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The learned helplessness is a psychological prison where the person thinks that nothing of what he can do can change the circumstances. In this way he remains trapped in the past, accepting his role as a victim.
In some cases, the learned helplessness is manifested only in certain contexts, just the ones in which it was born. An example of this phenomenon is when a child gets bad grades in math and then considers that all his life will be bad in this matter.
In other cases, the learned helplessness extends to all spheres of life, so that the person begins to believe that he or she is unable to reach his goals and feels that failure is the only possibility. In these cases, the learned helplessness is accompanied by a deep damage to self-esteem.
Learned helplessness as a coping style
In the most serious cases, the learned helplessness is born in childhood, usually because of experiences of abuse and neglect. For example, a child may try to get the attention and approval of the parents, perhaps trying to impress them by getting good grades at school, but when he sees that he does not get anything, he ends up throwing the towel. That child will not think that his parents have a problem, as they do not satisfy his needs of affection, love, and attention, but that he’s not worthy of affection. And it will grow with that idea, which will keep in adulthood.
Learned helplessness can also result from seeing a negative experience of parents or people close to him. An example is when the child sees his mother silently suffering for his father’s abuses. So he takes a passive coping style because understands that it is better not to react.
In these cases, the learned helplessness becomes a way of reacting to the world, so it’s no surprise that these people tend to blame themselves for everything. They believe that success is impossible, they are afraid that the others judge them and believe they are not good enough.
In addition, one of the effects of learned helplessness is that inhibits personal growth. That is why these people feel useless, incapable and unworthy of love. The problem is that, in the long term, their beliefs become a prophecy that is self-proclaimed.
5 techniques for treating impotence learned
“My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will”, said psychologist William James. The learned helplessness is not a weight that the person has to carry forever. In many cases, it is necessary the help of a psychologist, because it will also be necessary to work on self-esteem and to rearrange the traumatic experiences of the past, but these three exercises may also be useful.
1. Change your mind with metaphors
If you have suffered learned helplessness for a long time, your conscious mind will be accustomed to this coping style, so at first it will resist to change. That means you can not fool yourself by repeating phrases like “I am a valuable person” or “I can do it”.
However, metaphors are a great tool to begin changing mental models at the subconscious level and then at a conscious one.
For example, you can imagine being a bird that has been kept caged for a long time. That bird was not guilty for being locked in a cage. However, one day the door of the cage went open and the bird hesitates to exit. That bird must realize that he still has wings that will allow him to fly far away. That he is no longer trapped.
As a general rule, people who suffer from learned helplessness respond very well to metaphors, you can create your own metaphor and imagine it in your own way, until gradually your conscious mind assumes that the protagonist of the story is you and you can fly away because there is nothing more that binds you to the past.
2. Find out the origin of your thoughts
People who suffer of learned helplessness often have a very negative, depressing and demoralizing inner dialogue. Normally they do not realize it, but those thoughts are those that, in a way, nourish and consolidate their condition.
An excellent strategy to counteract them is to find out their origin. Every time you think you can not do it, you are not able or not worth trying, try to find out who talked to you this way in the past. These words are likely to come from your parents, a brother, a teacher, or even your partner.
When you realize that this demotivating dialogue is just the opinion of someone you have introjected, it loses its strength immediately, because it is not your thought, but corresponds to the image someone wanted you to have of yourself.
3. Live the Difference!
Learned helplessness means assuming that we are experiencing a new situation where we do not have the same limitations of the past. It means understanding that there are many other alternatives as every situation is always different, and we also have changed.
Unfortunately, very often the person hangs in his past, to get out of it, he needs to realize that he is no longer the same person and that the circumstances have changed. To achieve this, it is convenient to highlight the differences.
For example, a child who has been subjected to violence and has been ridiculed by his parents every time he expressed his opinion, is likely to be afraid to speak at work. That person can make a list of the differences between the two situations:
What happened at that time?
How were you at that moment?
Who was the person who humiliated/ridiculed you?
What is happening now?
How are you now?
How are the people around you?
By putting it black on white you will notice that there are big differences between the past and the present, and this opens the mind to new ways of reacting.
4. Take the control by solving problems
Everything that is learned can be lost, but it is necessary that the person be willing to change. An excellent strategy in treating the learned helplessness is to promote the problem solving, because with each solution that the person encounters and practices satisfactorily, he will experience a sense of power that will help him abandon the psychological jail.
The person who suffers of learned helplessness usually takes a passive attitude in life, letting the circumstances or the others decide for him. He has to take on the reins of his life and deal with problems by leaving emotions out of the way.
To achieve this goal, there are some questions that can guide you along the way:
– What can I do to avoid this?
– What did it teach me this experience?
– What alternative solutions do I have at hand?
The most important thing is that you feel you have the control of your life and that you can do something to change. Focus on those things you have some power on and, little by little, do something to change them.
5. Connect with your “inner self”
People who suffer from learned helplessness often disconnected completely from their “inner self”. The pain they suffered in the past has led her to that emotional disconnection. However, to heal it is essential that you come back to connect with your essence.
An exercise that is usually not used in treating the learned helplessness but which is very effective in rediscovering the person you are, is simply meditating in front of the mirror.
Sit in a place where no one can bother you, preferably in front of a mirror where you can see yourself completely. You just have to look at you, without any expectation. You can stare at each of your features. After a while, you will notice that you start distancing from the reflected image in the mirror.
Some people experience a great tenderness for the image in the mirror, others barely recognize how distant they were from themselves. Many people notice that this “other person” feels depressed, lonely or helpless.
Anyway, the idea is that you make peace with that person, that you realize that you need her.