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Mental HealthSustainableFeeling powerless? Blame systemic infantilism

Sinister plot or a consequence of our ever-expanding desire for comfort and luxury?  Systematic infantilism refers to external agencies that systematically weaken individual self-reliability while providing all-encompassing services to make life easy and comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not someone’s sinister plot, it’s a by-product of advanced consumerism. As my mother used to say, “the best customer is a helpless customer, don’t be helpless!” From a young age I was taught about being prepared...
Parisa SoltaniFebruary 8, 20226 min
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balcony garden systemic infantilismContainer vegetables/Shutterstock

Sinister plot or a consequence of our ever-expanding desire for comfort and luxury? 

Systematic infantilism refers to external agencies that systematically weaken individual self-reliability while providing all-encompassing services to make life easy and comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not someone’s sinister plot, it’s a by-product of advanced consumerism. As my mother used to say, “the best customer is a helpless customer, don’t be helpless!” From a young age I was taught about being prepared for worst-case scenarios, not knowing until later this was one of the seeds planted for my desire to live sustainably. Not knowing that this attitude removed the possibility of developing a victim mentality. 

With my clients I have noticed this model of behavior time and again, witnessing how it keeps them on a perpetual wheel of being a victim to life and circumstances. As adults, they willingly surrender their ability to control their environment and life. Unbeknown to most of us, systematic infantilism is responsible. My clients repeatedly relay to me that they feel decisions in life are made for them, and that they have little to no choice. We live in a society that encourages this. In most scenarios, the more control over your environment, the higher your chances of happiness and survival. It is imperative to have a sense of autonomy and to know the basics of survival, but as a result of systematic infantilism, these are often downplayed. 

Goods, services and systems have indeed enabled an easier and more comfortable life for many of us. However, dependency on predetermined bodies can contribute to feeling disempowered, purposeless and stuck in meaningless roles. This leads to stress, anxiety and depression, which dramatically impacts physical wellbeing. Life becomes something that happens to you. The brain loves to problem-solve and the body benefits, but in the spirit of consumerism, all of our basic needs are taken care of. The human mind can be left idle to create problems or find distractions. This perpetuates systematic infantilism, a victim mentality that extends to all other aspects of life, including relationships. 

Taking control over your environment and relying on yourself for survival is not only beneficial to the planet, encouraging mindful consuming and recycling, but also has major psychological benefits.  More control affords more choices. Decisions are no longer from desperation or need. If we consumed less and knew how to generate some of our basic needs — such as food and water — maybe we would not be so desperate to keep the job we despise. If we knew that our happiness is in your hands, maybe we wouldn’t have chosen some of the relationships and roles we are still trying to squeeze into. 

A way to achieve significant individual progress that is often overlooked is through consciously choosing your immediate environment. From the people around you, to the social media consumed, to the place you live. When the environment is altered, the body will follow. Confidence and autonomy are instilled, and the practical applications are invaluable. 

As historian Timothy Ash put it in the wake of Hurricane Katrina: “Katrina’s big lesson is that the crust of civilization on which we tread is always wafer thin. One tremor, and you’ve fallen through, scratching and gouging for your life like a wild dog.”

Natural disasters aside, as I say to my clients, don’t fall victim to systematic infantilism in your everyday life. 

Parisa Soltani

Parisa has a neuroscience degree and is a counsellor of Integrated Psychotherapy, works in psychological and physical trauma rehabilitation with a speciality in acquired brain injuries and autism and is currently working on her PhD on the therapeutic implications of indoor skydiving on the brain, specifically cerebral palsy and ADHD.. She's also a personal trainer, yoga and barre instructor and lives on a boat in Abu Dhabi.

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