Everyone feels broken sometimes and here is why it’s normal— the psychology of “brokenness”
Understanding the psychology behind the “I am broken” pattern and using these 7 strategies will help you break and release any brokenness and apathy so you can do better decisions every day.
“No matter how much I try, there always seems to be a catch.
I must be broken.
I guess it’s because of my childhood.
My parents’ screwed up lives perfectly reflected in my upbringing.
Now, as a result, I have to go through all this shit.
Where would I be if it were not that [person/event]?!
How can I fix myself so I can function like normal people again?”
Feeling broken is one of the worst states to be in.
Nothing goes right, nothing makes sense anymore and there is zero hope as the diagnosis feels terminal: “I am broken.”
Being broken feels like apathy, resignation, giving up and tearless sadness.
The separation from those who are “okay” is massive and overwhelming. They seem to never fully understand the intensity of the feeling we go through.
Being broken means having a fundamental and incurable flaw that prevents us from being the way we want to be — or at least being “normal”.
It is an incredibly energy-draining state because if we know there is zero hope, why even try?
The Illusion Of Being Broken
The reason why the idea of being broken sticks around is a combination of a belief reinforced through confirmation bias, fueled by emotion.
When you see the whole mechanism at work, you will understand that it’s an illusion that can be healed and released.
Let’s break it down one-by-one.
Beliefs determine how we see the world
Two women turn 70 years old and their lives unfold in two very different ways. One believes, that after 7 decades, her body must be deteriorating and she now needs to prepare for leaving life. The other one believes that the best is yet to come and starts running and mountain-climbing. As a result, Hulda Crooks is the oldest woman that has ever hiked mount Fuji in Japan at the age of 91.
Their beliefs about themselves created two very different meanings, feelings about themselves and consequently — results.
In psychology, beliefs are the ideas, that you hold to be true and feel certain about. They are a brain’s way of making sense of our reality and navigating our complex world.
Beliefs are linked to our expectations of pain or pleasure. They serve as guiding principles for our brains to seek pleasure and avoid pain in life.
Our beliefs about eating icecream determine our decisions about eating it.
Our beliefs about physical movement determine how much we work out.
And our beliefs about ourselves determine how we interpret and feel about the events of everyday life and — as a result — what life decisions we do.
Believing I am good at public speaking will make me seek and enjoy speaking engagements. Believing I suck at it will make me fear of the audience and avoid the stage as much as possible.
In childhood, beliefs about ourselves are formed in 2 ways:
1. They are blindly accepted from the parents and the environment — “I am talented because my mom always says so.”
2. They are concluded in our head as a result of our experiences — “I dance well. They say that those who dance well are talented. I must be talented.”
The “I am broken.” statement is an expression of a belief about ourselves — about how we are.
Once we form a belief, our mind has a natural tendency to seek its evidence in the external world. This tendency is called confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias makes our beliefs bulletproof
Let’s say I set myself a task.
I don’t finish it because I feel broken inside and don’t have enough energy. My mind will mark not finishing the task as the evidence for my brokenness — despite originally the cause for not finishing it.
My mind says — “See? I told you.”
My belief about my brokenness is confirmed.
For comparison, let’s say I’ll take a Stoic perspective — a belief, that every obstacle is a raw material of the result and the amount of pain equals the amount of growth.
I set myself a task and I finish it despite setbacks and exhaustion. I now also have evidence for my belief. I finished the task and feel proud.
My mind says — “See? I told you.”
My belief about my growth is verified.
Different beliefs in the same situation created different emotions and consequently — different results.
In both cases, I confirmed my already existing belief.
Once we form our beliefs, our mind has a natural tendency to search for evidence to prove them right.
It’s not the events in our lives that create our experience, but our beliefs about those events.
The “I am broken” statement is a belief.
It appears real because apathy that accompanies it feels intense.
But it’s not.
The advice to change your belief seems obvious.
If you want to change it successfully, you first need to tackle the emotion that keeps the “I am broken” belief in place: apathy.
Apathy: A Glue That Holds Your Brokenness Together
Certain phrases are heavily associated with certain feelings.
For instance, think about the last time you said: “Wow, that’s unbelievable!” Very likely you felt excitement. If you heard it someone saying in the street, it would spark curiosity in you without you having to think about it.
