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What Is Learned Helplessness, and How Do You ... - Shiken

What Is Learned Helplessness, and How Do You ... - Shiken

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Overcoming Learned Helplessness and Nurturing Self-Efficacy

Learned helplessness is a psychological state that causes individuals to feel overwhelmed and incapable of taking any action to positively change difficult situations - even when solutions are accessible. This phenomenon was first identified in 1967 by Martin Seligman and Steven Maier during research into animal behavior, observing that dogs exposed to inescapable electric shocks eventually stopped attempting to escape. Similar reactions were seen when loud noises were used instead.

Learned helplessness can cause the erosion of two key aspects of mental wellbeing, namely self-efficacy and internal locus of control; that is, confidence in one's ability to solve problems and take on challenges, and the belief that one's circumstances are in their control. With healthy levels of self-efficacy and internal locus of control, an individual is more likely to remain motivated and energized to tackle tasks.

Understanding Helpful vs. Unhelpful Thinking

Helpful thinking encourages individuals to be reflective, analysing either successes or failures in order to gain valuable insight and move forward. On the other hand, unhelpful thinking tends to be emotionally driven and amplifies negative emotions. People with depression or anxiety often demonstrate this type of distorted thinking, which can be addressed through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

The Impact of Overparenting

Overparenting may also contribute to learned helplessness in adulthood. With excessive reliance on parents, children can become fearful of failure, and miss out on the vital life lessons gained by problem solving, handling disappointment, and building resilience.

Ideally, parents should provide constant support to their children, but also hold back enough to enable the child to gain independence, make mistakes, and learn problem-solving skills.

Creating Holistic Wellness

If you are suffering from an inability to act with self-sufficiency, or struggling with learned helplessness, it is important to work on cultivating holistic wellness. This can help to dispel the sense of being overwhelmed and powerless, and instead instil confidence and optimism.

The Power of Control

In his course on positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Martin Seligman shares a unique anecdote from the original learned helplessness experiments. When some people were exposed to uncontrollable circumstances, Seligman noted that about 10% seemed completely immune to the effects. This is due to the brain's controllability mechanism, which kicks in under pressure to activate panic and fight-or-flight response. With learned helplessness, however, this fails to happen.

Therefore, unlocking a sense of control is pivotal in overcoming learned helplessness. This can be achieved through various techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, critical thinking, and learning problem-solving skills to tackle difficult situations.

Understanding Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness is a feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to control the situation, even if you are able to make decisions. This feeling of being unable to control one's life is the opposite of the concept of learned optimism, where you challenge the thought processes and behaviors that hold you back.

Overcoming Learned Helplessness

While learned helplessness can be difficult to break free from, there are a number of tools and strategies that can be used to do so. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, involves working with a professional to identify and challenge the thoughts and beliefs that lead to learned helplessness. Coaching can also be beneficial, as it encourages self-reflection and helps you to question and refute irrational thoughts.

You can also use self-efficacy to increase your sense of control. Self-efficacy is built on four pillars: positive thoughts, vicarious exposure, affirmation, and mastery experiences. By taking on something that interests you and mastering it, you can cultivate a greater sense of self-efficacy and the ability to cope with tough situations.

Parents & Children: Holistic Wellness & How to Cultivate It

Helping children foster holistic wellness is a key part of their growth and development, and it's important for adults to play a role in this. A great way to do this is by providing a safe, supportive environment, helping them set achievable goals, and providing guidance and resources to help them succeed. In addition, open communication is essential for helping the child recognize their successes, failure, and progress.

Bottom Line

Although learned helplessness can have a powerful effect, it's possible to overcome it with the help of a professional. In order to foster holistic wellness and resilience, parents and adults alike should focus on creating achievable goals; providing guidance and resources; and engaging in meaningful communication with children and adults alike.

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