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Learned Helplessness – Identifying and Understanding it to Eliminate Depression!

01 Jan

In the “Learned Helplessness Banishment” trilogy…
Read the first post (to understand the Concept of Learned Helplessness), and the third and final post (to establish a process of change and overcome Learned Helplessness). This is the second post in the series.

Understanding an attitude isn’t easy and identifying it in someone else could be simpler than identifying it in yourself. If you look at “learned helplessness,” this attitude borders on belief. You begin to “believe” that you are helpless due to external factors, and that you can’t do anything about it. “What is, is and so it will remain,” becomes your mantra – your justification for feeling helpless. This feeling then leads to depression.


Photo by P0psicle

Depression is characterized by a mental state where you feel worthless and trapped. Obviously this mental state can only reinforce your feeling of helplessness. Thus, the situation becomes really difficult. What feeds upon itself to grow, can grow endlessly.

The first step towards vanquishing the demon of depression along with its mistress, the learned helplessness; is to “understand” (very cognitively and not at all emotionally) that the feeling of helplessness is an illusion. It isn’t real, as it is not supported by a physical inability to achieve what you want. This excellent post by Lex manifests this stage of learning to recognize and understand learned helplessness.

Lex did a self-analysis and realized that the “I can’t” attitude towards improving her health could be weeded out, because there was no real (root) cause supporting it. I realize that this step may be easy for some individuals (because their locus of control is more internal – they feel that they can control the outcomes of a situation) than some others (who have an external locus of control and who feel that external factors are more potent and they have a strong bearing on the outcome of a situation.)

As you read through this post, your mind will shift gears and go into high-drive. For example, you will probably say “learned helplessness? Big deal. I already know about it – but what I feel is much deeper.” Ask yourself whether your defense isn’t a result of the phenomenon itself.

Here’s an example:
“I don’t think I can drive, I am clumsy.” However, a closer look reveals that I can’t be qualified as clumsy. I don’t break things often and only rarely smash my little toe against the open door. And nobody I know has that clean a record that I expect of myself before I begin to learn how to drive.”

Now I tell myself (and others, who might be interested,) “I know I am clumsy and don’t tell me that I am not. There are other examples of my clumsiness too. I can’t risk my life and the life of others – just so that I may drive. I am clumsy – I am one in a million (because million minus one can drive,)”...and so on and so forth.

The good news is – driving is no big deal. So I can revel in not driving without experiencing drastic consequences. But then there are certain big deals too.

Let me illustrate:

  • I can’t do Math (Science, English, Geography…you name it.)>>>Result: Poor Grades
  • I can’t cook (And I can’t understand how the best chefs in this world are men?)>>>Result: Poor Health
  • I can’t exercise (I don’t have the time.) >>>Result: Poor Health
  • I can’t find a job (People don’t want my skills.) >>>Result: Low Income
  • I can’t write (I speak well – and my job needed spoken language proficiency) >>>Result: Reduction in possible career opportunities
  • I can’t make friends (Nobody likes me.) >>>Result: Loneliness
  • I can’t do anything (Everyone hates me, I don’t have a job, I can’t quit smoking)>>>Result: A lack of interest in life and thoughts of suicide.

Review the results. They all lead to depression, and they all have their origins in “learned helplessness” or unsupported “I can’ts”

All these are big deals! They impact us, and they impact our loved ones. I recommend that you first identify the symptoms (you can see them in the “Results” of the above list – such as Poor Grades, Low Income, Loneliness and so on.) Then figure out why you aren’t taking steps to remove those symptoms. If you find yourself giving “external factors” as excuses, you are suffering from Learned Helplessness in that arena.

If you have identified the problem, you are now ready to oust it from your life. In the next post, I put forth my thoughts on how we can “unlearn” learned helplessness, and lead a happier, more fulfilling life.

Additional References:
Belief” for understanding the concept of Belief.

In the “Learned Helplessness Banishment” trilogy…
Read the first post (to understand the Concept of Learned Helplessness), and the third and final post (to establish a process of change and overcome Learned Helplessness). This is the second post in the series.

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