A simple “You can do this.” said at the right time can bring up courage immediately and change the overall result dramatically.
A verbal statement can change your emotional state and create a hormonal reaction in the body extremely quickly.
Excitement, curiosity, and courage are all emotions.
However, this emotional and physical change emerges not only from the big and loud statements — like the ones above — but also from the subtle ones, said internally to ourselves over and over again.
The statement “I am broken.” is one of those subtle ones and calls for the emotion of apathy.
How apathy works
Apathy is a sense of heaviness, reflected in all these statements:
- Nothing makes any sense.
- What’s the point?
- Who cares?
- Why bother?
- It won’t work anyway.
When we feel apathy, our bodies shut down. We do not have the energy to do anything at all. We’re discouraged from trying, we secretly want someone to help us but deep down we doubt it’s possible. Apathy is the feeling of giving up, defeat and hopelessness.
We have neither the power nor the responsibility to do anything about our current state. Any effort of changing the current situation feels like a waste of energy. Apathy is the entry gate to depression.
The good thing about apathy
According to a law of polarity, every coin has two sides. It’s clear why apathy sucks. So what’s on the other side of this coin?
Even though it seems like apathy is good for nothing, it has its benefits.
If we feel a lot of sadness from our failure, frustration from believing we did our best, fear from speaking up our truth and desire that the reality is different but feeling hopeless — we feel a mix of all that at the same time is an extreme emotional tension on the body.
Apathy is the body’s natural defense mechanism that prevents it from emotional overheating.
When we feel like life is just too much, it becomes hopeless our body puts us in apathy temporarily so we grow and learn to better deal with the situation. In its extreme — it’s thanks to the apathy that we did not commit suicide a long time ago.
The dark side of apathy
The reason for addiction to apathy is its hidden benefit: a feeling of comfort and certainty.
Failing and not even knowing why life is difficult is much worse to process than failing and knowing exactly why — “That’s because I am broken.”
That’s why we say all those phrases:
“I’m broken. What’s the point? Everything is fucked.”
Can you feel that sense of certainty and control over the situation?
It’s very subtle but it’s there.
And it’s enough to keep us hooked.
Enough repetitions of “I’m broken” with the full emotional intensity of apathy creates a conditioned response in our bodies and makes it appear so real, that it becomes part of our identity — a part of who we think we are.
That’s why it might feel hard to change it.
However, the good news is that it can be changed.
7 strategies to get out of apathy and change the “I am broken” pattern
1. Get into a feeling of gratitude FOR the apathy
Carl Gustav Jung said:
“What we resist, persists.”
Being averse to apathy and trying to solve it makes your mind focused on it constantly and that, paradoxically, keeps it locked in place because your mind “just can’t get its eyes off it” and release it.
This might feel contradictory — but being grateful for the apathy and the “brokenness” is the fastest way out of the state. With practice, you are slowly transmuting the apathy into gratitude.
Jung’s colleague from the field of psychiatry, Viktor Frankl, introduced the same thing in logotherapy, he just called it differently — Paradoxical Intention — creating an intent for the very thing you are averse towards will ease the subconscious attachment and the emotional pain that comes with it.
2. Stop saying phrases that trigger apathy and keep you apathetic
Changing the way we use language radically shifts the way our psyche and bodies respond.
The best way to change a belief is to stop using the phrase that triggers it and to start using another one instead.
These are my suggestions, you can come up with your own apathy-triggering list and change it:
“I am broken.” — this is a big one. This statement feels true ONLY because you have repeatedly told it to yourself to the point that you believed it and it became a conditioned response. To reverse it, start telling yourself an empowering alternative — “I am not where I want to be yet.” or “I grew today.” or even “Am I broken or just self-pitying myself?”
“I can’t.” — this one feels very natural. If we look at our situation, is it that we can’t do X or just don’t want to do X? Why do we not want to? Out of fear? Good. That’s better than hopelessness. Change “I can’t.” to “I don’t want to.” Maybe you will feel frustration or anger. But, that’s better than apathy! Take the new emotions and use them to fuel whatever it is you want to accomplish.
