What is learned helplessness in psychology? Learned helplessness is a reaction of passivity and submission to generally unpleasant situations. Therefore, people who suffer from it do not try to eradicate unpleasant stimuli.
When faced with unpleasant situations, the most normal and healthy thing is to respond by allowing the circumstances to improve. However, some people remain passive and resigned because they think they have no control over the events of life. In such a case, we are talking about learned helplessness.
Learned helplessness is a reaction of passivity and submission to generally unpleasant situations. Therefore, people who suffer from it do not try to eradicate unpleasant stimuli.
Usually, the condition presents itself after a traumatic experience in which unsuccessful steps have been taken to avoid suffering. Thus, the person understands that there is nothing useful that he can do to end painful situations.
Learned helplessness, also known as learned helplessness, is what causes a person to behave passively simply because they have learned to act in that way. This person thinks that he can do nothing in the face of adverse situations when, in the majority of cases, he could find solutions.
This difficulty has been linked to depression and other disturbances of the mind which lead the patient to believe that there is no solution to his problems when there is not.
Learned Helplessness is a concept coined by psychologist Martin Seligman (the one who helped invent positive psychology). It is the loss of confidence in one’s ability to succeed by mobilizing one’s efforts following repeated failures or a lack of return on investment.
In a nutshell, if you tell someone they can’t, they’ll eventually believe it and give up before they even try. The individual becomes resigned and he endures the situation without wanting to change its course.
Canadian psychologist Marc Vachon believes that learned helplessness is based on three characteristics:
– the feeling that the situation is a permanent example: “I will never do it! ”
– the feeling of being a victim by saying “It’s not my fault! I can do nothing. ”
– the feeling of invasion
II – Manifestations of Learned Helplessness
Learned or acquired helplessness is the result of negative or aversive stimuli, usually uncontrollable, which leads to a lack of initiative on the part of the sufferer.
Therefore, it is not stress that causes impotence to develop: it is the inability to control the motor that creates this stress. This dynamic often arises in families with very authoritarian parents. Children come to terms with all kinds of situations (outside the home too) because they feel like trying to control them is pointless.
The inability to take initiative is very present, but we also find people who, very often, are not able to learn new behaviors. They, therefore, find themselves in a state of demotivation and relaxation while, on the mental level, they are not at all quiet.
III – The Causes of Learned Helplessness
All of the causes of learned helplessness are related to some mistake that leads people to believe that they have no control over the events in their lives. This contributes to a lack of analysis of the possible consequences of certain situations. They believe that their destiny is already defined and that there is nothing they can do to change it. So here are the most common causes of this condition.
1 – Traumatic Experiences in Childhood
One of the factors that determine the development of this psychological state is the experience of the first years of life. If the person has experienced traumatic situations as a child and has not received any kind of support or positive response, it is likely that in adulthood they will develop a submissive posture in the face of similar circumstances.
2 – Education
The education received during childhood is another determining factor in the development of learned helplessness. If the social roles of passivity and dependency are encouraged in certain situations, then vulnerability to future helplessness increases.
On the other hand, messages received during childhood play an important role in establishing inaction. For example, if a child is surrounded by people who keep telling them that they can’t or that they don’t know, it can have a huge impact on their adult life.
3 – An Excessively Controlled Household
There are overly controlled outbreaks. Children who live in an environment where everything is in control, where they are denied the opportunity to experience and learn from the consequences of their actions, are more vulnerable.
4 – Feelings of Guilt
On the other hand, there are internal factors, such as responsibility or guilt, that influence the development of learned helplessness. In other words, the person feels guilty about the unpleasant event and begins to believe that they are unable to change or stop any situation that may arise in the future.
We thus fall into resignation and justification for attitudes that have negative effects on self-esteem and dignity. It may be related to the type of upbringing that heightened the feeling of guilt.
IV – Consequences of Learned Helplessness
Learned helplessness has a negative effect on the following dimensions:
– Motivation: the belief of a lack of control generates a decrease in motivation. Thus, attempts to respond to new situations are becoming rarer.
– Cognition: It is difficult to learn new patterns of responses that lead to positive results. In addition, any problem can be seen as normal.
– Emotional: It is common for negative emotional states to occur, such as depression, anxiety, and frustration. There is also a marked lack of self-esteem. This state lasts until the person is able to control the circumstances.
– Physical: bodily ailments include eating disorders as well as alterations in the immune system.
V – Tips for Overcoming Learned Helplessness
– Involve your loved ones: if you think that you or someone you love is suffering from learned helplessness, don’t hide it. They may be the cause of your problem and you may need joint therapy; if they are not responsible for your disorder, they will support you on the road to recovery.
– Put your emotions on a piece of paper: you can write a journal or simply note in your phone what you feel in certain concrete situations. Rereading these few lines can help you tell the difference between a reasonable cause and an unreasonable cause of stress.
– Face challenges that have solutions: when faced with the uncertainty you may suffer from due to the uncontrollable consequences of certain actions, consider challenges with possible resolutions. It might sound silly, but your self-esteem and initiative will improve.
– Always ask yourself three things when faced with a problem: How can I avoid it? What did I learn from this situation? Are there other solutions that I wouldn’t have considered? When faced with a problem that has already ended, it helps to imagine a scenario in which it has not been solved, to think quietly about the solutions that we would bring to it.
– Think of yourself: Very often people with learned helplessness have disconnected from themselves and neglected themselves. They think more about the consequences of their actions and how they can please others. It is important to reflect, to think of ourselves, and to take a moment, every day, to be a little alone.
VI – Treatments for Learned Impotence
The best way to treat this phenomenon is through therapeutic intervention. This approach aims to teach the person how to react to a specific situation. According to Vazquez Valverde and Polaino Lorente, the therapeutic approach consists of the following:
– Change the negative attributes that the subject makes of situations: through the performance of simple tasks that offer positive results once the person has performed such and such an action. It is also possible to teach her that failures are not due to herself.
– Integration of positive feelings: with the aim of strengthening self-esteem. The individual will then be more able to intervene in the future.
On the other hand, therapeutic intervention can be aimed at approaching traumatic events of the past. The idea is that the patient can overcome their experiences by giving them a different meaning. He will thus develop more functional and positive reactions in future situations.
Very Helpful Tip: Be Patient With Yourself!
Being patient is essential. Learned helplessness can be cured. No matter how complex and impossible it may seem, we can always get help. And it doesn’t matter whether it comes from a professional, our family, or our friends: the key is to know that we will never be alone.
Also, it is important to be patient. You need to understand that learned behavior, which has probably existed since your childhood, is not easy to overcome, so don’t be unfair to yourself and give yourself time. You deserve it.
To your health and well-being,
Personal Development Coach
Author, Speaker, Mentalotherapist