The Game is Rigged
you don't have to play it
Stuck in my head today: a youtube video by Amelia Nagoski, autistic co-author of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. It appears that she started a youtube channel to promote the book, and she makes videos explaining each chapter (brilliant).
This one is about learned helplessness, which describes a mental state that occurs when an animal learns that they are trapped and have no control over what happens to them.
Even when the cage door is left open, the animal stays inside, because their body has learned it can’t escape. The good thing is, you can teach an animal to walk through the open door again, by helping them do it, and showing their nervous system that it’s possible.
People can learn helplessness too, but experiments on humans are a bit different. Nagoski’s example is about a study where people were put in a room with a bunch of knobs and buttons, and were told it was a test to see how fast they could find a way to turn off an annoying sound.
The catch is that the knobs and buttons didn’t do anything, and the experiment was really about seeing how long it would take until they gave up.
At the end of the experiment, dejected and feeling like failures, the participants learned that actually, there was no way for them to figure it out — they hadn’t really failed, because the game had been rigged from the start. This knowledge freed them from self-loathing; they weren’t broken, the game was.
Nagoski says that she feels like this knowledge, that the game of society is rigged against her, has freed her from an endless cycle of trying to meet impossible expectations until she burns out:
“I feel like I’ve broken free from the cycle, because my fuck field is fallow. And my fuck field is fallow because I’ve taught my nervous system that the game is rigged, and not to bother playing.”
She is quick to point out that this isn’t self-help advice, though:
“Is it easy to remember not to give a fuck, and that the game is rigged? It’s gonna take help…the cure for burnout is not self-care, because it’s next to impossible to do this on your own. Surround yourself with people who will help remind you, that no, no, no, you don’t have to play the game. Their goals are not valid goals. They just made them up! And that you are worthy of love, and care, and wellness, just as you are. You don’t have to work to deserve it, you don’t have to conform to deserve it. You, just as you are, are worthy, and your role in the rigged game has nothing to do with your value.”