“I will try.” — this one is a trap. Lester Levenson said “Trying is wanting validation for something you have no intention doing.” Look at your phone and try to take it into your hand. You either take it or you don’t. There is no trying. Saying you will “try” presupposes that there is a space for failure, it’s acceptable and your subconscious will avoid finishing it at the first opportunity. By saying “I will do.” instead you are empowering yourself. You are also giving your word which increases your commitment to execute.
The resistance that might come up (even while reading) is natural because you are losing the comfort of apathy and your ego fights back. If you stay consistent, emotions numbed out by apathy come back to the surface and you can now deal with them.
3. Get a gains/gratitude journal
The feeling of apathy creates a perception that no progress is made, nothing is worthy of gratitude and everything is hopeless.
Your “autopilot” got so used to the misery that any short-term effort to fight it seems like a waste of energy.
What can be done, though, is a series of micro-steps that will change the subconscious mind little-by-little. 1% growth a day, nothing more.
1% daily gains compounded over 1 year create growth of almost 3.700%!
Get a journal and write what went well and what you learned every day before going to sleep and then review it as the first thing after you wake up.
Don’t kill it with too much writing. Few lines every day is enough.
This way, you can create a lasting change on your psyche in a matter of weeks.
The philosophy of Stoicism had journalling as one of their principles and I don’t know any successful person, who wouldn’t journal regularly.
Remember, though, consistency is the key here.
Allow journalling to become apart of who you are!
4. Be aware of apathy when it appears
Apathy is difficult to spot for several reasons:
1. When you feel drained, identifying what you feel is the last thing that comes to mind.
2. Apathy can come in very subtle ways — feeling tired, needing a nap, feeling “nothing”, tuning out of the conversations, beating yourself up.
3. Apathy is often linked to other emotions — shame, guilt, anger, desire and others. When you finally snap out of apathy, the above-mentioned emotions can come up and because they are uncomfortable to face, you will shut down back to apathy again — and come back to feeling broken.
Awareness is the first prerequisite to healing.
It is very difficult to deal with other emotions without having a clear goal, you strive towards. Following up on your goal will allow you to break through all the other emotions that apathy was covering up.
There is a very helpful practice for allowing and welcoming emotions to overcome even the greatest of emotional setbacks.
And remember, consistency is the key here!
5. Embrace responsibility and discipline as your new virtues
To fuel the apathy and belief “I am broken”, you need to be consistent in breaking your commitment to prove to yourself again and again that your word does not have any weight and you truly are broken.
The best antidotes against that are responsibility and discipline.
People are avoiding discipline and responsibility because they believe, it will take their freedom away.
Fortunately, the opposite is true.
Believing you’re broken is avoiding responsibility as there must be someone other than you responsible for that (You wouldn’t break yourself, would you?).
Anytime you believe you’re suffering as an effect of someone else’s action, you enter a victim mode. Even though it is energetically and emotionally draining, it’s still comfortable in its twisted way: you’re morally right, neither responsible nor accountable and forever entitled to sympathy.
By completely embracing responsibility for everything happening in your reality, you are taking back your power to change and influence things in your reality.
Responsibility is directly linked to the discipline.
Most people confuse discipline with obeying — the opposite of freedom. They are struggling with accepting the notion, that Discipline = Freedom.
However, this only applies if you consistently do something you did not decide to do. That’s slavery.
The true freedom of discipline lies in the fact that you have a certainty that when you decide to do something — you know you will do that.
Your commitment would be impossible to break because that is who you are.
When you mix discipline and responsibility, you get a recipe for personal freedom:
The true freedom comes from disciplined pursuit of your heart’s desire.
Taking responsibility for the creation of your reality, committing yourself to what your heart craves for and staying consistent — that’s what your self-esteem is hungry for.
6. Stop trying to fix yourself! Create a compelling future through setting your own goals and stay disciplined
Apathetic thinker thinks about how they could fix themselves. This presupposes that they are broken. The truth is, they’re not broken, they’re just feeling apathy.
You can’t fix yourself, if you’re not broken.
Trying solve a problem that does not exist is a trap.
When it comes to goal setting, in apathetic thinking, the first thing that comes to mind is “I don’t know what I want” or “Nothing ever works for me.”
Break through that by starting small.
Set any goal for the beginning.
Do your bed every morning without exception for 7 days.
Then go on for 30 days.
Then set another one.
Do 10 pushups every morning without exception for 7 days. 30 days.
