When are we teachable?

When are we teachable?  When are we in a place to absorb a life lesson or take a suggestion and use it to our advantage or for our growth?

Given that change is rare and likely the hardest work a person can do, the window of teachability in our lives is likely to be narrow.

In my experience, it appears to exist somewhere between the two extremes of Self Loathing and Blame.  This came up in conversation recently with someone who was needing and actually asking for help.  Yet they seemed to remain stuck in an unhealthy place and resisted help by one extreme or another.  A mental image began to form … that a teachable zone might be illustrated as….

Self-Loathing: When a suggestion was offered, they would look at the problem in their life that the suggestion was addressing and pour such regret and hatred on themselves, that they gave up and felt they were hopeless.  They wouldn’t even try.

Blame: Other times, suggestions were deflected by them finding some reason that they couldn’t change because of constraints caused by others.  Or excuses for why others could change because they had something that the individual felt they didn’t and therefore change was impossible or suggestion wasn’t relevant, so again, they wouldn’t even try.

Teachable Zone: Somewhere between these two extremes is a teachable zone.  We are in this zone when our mindset is in a place of mature acceptance.  We can receive and absorb teaching or suggestions because we are not deflecting them with either self-loathing or blame.

The hazy yellow image representing our teachable zone is hazy for a reason.  We really don’t quite know where or how broad it is.  All we feel sure of is that it is somewhere between self-loathing and blame. 

It occurred to those of us offering to help, that the force that drove the person to self-loathing or blame, was self-pity.  Ooooh, tough pill to swallow.  But we realized the same rules apply to all of us and we had been there and still have measures of self-pity that inhibit us from being teachable.  We too had resisted learning and help in these same ways.

While we are feeling sorry for ourselves, whether consciously or unconsciously, our knee-jerk reaction to most input to bring about change is resistance.  However, as I see it, if we can attack the root of self-pity, or whatever lies deeper than it, we stand a far better chance of being able to absorb, learn, and grow. 




About Chaz

Husband, father, brother, son, friend. Sober member of AA. Grateful for the life God gave me and for the happy struggle of recovery.
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10 Responses to When are we teachable?

  1. Punch says:

    I found this post very prescient. I had never considered it in this context. I hadn’t considered that while I know, with little doubt, that a warped and skewed vision of my self-esteem (i.e. a very negative one) is at the root of my challenges. But what I hadn’t completely considered was that self-pity is very much at the root of that challenge. I hear that voice, my inner monologue that really does scream “woe is me! woe is me!!!” Being aware, and accepting, of something, something that you’ve been blind to in the throes of agony, really is the first step forward.

    You ‘da man Chaz.

    • Chaz says:

      Hey Punch…. this is just an observation from the trenches.

      In the midst of working through this issue, the individual bounced back and forth between extremities of expressing they were such crap and not worthy of anything better, to none of it is their fault and the only way they could change is if they had what others had and/or if others would stop behaving the way they were.

      The notion of our little sketch became clear as day to those of us working with the individual. Not to say it was universally correct or descriptive, but that it certainly seemed to represent what was going on in this situation and in our own situations in times prior.

      I personally believe and have experienced that self-pity thought process has a very strong self-preserving sub-process. I mean that self-pity seems to have its own built in agenda to preserve itself and not the individual who is self-pitying. Like a parasite really.

      And it embeds itself into our lives in ways that we may not be aware of for a long time. I know I am still finding new expressions of self-pity in my own behaviours after years of recovery. Glad to say less and less as time goes by and work is done, but it is programmed deep.

      The sooner we peel away layers of the onion, the sooner we get to the deeper cores of our poblems and sooner we feel better and better. Even if our depression, addiction, or what have you has multiple underlying causes, self-pity is virtually always one of the ingredients in our makeup and the sooner we recognize it and start to weed it out, the sooner we can be freed from its grip and how it directs traffic in our lives.

      Such as directing us to either end of the Self-Loathing — Blame line and away from the mature acceptance zone.



  2. Tom Raines says:

    Thanks Chaz, very true. We must get beyond the “but”. When people gave us suggestions and we followed with…yes, but…that won’t work for me because… I think there is an additional perspective to your teachable moments perineum. Continuing to the right when we get past “me” somewhere along the journey knowing we are powerless and spiritually bankrupt we become teachable through the Spririt.. I know that now that I seek the King of kings He teaches me daily! Great stuff, thanks!

    • Chaz says:

      No problem Tom.

      Many of us have exhausted ourselves at either end of the spectrum and we only seem to arrive at teachability when we finally prove to ourselves that self-loathing and blame don’t work.

      But try to tell someone that? Seldom do they understand. Seems to be something we need to experience. I did anyway.



  3. kweenmama says:

    I think this would work great with teenagers!

  4. Chaz says:

    KweenMama…. ah yes, teenagers.

    I am trying to remember if I was as stubborn and selfish when I was a teen as the teens I experience today. Probably.

    And all the 40-somethings at the time wondered, “Where is this generation going”. Well fast-forward 20 – 30 years and here we are!…. the 40-somethings challenged by behaviour and attitude of teens.

    As a teen, I could have benefited from a better understanding of where I let my thinking go. I had no idea I started engaging self-pity during those years and then practiced it to perfection by the time I was well into adulthood.

    I am sure I am not alone. The chance to unlearn self-pity is an amazing blessing. Many never wake up and see it. They continue to live in it and get more and more stuck and less and less teachable.

    I do my best to help my teen kids and stepkids to recognize this kind of thinking. I can’t save them from it, but I can put a few signposts along the road that hopefully will guide them better.



  5. So-and-so says:

    Good one – now if you can just figure out how to catch the person during the 5-second window passing through ‘teachable’ before bouncing back to self-loathing or everyone-else’s-fault!

    • Chaz says:

      So/So…… Ah yes, that is the question now isn’t it?

      If it were known how to capture that window, much of what ails us would be far more readily treatable… emotionally and socially that is of course.

      Yet it remains a moving target. Our task individually would be to do our best to put ourselves in the zone as consistently as possible. Also to be realistic about getting through to a person who isn’t there.

      A wise person once referred to, “being beaten into a sense of reasonableness”. To me this means having exhausted all options at either end of the scale such that we were finally willing to spend some time in the teachable zone.

      I am sure we would all wish that we came to our senses more readily, however it appears to be the pattern of mankind to, through pain and failure, trial and error, exhaust the futile options first.

      Armed with that knowledge, we ourselves can endeavor to improve our teachability.



  6. Piper Bayard says:

    Hi Chaz. Love your new blog. Also love your idea of a teachable zone. I think you’re spot on.

    To me, self-loathing is a form of arrogance. My children try that crap, and I tell them, “God created you. It’s pure arrogance to presume to hate God’s creation.” Like blame, it is another form of willful victimhood, looking for excuses to fail rather than taking responsibility for one’s life. Thanks so much for you post. All the best.

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Piper… Thanks for popping by!

      I few curiosities of mine on your reply…

      so I understand…. does arrogance in the context above refer to the notion of knowing better than God? And by self-loathing, we are effectively trying to trump the value God puts on us which is why He created us in the first place?

      I agree that both self-loathing and blame are forms of victimhood. More specifically, they become places of PERPETUAL victimhood as we often rehearse them into habits and defaults.

      Willful? Do you feel we choose consciously to be this way? Or is it a less than fully conscious choice? Surely we have at the very least failed to prevent ourselves from going down the road of victimhood. Curious if you see it as us conciously choosing these paths?

      Thanks for your reflections….


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