We probably all know somebody who seems to give up at the first sign of resistance. Sometimes this is a lifelong response to adversity; for others, it is only occasional. Reasons for defeatism are as varied as individual personality types and the diversity of situations. It would be impossible to interpret them all. Too many factors or combinations of factors come into play within the complexity that is the human psyche. However, here is a list of observations on defeatism and possible reasons for it.
For some people, life has been one rejection or obstacle after another. Lessons are learned over time that effort is met with negativity and rejection. Unknown to the person involved, just a little more perseverance might result in a positive outcome. However, the automatic response takes over and the person gives up. This could be due to a history of bad experiences or a complacent nature. However, for some people, it reaches a point where the idea of trying harder is no longer considered an option. The habitual defeatist just automatically takes his blows.
Life is hard. We can look around and see people who seem to sail through without consequence or serious impediment. But for others, it is a continual struggle, a struggle in which nothing ever comes easily and where oftentimes great effort still results in minimal gain. People grow tired of the fight and resign themselves to a life of less. Exhaustion can come in a physical form, too. Some lives are so packed full of commitments and responsibilities, there is little time for sleep or leisure. There is simply no energy left over for any endeavor that requires more than a modicum of effort or entails repeated attempts.
Low self esteem/lack of confidence
Some people have a very low opinion of themselves. Frequently, they are unaware of this on a conscious level, yet it influences every decision they make. When met with resistance, they will accept rejection because at their core they are convinced they do not merit success or fulfillment in life. Disappointment is their due because they are less valuable than another person.
Sometimes an individual has valid ideas and attainable goals, but lacks the confidence to pursue them. The persistent self-doubt is too potent to overcome.
High self esteem is generally considered a positive attribute. But it can swing too far the other way. You have probably encountered a person or persons hampered by this phenomenon. This person feels he is so important that he has been personally targeted for failure by the powers that be. He does not try very hard because he is convinced he doesn’t stand a chance. “This always happens to me” is his mentality. He does not feel he should have to try very hard. Success should come easily and fall into his lap as it appears to for others. He rarely recognizes the role of work or persistence in the successes of others. To him, it is luck, pure and simple. Some people are destined to succeed while others, like him, are relegated to failure by spiteful providence. In his mind, he can do nothing to alter this predestined course, so therefore, he does not try. What’s the use?
Unfortunately, some defeatism is due to a reluctance to take part in one’s own destiny. It’s simply easier to allow fate to roll along as it will without any attempt to influence its direction. Some people prefer to complain about circumstances rather than take an active determinative role which would require real effort and planning.
Fear of rejection
A lot of people were not fortunate enough to be raised by healthy-minded parents or educated by caring teachers. Their lives were defined by rejection from infancy through adulthood. Nothing they did was ever good enough and their efforts resulted too frequently in failure. Rejection hurts and it can set a pattern for lifelong avoidance of this particular brand of pain. Sometimes people give up because they simply cannot absorb another hurtful rejection. It’s safer to maintain the status quo.
Helplessness and inescapable despair
It is my theory that humans are endowed with a finite amount of resiliency. Much like a bank account, this resource can be drained. Once it is gone, it is gone. When this account is depleted, the organism dies.
Deposits can be made in the form of value-affirming gestures like love and concern, a stable home life and nurturing environment, and personal successes along the way, but they will never equal the withdrawals life demands. Life’s circumstances start drawing on this account from birth.
For some, those born with medical problems or into an abusive situation for example, the early withdrawals are heavy and the deposits few. The individual, as a child, is trapped in a nightmare of continuous pain combined with the inability to control his circumstances. He learns helplessness and powerlessness. As adults, these individuals may not recognize they are no longer powerless. Helplessness is hardwired into the psyche and these unfortunate people move from one distressing situation to another, completely unaware of any capacity they might have to alter the course of present or future events. This self-perpetuating cycle of misery operates silently in the background, wreaking havoc at every turn, sabotaging each chance for happiness or fulfillment.
Other situations can instill this helplessness in a milder form, such as negative school experiences, bullying, or an inability to compete socially. Once it sets in and takes hold, learned helplessness is tenacious and resistant to correction.
As adults, we encounter situations over which we have no control. If we examine those, we can have a better understanding of what it means to feel powerless. A good example is the loss of a loved one. Grief is a helpless experience, as nothing will reverse death and the sorrow of loss is inescapable. The only choice anyone has when dealing with grief is how he will handle it. We cannot make it go away or remove ourselves from it. Imagine suffering under dissimilar but equally crippling helplessness from birth on. Might you give up?
For some people, their entire lives have been exercises in futility because they have been trapped in unavoidable and inescapable pain of one kind or another. Unlearning helplessness can be a daunting task because it requires a person to override years of conditioning to the contrary.
Failure can be a strong factor in the mechanism of defeat. Continuous unrelenting failure can eventually teach a person that nothing can be gained from further effort. This person might see his dilemma as a choice: Either cut your losses and walk away, or resign yourself to a life of fruitless struggle and permanent disappointment. For example, when one party in a relationship wants to try and the other does not. The person who is willing to put forth Herculean effort to improve the relationship but gets no cooperation from the other will eventually either give up and walk away, or learn to accept the unacceptable. Repeated failure in any endeavor can understandably result in an ultimate decision to give up. And failure seems, unfortunately, to breed more failure. It takes strong will to stop this vicious cycle once it is set in motion. For someone accustomed to failure but sincerely wishing to break free of its grasp, it is wise to begin a new history by choosing easily attainable goals at first, thereby establishing a record of success upon which to build.
Shift in priorities
Sometimes unrewarded effort prompts a reconsideration of the prize. It ceases to be imperative if it appears to be unattainable. Repetitive failed attempts to secure a goal or aspiration can increase determination in some people. But for others, these unsuccessful attempts motivate them instead to question the desirability of the object, scrutiny that ultimately ends in a rejection of the pursuit. These are the people who give up because they no longer want what they were seeking or have convinced themselves they no longer want it. They have lost interest.
Giving up gets a bad rap, sometimes undeservedly so. While giving up may generally seem like a negative thing to do, it is not always the case. Some pursuits are an actual waste of time and resources because they never will produce the desired result, regardless of effort. Recognizing this fact before investing deeper in a losing proposition can be a boon. As Kenny Rogers’s The Gambler said, “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.”
Of course, it goes without saying that giving up on bad pursuits or unhealthy habits is a positive move. But giving up too easily on worthwhile endeavors is an unnecessary shame.
Attitude is a powerful tool and each of us has access to this marvelous mechanism for change. Fortunately, it is one thing largely under our control once we have reached adulthood. Unfortunately, it can be resistant to our efforts or even ride along invisibly, its true influence unnoticed by us. Attitude has the potential to be our best friend or our worst enemy. If you can harness the constructive force of attitude, you can use it as an aid to success. The reverse, however, is also true. A bad attitude can dog your steps like an unwelcome companion who secretly undermines you at every turn.
This is my analysis of the dynamic of defeatism, or giving up. These are my thoughts on the subject, and I welcome yours. Do you have other theories or beliefs about why people give up? What are they?