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How learned helplessness spoils life and how to deal with it
How learned helplessness spoils life and how to deal with it

The fact that a person does not try to change is not only to blame for laziness and unwillingness to act.

How learned helplessness spoils life and how to deal with it
How learned helplessness spoils life and how to deal with it

What is learned helplessness

Learned helplessness is the state of Leonard J. What is learned helplessness? MedicalNewsToday, when a person convinces himself that he cannot control or change the events taking place with him, and as a result does not even try to do something. At the same time, a person is far from always in a truly desperate situation.

Learned helplessness often occurs after prolonged severe stress.

A woman who finds herself in an abusive relationship at some point catches herself thinking that it is impossible to get out, that she is powerless to change something. And she stops trying, discards any options as knowingly doomed to failure.

A child who has been bullied at school goes to university and behaves in a new environment, with new people still closed and detached, because he simply does not see the point in acting differently.

An employee who is burnt out at work, who could not find a way to cope with the excessive demands of her superiors, as a result, doomedly sits out hours in the office and does not feel the strength to even look for another job.

People who are sure that their vote will not change anything anyway refuse to go to elections and participate in political life.

All these are manifestations of learned helplessness, inaction dictated by the feeling that “nothing will change anyway”.

The hypothesis of learned helplessness was first described in 1967 by American psychologists James Overmeer and Martin Seligman. To test it, Seligman and his colleague Stephen Meyer conducted classic psychology experiments on dogs.

The animals were divided into three groups. They were all placed in special booths, in which a painful, but not fatal, electrical discharge was sent across the floor. In the first group, dogs could turn off the electricity supply by pressing their nose on a special panel on one of the walls. In the second, the animals did not receive a blow only when it was turned off in the first. The third group was not exposed to pain at all.

After 64 discharges with an average interval of 90 seconds, animals from all groups were placed in a chamber with a partition over which they could jump. Electricity was applied to one half of this chamber and the reaction of the dogs was monitored. Animals from the first and third groups jumped to the opposite side. But most of the dogs from the second group (which did not control the electric shocks at the first stage of the experiment) lay down on the floor and, whining, endured more and more powerful shocks.

Learned Helplessness: The Dog Experiment
Learned Helplessness: The Dog Experiment

Similar experiments were carried out by Donald Hiroto, an American graduate student of Japanese origin, on humans. Only his test subjects were not shocked, but forced to listen to unpleasant sounds while performing work. Hiroto got similar results: most of the participants who were not given the opportunity to turn off unpleasant sounds during the first stage of the experiment did not even try to do this at the second stage.

The results of the research have revealed that helplessness is not caused by traumatic events in themselves, but the experience of their uncontrollability. Also, scientists have identified three signs of learned helplessness:

  1. Motivational deficit - inability to respond to ongoing negative impacts.
  2. Associative deficit - deterioration in the ability to respond to further negative consequences.
  3. Emotional deficits - insufficient response to painful actions.

Experiments by Seligman and his colleagues became T. Gordeeva Psychology of achievement motivation. - M., 2015 part of the cognitive revolution of the 50-60s in psychology. In particular, this led to a change in views on the nature of motivation. Experiments have shown that it depends not only on our desires and actions, but also on how likely it is to carry them out, how we assess our chances of achieving the goal and what efforts are willing to make for this.

How learned helplessness arises

Through neurobiological analysis, it was found that the brain, feeling helplessness, selectively activates neurons (5-HT) in the medulla region of the medulla oblongata. They trigger feelings of anxiety and stress.

According to Seligman's concept, there is T. Gordeeva. Psychology of achievement motivation. - M. 2015 three sources of the formation of learned helplessness:

  1. The experience of experiencing adverse events.
  2. The experience of observing helpless people.
  3. Lack of independence in childhood.

Let us consider in more detail how learned helplessness arises in children and adults.

In children

In the formation of this feature of the psyche, Leonard J. plays a special role. What is learned helplessness? MedicalNewsToday a traumatic childhood experience. If a child often turns to parents for help, but does not receive it, he may decide that he is not able to influence the state of affairs in any way. However, overprotection can also lead to a similar result. Sometimes this condition persists into adulthood.

In addition, the feeling of one's own powerlessness can Nuvvula S. Learned helplessness. Contemporary Clinical Dentistry appears in children as a result of abuse.