Cold showers. Meditation. Journalling. Reading. Workout. Work goals. Relationship goals. The options are endless.
Start small, build up and never stop.
Keep setting new goals, stay consistent, keep changing and when you look back in 1 year, it will knock your socks off.
7. Watch out for taking pride in your victimhood
I once saw two girls having a coffee together, arguing about which one has more fucked up family background:
“My mom does this..”
“That’s nothing, my mom does this..”
“Yeah, that’s really bad, but wait until I tell you what my father does!”
This is a perfect example of taking pride in suffering and victimhood. Result? Addiction to problems. If you took their problems away, you are taking the source of their pride and they wouldn’t allow you to do that.
That’s also a reason why victims get angry when they receive assertive and constructive feedback.
Are you taking pride in how much pain you went through?
Are you telling your personal Hero’s Journey as a dramatized action story that you identified with rather than saying it matter-of-factly?
Do you think, your problems make you special or better than others?
If the answer to any of the questions is yes, you are taking pride in your pain and that makes it impossible to change.
If you truly want to outgrow your broken syndrome, take responsibility for your future, set yourself a goal and follow it with discipline.
“I am broken” is a belief that was accepted as true.
The fact is, that it’s not true.
It feels true thanks to the intensity of the underlying apathy and the mind trying to find evidence for it in the external world — a confirmation bias.
Apathy is a defense mechanism of the body that prevents it from an emotional overwhelm. When we feel too much desire to change things, fear of failure, sadness from the past rejection, anger of injustice, etc. all at the same time — our bodies temporarily shut down by entering into apathy.
It’s thanks to apathy, that we did not kill ourselves a long time ago from all that overwhelm.
When we stay in apathy for too long or we are not aware of the emotion — we get used to it because of the comfort of certainty it provides to us.
No matter how hard it feels like, it is possible to get out of the ”I am broken” pattern and apathy:
1. Get into a feeling of gratitude for the apathy
2. Stop saying phrases that trigger apathy and keep you apathetic
3. Get a gains & gratitude journal
4. Be aware of apathy when it appears
5. Make responsibility and discipline your new virtues
6. Stop trying to fix yourself and create a compelling future by setting your own goals and stay disciplined
7. Watch out for taking pride in your victimhood
Getting out of apathy is like launching a space rocket into outer space.
A rocket burns almost 50% of the fuel at the start. Once it has momentum, it is easier to maintain its movement.
It’s the same with getting out of apathy and changing the “I am broken” pattern.
The most difficult part is to decide and to start.
Once you have momentum, it’s easier.
If you stay consistent, change is inevitable.
BONUS for hardcore people: There is a hardcore strategy for a radical state change. If you want it to work, you must:
1. fully internalize that “I’m broken” is a belief, not the truth;
2. take responsibility for your current reality; and
3. embrace discipline as the other side of freedom coin.
Then it works like this — anytime you feel broken — ask yourself this question: “Am I really broken or am I just lazy?”
It’s hardcore because anger might come up and you need to process that.
But if you can channel that anger into something constructive, it becomes courage. I had excellent results using this strategy.
Resources & additional reading
- Tony Robbins — Awaken The Giant Within
- David Hawkins — Letting Go
- Marcus Aurelius — Meditations
- A cognitive account of belief: a tentative road map
- The Impediment to Action Advances Action
- Do We Create Our Own Reality?
- What are Belief Systems?
- Psychology: How we form beliefs
- What Actually Is a Belief? And Why Is It So Hard to Change?
- Keep Your Focus on Good
- What is Positive Psychology & Why is It Important?
- If you want it, you might get it. The Reticular Activating System explained
- What Is Confirmation Bias?
- Carl Rogers
- Conditioned Response in Classical Conditioning
- The Art of Journaling: How To Start Journaling, Benefits of Journaling, and More
- Core Practice: Welcoming and Releasing Emotions
- How Does a Narcissist Think?
- Understanding the Victim Mentality
- Hormones and Chemicals Linked with our Emotion
- Biochemistry of Hormones that Influences Feelings
- The Law of Polarity Might Change Your Life
- Law of Polarity
- How To Develop Unshakeable Confidence And Live The Life Of Your Dreams (my blog)
- If You Don’t Believe in Setting Goals, It’s Because You Don’t Know How To Do It