trying to distract yourself from. Give loving care and attention to the emotional pain you are trying to sedate instead. If you have a particular vice for distraction, like the TV, disconnect your cable service. Do whatever it takes to commit to being present with yourself instead of escaping from yourself. Short cut your habits.
3. The emotional wound, which needs integration, is despair. When you do emotional healing processes like inner child work, the focus needs to be on despair. Unless this wound is helped to heal, any further steps will not succeed, because the despair still exists and so you will simply line up with even worse discouragement than before and an even deeper hopeless feeling that nothing will ever work out. 4. Anger is your best friend. Anger is the vibrational improvement from your current space of utter powerlessness. You need to access your feelings of anger and get mad. For more information about anger, watch my YouTube video titled “How to Deal with Anger”.
5. Start feeling your emotions. You have tuned out your internal guidance system long ago. You don’t even recognize emotions when you feel them. Start to familiarize yourself with the sensations in your body as you go about your day, especially when emotionally evoking things happen. For example, if you watch a movie, check in with yourself throughout the course of the movie, even pausing the movie to do it, to feel what sensations are occurring within your body. After you have felt these sensations without judging them, try to put words to the sensations like heavy, crushing, cold, buzzing etc. Once you have become familiar with the sensations, try to identify specific feelings. To do this, it is helpful to carry a small feelings journal and set your timer to go off at intervals throughout the day. Whenever the timer goes off, turn your attention inside your body to see what you are feeling. Write down in your journal the sensations and also the name of the feeling if you can identify it. For example, buzzing, imploding, in chest – Anxiety. Make use of circumstances that evoke powerful feelings too, write down how those made you feel in this journal as well.
6. Start following your emotional guidance system and taking action. You have to start taking action based on how you feel. This will be really rocky at first until you get your bearings back. And you will have to start trying new things. If you know what interests you or what causes you to feel positive emotion, you are way ahead of the game. It will be easier for you to think of things to do and actions to take. But most people, who struggle with apathy, have lost touch with what even interests them and with what causes them to feel good. And if you’re this kind of person you have to just try all kinds of new things. You have to prove to yourself that action changes the way you feel and is capable of bringing about improvement. You aren’t lazy, bored, unmotivated or even apathetic. These are just symptoms that do not define you as a person any more than a headache is who you are. It’s just how you feel right now as a result of what you have experienced in your life. When you are feeling apathetic, movement is what the doctor ordered. Don’t worry about making the right or wrong choice. Any change you make or action you take is better than staying stagnant where you are
Also, every time you take action to change some aspect of your life that gives you more information about what feels good and what feels bad, what you want and what you don’t want. The ship may sway back and forth until it find’s its proper course. Some ideas about actions you could take are making yourself go to the gym, getting a job, volunteering for something, signing up for a class, move to a different city, take a shamanic journey, go to a retreat, let a friend take you along for a vacation, go to therapy etc. Most importantly, SHAKE YOUR LIFE UP. Make little shifts and big shifts. Routine and monotony are your enemies at this point. Put yourself in situations that don’t feed your apathy. Once you get more clear about what you actually do like, it will be easier to pick something and really focus on that. 7. Notice positivity every day. You have lost your joy. You have lost your belief that life is worth living. Pick a time of day (before you go to bed or when you wake up is best) to write down the things you like about life. The positive things in the past, present and future. List good memories, especially the ones that made you feel excitement and enthusiasm and next to those, write the elements of those experiences that made you feel that way. For example, if I loved galloping a horse across a field when I was seven, I may have loved the fact that it made me feel untouchable and free and powerful and like I had companionship. List things about right now that you love, maybe you love the warm feeling of your bed covers, maybe you love the flowers you drive by on the way to work, maybe you love something that happened today. List things you look forward to, even if it is only a few minutes from now or later that day or tomorrow. Anything that causes you to feel positive emotion should go on this list. When you feel particularly stuck, go back to these lists and read them. It will re-inspire your commitment to life.
8. Look back over your positive list and especially at the elements you liked about those positive things and see if you can find some things you could do that would foster those elements. For example, if I liked the feeling of camaraderie I felt by riding a horse, I could either go ride a horse again, or I could attend a local seminar where I think likeminded people might congregate and I can talk to people there and form connections with them. It must be said that a good amount of your life purpose is revealed in the things you loved to do when you were very young and the elements of things you love doing. 9. Approach the world with a beginners mind. Pretend you know nothing about this life. As if you are starting all over again. You may have done something a million times, pretend you have not. Practice trying to see things with brand new eyes. I have people pretend that they are an alien, coming to earth for the very first time. You may have eaten an apple a hundred times, but what is the experience of eating an apple like, for an alien if an alien has never done it before? What things would you want to try if you were an alien on vacation on this planet in your house or in your city or world? Try those things. You may have been married to someone for five years, but what is the experience of being around this person like if you had never met them before? If we feel despair, it is a good idea to wipe the slate clean. Start from scratch and we can do this by adopting the perspective that we are starting from square one all over again and getting to know this world for the very first time. 10. Don’t expect yourself to know or believe that everything is going to work out. If you feel despair, don’t try to make yourself feel hope. Instead, decide you are so sick of being where you are, that it doesn’t matter if it is hopeless. It doesn’t matter if it will or wont work out, anything is better than this living death. And be patient with yourself. It took years for people in your life to run you this far off course; you’re not going to get back on course in one day. But each course correction you make gets you that much closer and that much closer, don’t quit just because you look up and notice you aren’t there yet.
It is safe to want. If you struggle with apathy, you have learned that it isn’t. But remember that children who are raised in bigoted households believed it wasn’t safe to interact with black people. So just because you have grown up believing something, does not mean that it is true. You came to this life to want and to follow your wanting into your expansion. You came to this life to feel; otherwise you could not know what you wanted. And your feelings are right. It is not your fault that people in your past invalidated your positive and negative feelings. It is not your fault that self-centered people in your past discouraged you and rejected who you were. You abandoned yourself to placate them. It was a genius strategy that saved you then and is killing you now. You have every right to feel hurt and anyone in your situation would feel complete despair. And now it is your choice, to prove them right by succumbing to that despair or to prove them wrong by taking back the wheel of your ship and following your own north star.