What is learned helplessness?
Definition: a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed.
Uncontrollable adverse events that occur frequently or continuously in people or animals cause them to believe they are helpless to control essential important outcomes in their lives.
It causes them to lose the motivation to try to control or manage situations in their lives. Instead, they become conditioned to believe that a dangerous position is unchangeable or inescapable.
It’s not an innate trait. No one is born believing that they have no control over what happens to them. Ít is learned behaviour. Helplessness can lead to a state of depression.
What are the key symptoms of learned helplessness?
- Low motivation (low self-esteem, failure)
- Passivity (give up trying, no belief in self)
- Indecisiveness (struggle to make choices)
Examples of learned helplessness
1. A woman in an abusive relationship believes the beatings will never stop and gives up trying to ask for help or get out even when support is available. (See example below.)
2. A child who struggles to perform well in school gives up trying to improve.
3. An older person who loses independence or mobility gives up on the more minor things they could still do.
4. An overweight person gives up trying to lose weight after failed attempts to do so.
How victims of domestic violence develop learned helplessness:
What can you do to counter learned helplessness?
- Know that you learned to become helpless – therefore, you can unlearn it.
- Understand what caused you to become helpless- was it a traumatic event, frequent adverse events, toxic parents?
- Become aware of how you explain things that happen to you every day. Are your explanations optimistic or pessimistic?
- Discover your self-worth: treasure and embrace that.
- Write positive self-talk for yourself to read daily. [Write a Self-talk]
- Practice being independent – learn to deal with stuff on your own.
- Practice making choices. Start small, set S.M.A.R.T. goals (must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) Be consistent and stick to what you decided. [How to set SMART goals]
- Practice mindfulness – focus on living in the present.
- Celebrate your successes.
- The most common treatment is therapy, especially cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT helps people overcome these types of challenges by changing how they think and act. Albert Ellis developed the ABC method to help you change the way you think. [Change your thinking worksheet]
Learned Helplessness: Seligman’s Theory of Depression (+ Cure). https://positivepsychology.com/learned-helplessness-seligman-theory-depression-cure/