The example of parents and other adults is of great importance. The child should simultaneously see the model of behavior in his parents, receive help and support from them if necessary, but at the same time learn to take responsibility for his actions.

The formation of good relationships with parents, humor, the ability to be independent, and to make decisions on their own will help children overcome learned helplessness.

In adults

Most often, learned helplessness occurs Leonard J. What is learned helplessness? MedicalNewsToday for people who are faced with a large number of stressful situations, where nothing depends on their will. The death of loved ones, layoffs at work, fire or natural disasters - all this can cause a person to become convinced of the futility of their actions.

In this case, he gets used to the passive role, loses motivation and, even when he has the opportunity to improve his situation, does not resort to it. Learned Helplessness can be used for manifestations of learned helplessness. Psychology Today also attributed low self-esteem and willpower.

It is noticed that women are more often Seligman M. E. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Vintage, 2006, men are subject to learned helplessness - just like depression. The fact is that women are more often brought up passive, and their personal successes (for example, in their careers) are often understated and considered “irrelevant”.

Facing difficulties can influence how we behave next. A 2004 study found that students who saw difficult questions at the start of a test felt self-doubt and then skipped even tricky questions. Those who took the test, which began with easier questions, did not experience such difficulties.

There is also an opinion that the state system can form the learned helplessness. For example, with a general distribution of benefits, a person will not correlate the quality of his life with his own efforts and, accordingly, try to improve it.

What problems in life can learned helplessness lead to?

In 1976, American psychologists Ellen Lunger and Judith Roden conducted an experiment in a Connecticut nursing home. They identified two groups: the elderly from the second floor were surrounded by maximum care and attention, and the residents of the fourth floor were entrusted with more control over their lives. While on the second floor the staff was engaged in cleaning, arranging, watering the plants, and choosing films to watch in the evening, on the fourth floor these responsibilities fell on the inhabitants of the institution themselves.

Residents of the fourth floor began to feel happier, according to their personal feelings, and according to the estimates of health workers, they became healthier. The results of this experiment clearly demonstrate how controlling the situation has a beneficial effect on our mental and physical condition.

Below are examples of what a lack of control can lead to.

Unhealthy pessimism emerges

A pessimist more realistic Seligman M. E. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Vintage, 2006 assesses the situation, his thinking copes well with negative assessments of future events. But he can also turn caution into a habit. And where the optimist takes his own perseverance, the pessimist will retreat without even trying.

For example, a smoker, after several failed attempts to quit, may believe that it is impossible. The same thing happens to someone who wants to lose weight, but because of failure decides that he can never change. Victims of domestic violence often suffer from learned helplessness. They convince themselves that, even despite the support from the outside, they will not be able to hide from the offender.

Therefore, Seligman M. E. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life is better. Vintage, 2006 is everything when there is a balance between optimism and pessimism.

Inability to make decisions and apathy are formed

Learned helplessness often leads to Leonard J. What is learned helplessness? MedicalNewsToday that the person stops making decisions. He stops learning adaptive responses - the ability to change his behavior depending on the circumstances - or use them in difficult situations.

For example, people who give up because of setbacks often turn to Seligman M. E. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life in search of help and support. Vintage, 2006 to Social Media. But in reality, this does not help much, and a person simply uses Internet resources to forget or pass the time. This turns him into a passive observer isolated from reality.

Increased risk of depression and other health problems

In the 1970s, Seligman stated that learned helplessness is one of the reasons for the development of depression. The scientist came to the conclusion that people who find themselves in uncontrollable stressful situations more than once may lose the ability to make decisions or effectively achieve their goals. Further research also found a link between learned helplessness and PTSD, a post-traumatic stress disorder. A person suffering from his pessimism even cares less about his own health Seligman M. E. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Vintage, 2006: The lack of internal energy does not leave him the strength to play sports or diet.

A pessimist, even if he was physically and mentally healthy in his youth, by the age of 45-60 has a greater chance of finding health problems. Experiments also proved Seligman M. E. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Vintage, 2006, that there is a link between feelings of hopelessness and cancer risk. In addition, learned helplessness, like depression, impairs the functioning of the immune system.

