You must have heard others complaining about their life, blaming the power, their neighbors, colleagues, anyone but themselves for their problems. And many people would be very surprised to hear that we have inherited this parasitic psychological attitude from the Soviet time. The Day talked to psychologist, consultant, personality development coach, author of Li method¹ Ihor LYTVYNENKO about the psychological luggage a Ukrainian, i.e., the Ukrainian society, has been carrying from the past and ways to get rid of it.
What psychological problems does a Ukrainian face today? Are there formulae to overcome them?
“Today people are for most part focused on survival. It is perceived that a person who can afford ‘cool,’ ‘costly,’ ‘respectable’ things is socially fulfilled and, as society wrongly concludes, namely such people are happy. The opposite is followed by depression and panic. A person considers that s/he is unable and will never be able to buy something, do something, so, s/he is a good-for-nothing. In such a way s/he underrates his/her own self-esteem.
“For the most part, society consists of people who think they do not meet the standard, which makes them feel ‘small’ and helpless. There has always been a small share of people who understand that they are present in this life and although they remain within social framework, they don’t expect anything from society or the government, they don’t have a guideline that someone owes them something. Such people count on themselves, make their own decisions, and assume responsibility for their deeds. For, from the view of psychology, it is much simpler to blame others, moreover, expect something from other people. But if everyone starts solving their own problems and bringing their lives to a higher level, society on the whole will reach new life standards.”
There is such an expression: a Soviet person has “barriers in the head.” To which extent the psychological restrictions, which prevent us from progressing, have been provoked by Soviet heritage?
“The Soviet Union had mottos which were a kind of ‘protection.’ For example, ‘whole power to the Soviets,’ ‘the plans of the party are plans of the people,’ ‘Glory to KPSS.’ There was an unspoken belief that it is bad to be rich, and that all rich people are thieves, bandits, and liars. Somehow these stereotypes made one believe that the state is responsible for you, that you are only a small screw in this system, that little depends on you, that you are being governed. And these people raised their children with their stable beliefs, therefore many people still think this way. Like before, they are sure that others owe them. But today parents are paying less and less attention to their children. Since consumption is in the focus, parents are earning money, which is today considered the highest value. Children are left to themselves. And they start realizing themselves in a free flight. Currently the youth becomes more independent; it expects less from the others.”
Back in 1999 sociologist Yurii Saienko told The Day that there was a more precise formulation for “sovok” – a “Soviet slave.” How actual is this type?
“Everyone makes his own choice in life whether to be or not to be a slave. Whatever the social regime is, it is hard to make a slave of a free person. First and foremost, slavery emerges not in a social environment, but in the person’s mind. So, there are people who are inclined to slavery imposed by others, but few people come to psychologists with a complaint that they are forced and do not have a way out. When people appeal for help, they come with a ripen desire and readiness to improve their lives.
“People often start to ‘burn,’ because they do not what they want to do. Finding one’s calling, occupation of one’s life are important questions. And since they are often asked by young people, I make a conclusion: people are becoming freer.”
What are the most widely spread paradigms of the Soviet time?
“What will people think about me? How will neighbors and colleagues assess me? This is one of the barriers that prevent us from self-fulfillment. For when people care about the opinion of others, they start to pretend to be someone else instead of living their own lives. In fact, the opinion of other people is important for us, because we are social creatures. But it should not prevail.
“Another thing is waiting for someone to do something for you. When expectations are not fulfilled, disappointment and offence come instead. Waiting and doing are two different conditions.
“We can also mention responsibility. It is very much connected with waiting. When you expect something from someone, be it a president, a company director, or a public utility service, you transfer to them a certain deal of responsibility for your life, and you sit and wait till they do something for all of us. In this case a person is not responsible for things s/he does not know. Responsibility is typical of adults, whereas disappointment, resentment, and blaming are typical of children. This is taking place both in our politics, and in society. Everyone is blaming others. But if everyone assumes responsibility for their opinions, actions, and results, there simply will be no need to tell anyone he did something wrong.”
Sometimes I hear the expression “initiative is punished.” Is this a regularity or a wrong paradigm?
“This is a motto of those who failed to achieve something, those who tried to do something, but failed, and gave up. Any initiative is a movement, exceeding the frames. And movement is development. People without initiative are those standing on the same place and waiting that a decision will be made for them. Therefore initiative today is one of important factors that make people move and give them the energy to learn something new and achieve desired results.”
Since the Soviet Union we have been raised with a guideline “to be like everyone.” What is the threat of the “don’t stand out” stereotype?
“Being like others is lack of freedom; and it is lack of logic because if I want very much to be like someone else, all the more so like everyone, I won’t be able to do this. Therefore the motto of present-day person is to be one’s own self. A person should learn to hear himself, to observe himself.
“By and large, any state in all times pursues the task to make the population controllable. It is good when everything’s calm and all are the same. But when a river stops to flow, it turns into a bog. So, calmness is the state of stagnation. When we accept the stand of ‘being ourselves,’ when everyone can do various things, the society becomes democratic, it develops, it is versatile. We must become adults, because a society of grown-ups is a society of people who make their own decisions and accept responsibility for their actions.”
And what about the principle “I must have what my neighbor has”?
“Probably, someone needs this and buys the same his neighbor has, or probably it is simple and banal envy and desire to be up to someone, or rather to be no worse than someone. But in this psychological aspect we, too, may find root in the Soviet past, because when all are relatively equal, and among the gray mass there is, let’s say, a director, and he has, a Volga, not a Moskvich or a Zhiguli, like other people, the gray mass will treat him like a black sheep. This condition is partially the index of the country’s mentality on the whole, and at the same time it is typical of people of any time and any regime.
“There have always been and always be people who are sure that nothing depends on them. People who think so live like pawns. But today young people for the most part assert a different thing: it is interesting for me and I want to develop, they do not agree that they are nobody. These two stands have existed and will exist. A person must understand: everyone gets what he wants.”
What is the “medication” from wrong psychological guideposts?
“You should start with yourself. Stop blaming others for your failures. Become honest, first and foremost – before yourself. Hold responsibility for your actions and be aware of this. Stop being a child who is offended by everyone and waits till someone feeds them, changes their clothes, and gives them a toy. Take care of your vocabulary and get rid of such phrases as ‘I can’t,’ ‘I won’t be able to,’ ‘I don’t feel like it,’ ‘sometime,’ ‘tomorrow,’ ‘maybe,’ ‘what if.’ Say more often the opposite phrases: ‘yes, I will do this,’ ‘I will try,’ ‘I will analyze this and make a decision,’ ‘this is my choice,’ ‘I will learn how,’ ‘I will manage.’ I repeat: it is time to grow up. And it refers, in particular, to the country.”
¹ Method of transformation of consciousness which helps a person understand the possibility to manage his/her thinking, actions, and results, in order to fulfill his/her unique life to the fullest extent.