Learned Helplessness

Learned Helplessness is a concept developed by Martin Seligman (1975). It is the exact opposite of self-efficacy.  The Theory of Balancelogy suggests that learned helplessness involves situations where the individual not only doesn’t experience mastery of an event, but repeatedly fails at what he/she is trying to accomplish. After repeated failures the person “learns” how not to be effective. The individual doesn’t learn success, but learns how to  be helpless.  Helplessness is often about the destructiveness of being impassive, disinterested, and not having passion. It is a  sense of being apathetic. Helplessness will metastasis to other situations in life, and over time the person becomes afraid to take risks of any kind. Through generalization the person is beaten-and-broken down by life, making for a sad devaluation of oneself. Learned helplessness is often associated with abulia (the  inability to make decisions) and ambivalence.

Learned helplessness has a significant correlation with a child’s developmental environment that is non-caring, non-supportive, abusive, and where parental emotional detachment exists. Or, learned helplessness is frequently  associated with a child’s developmental learning environment that is overly protective, that enables, and shields the child from life. Lasting lifetime detrimental results can happen to the child who learns he or she can’t master situations in life. Learning to be helpless can lead to a  pessimistic belief system, stress, and depression. It can make for an emotional future of fear, anger, sadness, and jealousy. Learned helplessness will only heighten a person’s already innate sense of insecurity, mistrust, anxiety, and paranoia. A person who has become helpless has tragically lost any degree of self-confidence. With this loss a person’s path in life has become a meandering self-defeating journey. I know from my professional work experiences that many of our mental health centers, jails, prisons, homeless shelters, and addiction programs are composed of vanguished individuals who have unfortunately learned to be helpless-and-hopeless in managing life.

learned helplessness

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