Complex and fascinating, the mind tries to organize things and feels in control. This is why we are more productive when there is less clutter around us. Also, beautiful, symmetrical patterns make us happy.
The world around us constantly changes, unfortunately. We might find ourselves in situations beyond our control more often than we would like. People can feel helpless if they cannot control the events around them.
Learning helplessness is a condition where a person suffers from constant pain and suffering that they cannot control for a prolonged period. People start to expect emotional distress and suffering and believe there is no escape. It can lead to people deciding to stop trying to prevent suffering and accept it as a fact of life.
This is not a problem that only humans experience. Many other species also experience learning helplessness. We often see elephant herds tied together by a small cord. The cord should have been strong enough for these elephants to be held as infants. They believed the cord was too strong to hold them as they grew up, but this was no longer the case. Recent research has shown that even zebrafish and bees can show this level of learned helplessness.
Learning helplessness is a common trait in human beings. It often stems from childhood experiences. Children may feel helpless when they need it but cannot get it from their environment or people. This can happen repeatedly and lead to children becoming adults who believe there is no way out. This is particularly true if the parents are abusive or neglectful.
Feelings of helplessness and learned helplessness can also result from academic struggles. Students who fail to succeed in school may feel helpless and powerless. The student may lose interest in the subject and quit studying it altogether.
The Link to Depression
Anxiety and depression can both be caused by learned helplessness. According to studies, this phenomenon has been linked to the onset, persistence, and severity of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). This is normal. Feeling like you cannot control something in your life can cause you to feel depressed and helpless.
Two types of helplessness can lead to depression. Universal helplessness is the first type. This is when a person sees a situation as so dire that there is no way to fix it. Many people cannot vote in elections because they believe the outcome is beyond their control.
Personal helplessness is the second type. This is when a person feels incapable of improving their situation but acknowledges that there may be someone else who can. People who feel helpless are less self-confident and believe others can solve their problems.
Did you know that many people are against taking medication to treat depression? They believe that no medication will make a difference in their feelings. This is an example of how depression sufferers can become helpless.
Overcoming Learned helplessness
Research shows that learning helplessness can be reduced if intervention is initiated early. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Positive Psychology effectively reduce the symptoms of learned helplessness. CBT aims to find unhelpful thoughts and replace them with more healthy, balanced thoughts. On the other hand, positive psychology focuses more on positive emotions and strives to improve people’s overall well-being.