Psychological health

What Is Learned Helplessness And How It’s Connected To Trauma

Have you ever felt so helpless in your life, and wanted to get over that feeling, but somehow, something stopped you? No matter how hard you try, you never managed to get out of this helpless mindset?

We can feel hopeless and helpless when we experience chronic abuse or recurring obstacles. You may feel stuck in poverty or in an unhappy relationship. You can or are dealing with your own addiction or that of someone else that you feel is powerless to change.

You may be experiencing a debilitating health condition or repetitive school, relationship or work failure. It’s easy to feel hopeless when you think there is no way out from the constant pain and unhappiness.

Often, there are solutions and steps we can take to change our circumstances and ease the pain, but with a hopeless look and “learned helplessness”, we don’t ask for or accept help and can plunge into depression

RELATED: 23 Signs You Have A Victim Mentality (And How To Deal With It)


Learned helplessness was a term coined by Martin Seligman in the 1960s to describe a mindset in which you don’t try to get out of a negative situation because you learned in the past that you are powerless. In Seligman’s experiment, he rings a bell and then gives a dog a mild shock to adapt it to expect a shock after hearing the bell. He discovered that after a while upon hearing the bell, the dogs acted frightened as if they were shocked, even though they weren’t.

Human behavior is similar. For example, if you have lied to or betrayal become doubting. You might imagine that you are being fooled into a new relationship when you are not. Then you may react to your thoughts, become angry, falsely accuse your new partner, or even break up. We think of this as projectketting Our past experiences with others and current situations.

Seligman went further and placed these dogs in a cage that was split so that the shock affected only one side. Dogs can easily step over a low fence to the other side and avoid bumps. However, the dogs did not! Instead, they gave up and lay down. He then shocked different dogs into a split cage that had not previously been conditioned with bell and shock. These dogs quickly jumped to the other side of the fence to avoid shock.

This proved that the conditioned group of dogs had learned to be helpless. Another example is the practice of tying baby elephants to a post. As adults, they do not run away when the strings are removed.

negative traits

How we interpret events is important. People attribute causation to internal and external factors. Research reveals that people who constantly make global internal attribution of negative events, meaning that they blame themselves regardless of the situation develop learned helplessness. When they think they are always the problem, they lack the motivation to improve, to try again, or to try new things.

this is Negative self-talk reflect internal shame And also sustains it. They find that we perform better only by believing that we are in control of negative stimuli, even if we are not exercising them.

Related topics: Emotional flashbacks due to complex trauma

learned helplessness and abuse

strength imbalances Classified abusive relationships. Abusers seek power and blame their behavior on others. They undermine their partners’ self-confidence emotional abuse, such as underestimation and blocking and hidden manipulation. When confronted, they often escalate, threaten to further abuse, or become violent.

undermining Respect my self Relentless abuse creates learned helplessness in victims, who over time internalize the abuser with compliance and avoidance to reduce abuse and feel safe. When they get angry and protest at first, they eventually realize that this tactic is usually counterproductive. (We see “Do and don’t in the face of abuse.”)

They numb their feelings, and they become Worry and/or depression, and may have physical symptoms. As fear and shame grow, they don’t think they can leave and turn into a shell of their former selves. This pattern is exacerbated by intermittent reinforcement Where dwelling becomes an addictive behavioral pattern.

Childhood acquired helplessness

Many dependent people develop childhood acquired helplessness. As young children, we actually depend on our parents for survival, not only physically, but emotionally as well. We quickly learn strategies to stay safe and reduce our parents’ resentment.

When a parent is neglected, emotionally absent, critical, controlling, or abusive, we not only feel insecure and develop feelings of inferiority and shame, but we feel powerless to be heard and make an impact. These parents communicate, “It’s my way or the highway;” “I don’t care” or “You are a burden”.

a narcissistic mother or the fathersome other parents with mental illness or addicted Ignore, shame or control their children, sending the message that their feelings, needs, and desires are unimportant. Children’s anger, distress, or protest may also be shameful or punishable. They feel helpless, internalize their shyness and anger, and often turn to drugs or addictive behaviors.

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