Three grand essentials to life are...something to do
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
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 :^)