When we are subjected to recurrent abuse or difficulties, we might feel hopeless and powerless. You can be trapped in a bad relationship or in poverty. You may be coping with an addiction of your own or someone else’s that you feel helpless to overcome.
You might be suffering from a severe illness or a pattern of school, relationship, or professional failures. When you think there is no way out of continual agony and misery, it’s easy to feel hopeless.
There are many remedies and activities we can take to modify our circumstances and reduce suffering, but with a hopeless attitude and “learned helplessness,” we don’t seek or accept aid, and we might fall into depression.
The Study Martin Seligman invented the phrase “learned helplessness” in the 1960s to describe a mentality in which you don’t attempt to get out of a bad circumstance because you’ve already learned that you’re powerless. Seligman’s experiment included ringing a bell and then giving a dog a mild shock to train them to anticipate a shock after hearing the bell. After a time, he saw that when the dogs heard the bell, they responded nervously, as if they’d been shocked, even though they hadn’t.
Human conduct is comparable in this regard. If you’ve been lied to or deceived, for example, you’ll become suspicious. In a new relationship, you could believe you’re being duped when you’re not. Then you may respond to these ideas by becoming enraged, wrongly accusing your new spouse, or even ending your relationship. This is what we mean when we say we’re projecting our prior experiences onto other individuals and current events.
Seligman took it a step further, putting the dogs in a split cage so that the shock would only harm one side. The dogs could easily dodge the shocks by stepping across a short fence to the opposite side. The dogs, on the other hand, did not! Instead, they surrendered and sat down.
Then he shocked several canines in a split crate that hadn’t been conditioned with the bell and shock earlier. To escape the shock, these dogs hastily leapt to the opposite side of the fence. This demonstrated that the trained dogs had learnt to be helpless. The habit of tying young elephants to posts is another example. When the shackles are removed as adults, they do not flee.
It matters how we understand events. Internal and external forces are blamed for the causality. Individuals who frequently make global internal attributions to bad occurrences, that is, people who blame themselves regardless of the context, acquire learned helplessness, according to research. They lack the drive to improve, attempt again, or try new things when they feel they are always the issue. Internalized shame is reflected in and perpetuated through negative self-talk. They discovered that just thinking we have control over unpleasant stimuli improves our performance, even if we don’t use it.
Abuse and learned helplessness
Abuseful relationships are characterized by power imbalances. Abusers seek authority by blaming their actions on others. Emotional abuse, including insulting, withholding, and subtle manipulation, is used to destroy their partners’ self-esteem. When confronted, they frequently escalate, threaten, or become violent. Victims develop helplessness as a result of their abuser’s constant undermining of their self-esteem and violence. They eventually accommodate the abuser through compliance and avoidance to limit harm and feel secure.
They may have been enraged and complained at first, but they gradually discover that this technique is typically ineffective. They grow numb to their emotions, worried and/or sad, and may have physical symptoms as a result. They don’t think they can escape and become a shell of their former selves as their dread and guilt rise. Intermittent reinforcement exacerbates this propensity, making accommodation an addictive behavior pattern.
Helplessness that was instilled in you as a child.
Many codependents are born with a sense of powerlessness. We are completely reliant on our parents for our survival as children, not just physically but also emotionally. We quickly learn how to stay safe while also avoiding our parents’ displeasure. We not only feel uncomfortable and acquire emotions of inadequacy and shame when our parents are negligent, emotionally absent, critical, controlling, or violent, but we also feel helpless to be heard and have an influence. “It’s my way or the highway,” some parents say, “I don’t care,” or “You’re a burden.”
A narcissistic mother or father, as well as other mentally ill or addicted parents, may ignore, shame, or control their children, sending the message that their feelings, needs, and desires are unimportant. Anger, grief, or protest expressed by children may be embarrassed or punished. They feel helpless, internalize their humiliation and wrath, and often resort to drugs or addictive habits to relieve their distress.
Some youngsters defy authority, but this might lead to more harsh measures. They grow up with a sense of powerlessness and unfavorable internal attributions that they carry with them into adulthood. In their late teens and early twenties, they may enjoy freedom, yet they may marry someone who replicates their unpleasant family drama. Their trained helplessness will soon resurface.
This may also occur when a more able sibling abuses or taunts a younger sibling. My elder brother used to tease me until I was out of breath and in tears. This gave me the impression that I was powerless, and I didn’t fight back when I had the opportunity.
Other Consequences of Learned Helplessness
Learned helplessness feeds a negative feedback cycle that harms our health, happiness at work, and relationships. Ignoring nutrition and exercising often might lead to bad behaviors. We may fail to obtain proper medical and dental care, seek addiction treatment, or handle our money.
People who are impoverished or who are subjected to unrelenting bigotry may develop a sense of learned helplessness. Beliefs may be passed down across generations, perpetuating poverty and inactivity. Students who don’t do well in school blame their shortcomings on themselves. Their self-esteem and confidence diminish as a result. They expect to fail because they don’t think they can do better.
They give up and often drop out. Similarly, we are prevented from achieving professionally and boosting our earning potential by a sense of powerlessness and humiliation. It causes melancholy and illness. In fact, studies reveal that having a gloomy attitude might have a harmful impact on inflammation, our immune systems, and our heart health.
Getting Rid of Learned Helplessness
The good news is that this is not a permanent condition. Low self-esteem, like good self-esteem, may be learnt. Our brains are changeable, but they need treatment to question negative internal attributions and cognitive distortions. Change involves treatment that addresses our thoughts and beliefs. Cognitive-behavioral therapy may help us overcome shame and change our brains and attitudes.
A therapist may also help us take new risks that change our unfavorable perceptions. We become self-empowered and self-esteem in action as our self-esteem and confidence rise. The bottled-up energy is released. We create a positive feedback loop in which we anticipate and then experience pleasant consequences. When we don’t, we don’t shame ourselves. We think about external attributions and what we can improve.
By conquering perfectionism (which may fuel guilt and negative feedback loops), self-criticism, self-blame, and humiliation, as well as reading, you can start making progress on your own.