In this post, we’ll unpack all you need to know about Learned Helplessness, defining exactly what it is, what causes it, how to overcome it and more.
What Is Learned Helplessness?
Learned helplessness is a term coined by American psychologist Martin Seligman. It describes a state which occurs when a person is repeatedly exposed to a distressing experience to the point that they feel powerless to change it. Thus, they don’t even try — even if they have the opportunity to do so.
For example, someone who has repeatedly tried to quit smoking and failed may grow frustrated. As a result, they form the belief that no matter what they do they will not be able to destroy the habit so they no longer continue to even try.
The Three Patterns Of Focus That Creates Learned Helplessness
When we experience Learned Helplessness, there are three things we focus on; personal, permanent and pervasive.
Firstly, we think the problem is our fault (personal). Secondly, we think the problem is going to last forever (permanent). Thirdly, we think the problem is going to affect every area of our lives (pervasive).
For example, someone who lost their job would interpret the experience in a way that something is wrong with them (personal), that they’ll never find a new job (permanent) and that they’re a failure at everything (pervasive).
How To Overcome Learned Helplessness
The key to overcoming learned helpless is to make things impersonal, impermanent and specific.
Firstly, we must form the belief that the problem was caused by external factors (impersonal). Secondly, we must form the belief that the problem is temporary (impermanent). Thirdly, we must form the belief that the problem applies to a certain area of our lives (specific).
Using the same example as above of someone losing their job, they will interpret their experience in a way that it was the business’ loss (impersonal), that they’ll soon find another job (impermanent) and that losing their job only applies to their work.
When we transform a seemingly negative experience from personal, permanent and pervasive to impersonal, impermanent and specific, we transform our emotional state from feeling powerless to powerful. We become Masters of our Destiny instead of Slaves to our Fate.
Learned Helplessness occurs when someone feels powerless to change a perceived experience so they avoid trying. It s the result of making something personal, permanent and pervasive.
We can overcome Learned Helplessness by shifting our interpretation of an experience from personal, permanent and pervasive to impersonal, impermanent and specific. In doing so, we shift our emotional state from powerless to powerful. We become Masters of our Destiny instead of Slaves to our Fate.