What Is Learned Helplessness And How To Overcome It?

What Is Learned Helplessness And How To Overcome It?
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Failure is unavoidable and so are most negative events in life. But our self-resilience and the way we manage future priorities can be determined by how we cope with them. If you’re continually subjected to stressful circumstances, it is extremely hard to remain strong. We are trying and we want to think that we can do everything we can to change that situation. However, we feel like we have stayed on too long sometimes, and we get just tired. It seems like our efforts have not changed anything, so maybe we can avoid dealing with things that we can not manage. Research into what is known as learned helplessness has shown that they actually give up and embrace whatever comes their way when people feel like they have no control over what happens to them.

What Is Learned Helplessness?

Learned helplessness, first described in 1967 by psychologists J Bruce Overmier and Martin E. P. Seligman, is a condition that happens when a person experiences uncontrollable and stressful conditions repeatedly.

People start believing that they are useless after witnessing a series of tragic incidents and they will no longer attempt to change things. They “learn” that there is nothing left to do, but even when it becomes available, they won’t exercise control.

Learned helplessness decreases the self-esteem of individuals and makes them lose confidence and/or overlook possibilities that may occur. Depression, anxiety, and phobia were also associated with this phenomenon.

Why Does Learned Helplessness Happen?

Learned helplessness can begin in life very early. Children growing up in institutionalized environments, for instance, or those with a history of violence and neglect, frequently display signs of helplessness.

If a child is still unable to perform a simple task, and nobody is there to encourage him to try to continue until he succeeds, the child will learn that his condition can not change. Chances are that this behavior may persist into adulthood.

However, if the person hasn’t received such care in early childhood, one aspect that leads to learned helplessness may be something that psychologists call “ explanatory style.

The explanatory style refers to how a person explains an experience and it has an essential function to make sure that someone can be influenced by learned helplessness. For instance, it is more likely to develop people with a negative explanatory style. They prefer to treat certain circumstances as inevitable and also take personal responsibility for their bad stuff.

Here are a few instances of circumstances that can lead to learned helplessness as well:

  • An individual can believe that he will never stop smoking in spite of many efforts to quit.
  • If someone is unable to lose weight after trying various diets and workouts, they may think that it will never happen for them so they give up trying.
  • A woman experiencing domestic violence may attempt to leave her abuser, but they find themselves in the same position again. They start believing that even though help and support are available, they will never escape.

A number of traumatic accidents can cause learned helplessness. When nothing seems to be going in your favor, it is normal to feel like giving up. It is common to also be upset and sad, but it makes the difference between having a bad day and having a bad life if you allow yourself to feel these emotions.

How To Overcome Learned Helplessness

Just as its name implies, helplessness is a learned trait, but the good news is that it can be unlearned. It takes some time and effort, but it can minimize both short-term and long-term helplessness.

This behavior is learned through associations and reactions in the environment since it is a form of conditioning. Everything is about reward and punishment. If we are recompensed, we will probably repeat a behavior more often and if we are punished, we will probably try to avoid that in the future.

First of all, you should begin by asking yourself some questions that will help you understand your behavior and embrace it. When have you started to feel helpless? What is the common denominator in your thinking today?

Now let’s dive in and see what approaches are beneficial to resolve learned helplessness:

1. Be vigilant about your self-talk

When did you look in the mirror for the last time and genuinely talked well with yourself? Unfortunately, we also get our own worst ratings. We make a minor mistake, we get upset and overthink it. Then we put ourselves down for something for more than 5 minutes that we shouldn’t even consider.

Everyone’s making mistakes so you can go easy on yourself. You’re not a fool, you’re a human being. You’re not a loser, you’ve just made a mistake and you know better now. Start to ask yourself questions, instead of calling your own names, which will open your brain’s problems and shift the paradigm of self-talk — “What can I do next time?

What Is Learned Helplessness And How To Overcome It?
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2. Consider taking a more optimistic explanatory style

The way you describe events that happen to you every day is closely related to learned helplessness, as described earlier. Besides, you would feel much more depressed if you see the origin of the incident as within yourself, as it is often your fault.

Sure, you can’t just go from being pessimistic to being optimistic. However, with time, you will reframe your day. To do so, you should note that you are not completely responsible for anything — other people and variables are involved as well.

So rather than say, “I had a horrible day and it’s all my fault,” try something like “It wasn’t perfect, but I finished at least all my work” or “I will make better tomorrow.” Saying nice stuff loudly helps to reframe the mindset.

What Is Learned Helplessness And How To Overcome It?
Image Source – Pixabay

3. Change your environment if needed

It can be futile if the world needs you to do otherwise even if you are able to make a change in your behaviour.

If you want to quit smoking, and all your friends are smokers, you may need to stop watching them. Only until you feel sufficiently good.

You can help improve your habits by improving your environment.

A pattern that has become a part of you is difficult to chang. But learned helplessness is a restricted conviction that “company” will hold you for ever unless you are willing to conquer it.

Practice at least one of the above techniques, turn it into a normal routine and take control of your life slowly again. All around us can’t be managed. But there’s a saying we have about some things that happen to us. You should always ask for the assistance of a specialist if you feel like you can’t do this on your own.

Also Read: How To Enhance Your Self Esteem?