Why Some People Are Not Affected by the Effects of Learned Helplessness

Not everyone who has experienced childhood abuse, domestic violence, and other negative experiences has learned helplessness.

It's all about how a particular person reacts to the events happening to him, how he explains them. Martin Seligman believes that learned helplessness is more likely to be experienced by people with a pessimistic attitude towards life. According to the scientist, optimists more often consider troubles to be random and not dependent on their actions, and pessimists - on the contrary. Negative thinking can give rise to the feeling that failure is natural.

To prove his theory, Seligman analyzed Gordeeva T. Psychology of achievement motivation. - M., 2015 texts of pre-election speeches of US presidential candidates for several decades. He concluded that those who made more optimistic statements always won. According to the researcher, this suggests that a person who believes in the best is more likely to succeed.

However, it should be said that the success of a pessimistic or optimistic strategy depends on the sphere of human activity. The same Seligman writes that it is better for a company if its leader is an optimist, and his deputy is a pessimist. The latter are inclined to assess the situation more realistically, which is very important in solving many problems.

How to Get Rid of Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness is not a sentence and can be dealt with. In each case, the ways to overcome it may differ, but there are two main ways.

Use cognitive behavioral therapy

The best solution would be to pass Leonard J. What is learned helplessness? MedicalNewsToday is a course in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that will help you change your way of acting and your perception of the world. It is best to visit a psychologist for this purpose. But you can do something Seligman M. E. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Vintage, 2006 to take on its own:

  • Find someone who will listen to you and support you.
  • Understand the causes of learned helplessness and find negative thoughts that accompany it. You can write them down.
  • Determine what actions of yours reinforce learned helplessness. For example, viewing the pages of "successful people" on social networks, which leads to conclusions like "I'm just a loser."
  • Try to become more optimistic in your behavior and thoughts. For example, come up with a physical action, such as slapping a table or shaking your head, that will end negative thinking.
  • Work on your self-esteem. For example, after a failure, analyze it in a few days in order to uncover the reasons for the failure without emotion. You can also remember your achievements in order to overcome thoughts of your own powerlessness.
  • Don't cling to the worst cause of your anxiety, but identify the real one. For example, “Girls don't like me” is the worst reason, and “I had a bad relationship experience” is real.
  • To the extent possible, get rid of the circumstances that lead to learned helplessness. For example, limit your interactions with people who disdain you.
  • Define your goals and plan specific tasks to achieve them.

Exercise, healthy eating, and meditation can help. They develop Learned Helplessness. Psychology Today resilience and a sense of control, which is essential to combat learned helplessness.

Cultivate Learned, or Selective, Optimism

Also Martin Seligman developed Seligman M. E. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Vintage, 2006 the concept of "learned optimism". According to her, in order to break out of the cycle of helplessness, you need to learn to perceive events constructively, to give arguments for yourself that in unpleasant situations it is not your fault. This concept is also known as flexible optimism.

To implement his idea, Seligman, together with psychologist Albert Ellis, created Seligman M. E. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Vintage, 2006 ABCDE method (Adversity, Belief, Consequence, Disputation, Energization). To apply it, you first need to understand what difficulties or adversity you are facing. Then - determine how you interpret them (Belief) and what feelings and actions they cause (Consequence). By doing this, you can provide a Disputation that will also remind you of the benefits of positive thinking. This, according to Seligman, will give you the energy (Energization) for further achievements.

As an example, we can cite the different reactions of an optimist and a pessimist to the fact that they failed to do something on time. If the pessimist gets upset and, perhaps, thinks that he cannot do anything, the optimist will say to himself: “I did not have time to complete the task on time. I had too little time, even a little more - and I would have done it. " In fact, this statement reveals the ABCDE model.

Nastasya Solomina

The way out of the state of learned helplessness is action. But in order to take the necessary actions, to break out of the cage of circumstances, it is necessary to find resources and sources of hope that changes are still possible.

And here it is already difficult to name a universal strategy suitable for everyone: for some, rest, “reset” and inspiring books or films are enough; someone will cheer up best of all from the help of loved ones; someone will need the help of a specialist.

After all, nothing can help you overcome learned helplessness better than experiencing success. Start small and do what you can do: disassemble the blockage on the table, wash the windows, go for a run. This will begin your journey to feeling in control and overcoming stress.

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