Learned helplessness occurs when a person who has experienced repeated challenges comes to believe they have no control over their situation. They then give up trying to make changes and accept their fate.
This problem typically manifests as a lack of self-esteem, low motivation, a lack of persistence, the conviction of being inept, and ultimately failure. It is more common for people who have experienced repeated traumatic events such as childhood neglect and abuse or domestic violence.
Learned helplessness is not a mental health condition, but it can sometimes be a sign of a mental disorder such as depression or anxiety.
Dealing with adversity can be tough, and not everyone feels like they’re always on top of their game. That’s common. However, learned helplessness runs deeper than that. Here are some symptoms that such type of psychological issue is taking the reins –
• Low self-esteem
With learned helplessness, people feel badly about themselves and doubt their ability to accomplish even the smallest task.
Because they feel like everything is outside of their control, people dealing with learned helplessness have very low frustration tolerance. They get easily overwhelmed or flustered when working on projects or dealing with people.
Having an attitude of “Bad things just happen to me” saps away all desire to try to change things. People with this outlook don’t put much effort into trying to avoid difficulty or improve their odds of success.
• Lack of effort
It can lead to procrastination and decision avoidance. People often won’t try to complete projects or tasks, assuming that nothing — or nothing good — will happen if they try.
• Giving up
Even when they do start working on something, they give up relatively quickly. Learned helplessness causes trouble with follow-through and can make even the smallest bumps in the road seem intolerable.
Learned helplessness often occurs in response to stressful situations or traumatic experiences in which a person feels they have limited control over the outcome.
This leads to feelings of helplessness and a loss of motivation, which remain even once they have the opportunity to make changes to their circumstances.
It is particularly common among people who have experienced issues like trauma, domestic violence, or childhood neglect.
Medical professionals usually consider it as a type of thought disorder rather than a mental health condition. However, it can contribute to or worsen symptoms of several mental health conditions, including PTSD or depression.
How to overcome?
People with learned helplessness can overcome it.
The most common treatment is therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps people overcome these types of challenges by changing how they think and act.
In therapy, people can –
• receive support and encouragement
• explore the origins of learned helplessness
• develop ways to decrease feelings of helplessness
• identify negative thoughts that contribute to learned helplessness
• identify behaviors that reinforce learned helplessness
• replace thoughts and behaviors with more positive and beneficial ones
• improve self-esteem
• work through challenging emotions
• address instances of abuse, neglect, and trauma
• set goals and tasks for themselves
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