Learned Helplessness!!!

Avatar for booplady44
iVillage Member
Registered: 11-10-2003
Learned Helplessness!!!
4
Thu, 08-26-2010 - 9:34pm
Has anyone else heard this phrase?

BOOP


Three grand essentials to life are...something to do

iVillage Member
Registered: 12-25-2004
Fri, 08-27-2010 - 3:21am

The phrase irritates me too, but it's a real phenomenon. I don't think that it applies to all anxiety sufferers, but I have known people who I fit the diagnosis. And while the phrase is irritating, what it refers to is more understandable. Learned helplessness refers to the pattern of being trapped in a system of beliefs or way of life, regardless of how we actually feel about them.

It makes me think of a girlfriend of mine who does nothing without the approval of her parents, mainly her dad. Even as a 30 year old adult she consults her father about everything, which might not sound so bad, except that she just can't bring herself to do anything he doesn't approve of, whether she really wants to or really thinks it would benefit her or not. When asked why not, her answer is vague, just an assertion that she just can't go against her dad's wishes. In reality, she could. She's a grown woman, and her dad had no authority over her, but the emotional and relational toll would be too much. She's helpless to fight the system her family has developed. She's learned that helplessness. And for her it is a source of anxiety, because she fears displeasing her parents, but she also agonizes over not making her own decisions. She feels shame about not asserting herself, but also feels guilt for resenting her dad.

Here's a link to an interesting article about it.
http://www.unfetteredmind.com/articles/helplessness.php

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-12-1998
Fri, 08-27-2010 - 9:48am

I use to find the term offensive too, but then I was reading a novel where the woman was abused and not leaving her abuser, and one of the characters explained it using a study that I believe actually occurred in the 1960's (don't quote me on this) and that made it more understandable to me.

The study was done using a dog in a cage with a floor that gave off electric shocks. They electrified half the cage floor and the dog stayed on the non-electrified side. After a while they switched sides where the electricity was and the dog once again stayed on the side where there was no shock. They then electrified the entire floor, so the dog could not avoid being shocked- eventually the dog gave up and just accepted the shocks as part of its normal state of life. When they opened the cage door, the dog did not leave the cage- the discomfort of constantly being shocked had become its normal baseline for living. It didn't even seem to register that it was in constant discomfort anymore. That's a disturbing story for those of us who are compassionate and/or dog lovers, I know, but the lesson involved is important.

I think the term "Conditioned helplessness" is more accurate. As a matter of survival, people with learned helplessness have learned to adapt to their environment and put up with things that other, more functional people, may not. I would guess that much of this is rooted in childhood experiences. I can personally attest to having learned bad habits of accommodating my parents in dysfunctional ways that later set me up to be victimized by other people I encountered. My parents conditioned me to put up with a lot of garbage that someone from a healthy family would never subject themselves too- and since it was second nature to me, I immersed in it all without second thought.

Jess's example of her friend is a good one. Her friend does not know any other way.

But while I think "learned helplessness" can be a big factor in some people's anxiety, I don't think it is a catchall. I personally don't think you can say all people with anxiety have learned helplessness. PTSD might be a good example; people with PTSD have awful anxiety, but I don't believe it would fall into the category of learned helplessness. I'd guess there are other examples of causes of anxiety that don't fall into the category either.

Great thought provoker, Boop :^)




Edited 8/27/2010 9:50 am ET by 1fish2fish
Avatar for booplady44
iVillage Member
Registered: 11-10-2003
Fri, 08-27-2010 - 9:02pm

My

BOOP


Three grand essentials to life are...something to do

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-11-2004
Mon, 08-30-2010 - 5:24pm
It makes me angry too, Gracie! After all, why would we choose to be this way? It's not always a bed of roses. A few years ago, Dr. Phil had a group of women on the show that had fears. (some the fear of flying.) @ the time, I got really mad when he told them there was a reason that they stayed *sick.* That it must be to their benefit in some way. Now, I *think* I understand what he meant. They didn't have the desire to change. They hadn't tried therapy or meds or if they did, quit too early. Never giving it a chance. Or...they didn't do the work it involved to learn new ways of coping.
When I was housebound many years ago because of the anxiety, it was *easier* to allow others to run errands for me, make phone calls, drive me where I needed to be, etc. Was I helpless? Yes. The fear & anxiety was too great to do these things on my own. Was it learned? Yes, it was. I did it for so long that it became a part of me. I became complacent & basically had no desire to change. After all, if I could live in the safety of my own home & have everything done for me, then why should I change? The difference was that I had KNOWN a different way of living. I liked to do my own shopping. I truly enjoyed driving. I began to hate the limits the illness imposed on me. I became sick & tired of being sick & tired. It was painful to hear what Dr. Phil said. Yes, I had an illness. But, it was jan & jan alone who imposed the limits on herself. I believe that was when I was motivated to change. Like Kim Basinger said when facing her panic attacks, she wouldn't allow them to get the better of her, *even if she died trying.*
I can't make anyone change. Even for me, change is hard. Everyone has to come to that place where, "A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are built for."
– Grace Murray Hopper I chose to leave my safe place & sail uncharted waters. KWIM? Everyone gets there in their own time & in their own way. There may be folks who will never break out of their shell & face the fear. If they're content living that sort of life, that's fine. However, @ least admit to yourself that you made the choice to be where you are. You had a hand in it. The illness may be the *cause* but the illness shouldn't be used as an *excuse.* JMHO GL & GBU! (((hugs))) jan