Skip to main content

You are in the: Feeling Helpless article section       

4 Ways Someone Can Accidentally Learn Helplessness

Are you constantly feeling overwhelmed and helpless?
Do you feel like there are no solutions left to help you?
Do you think you are just a “helpless person”?

The truth is that NONE of these feelings are valid. You are not helpless …but have rather learned how to become helpless.

Let’s take a study to help illustrate this more clearly…

An experiment was carried out where a number of dogs were subjected to mild electric shocks …but also given a switch that could stop the shocks. However, for some dogs the switch was disabled so that there was no way for them to actively stop the shocks.

After the experiment many of the dogs who were unable to stop the electric shocks developed symptoms similar to depression. In other words, the dogs began to exhibit a sense of helplessness and passivity that they learned from the conditions in the experiment.

In other words – they LEARNED it. They weren’t born with it.

No One Is Born Helpless

After a short time watching a child you can’t help but begin to notice how they are willing to do try the same thing over and over again without giving up. Can you imagine meeting an adult who couldn’t walk because after a few tries as a child he simply gave up?

So what makes an adult give up while children naturally persevere in their efforts?

Here’s what…

Life’s experiences have taught some adults to feel helpless and powerless over time. Many people begin life bouncing back from setbacks quickly …but over time begin to feel totally helpless and eventually settle into a state of powerlessness.

This often leads to depression …and talking to them you will find that they feel completely convinced that there is no solution to their problems, and thus no point in continuing to persevere.

4 Ways Someone Can Learn Helplessness

Here are 4 ways that can get a person to the point of being helpless and powerless in the face of their problems:

  • Learning helplessness from those around you: If you are often surrounded by helpless people within your friends and family …then it is very possible that over time you will absorb their negative thought patterns. The solution then is to try to surround yourself with more successful and positive friends and family. Obviously this is not something you can directly control but it is worthy of keeping in mind when choosing who you surround yourself with.
  • Learning helplessness from subconscious messages: When someone is experiencing a crisis in life - they frequently become much more conscious of any critical comments they receive. Then, when the crisis is over – they tend to become less conscious of them. But if you go through a bad patch in life that lasts an extended period of time …you are at risk of being programmed by critical comments to the point that they break you down as a person …which lasts even after you get out of the bad patch.
  • Absorbing a message of helpless from the media: Hollywood movies program people with messages such as “I can never live without my love” or “I am nothing without you”. These essentially teach people thought patterns that encourage helplessness. The same goes for songs. The choices of words and themes encourage listeners to identify with helpless feelings. Don’t underestimate the effects of music and other media on your emotions and moods. Be mindful of the media you choose to consume.
  • Acquiring helplessness as a habit: When facing a difficult challenge in life, the ones who succeed are the ones who keep trying until they overcome it. Not everyone does this though. Some people keep trying while slowly giving up. Others simply lose hope quickly and give up. These people are susceptible to becoming helpless people. The more they quit …the more they reinforce the habit of helplessness.

Learned Helplessness Can Lead To Learned Depression

Similar to how helplessness can be learned, depression can also be a learned mentality. Often times depression simply arises from becoming convinced over time that you are helpless.

The emotional drain and mental anguish you experience is nothing more than an illusion that can be shattered through direct and mindful action. Therefore, it is important not to be fooled into believing that you are helpless simply because you have experienced failure at some time or another.

Whenever you encounter a protracted and difficult challenge in life you must develop the habit to respond with perseverance. Just as you acquire helplessness over time like a bad habit you are always free to start a new proactive habit of perseverance beginning today.

Helplessness is an acquired habit …and not a condition you are resigned to live with.