When I was younger, I sometimes blamed my circumstances for failing to do something or not having something. Not only was this approach wrong, but it also didn’t help me break out of stagnation in any way. Because in life nothing will happen itself, and if you want something, you have to work for it.
What separates you from the desired life are mental traps. One of them is the so-called learned helplessness. What is such an attitude? People with this mentality are characterized by pessimism, self-pity, repressing anger, and the belief that life is beyond their control. Moreover, they blame everything but themselves for their failures.
Is learned helplessness the same as depression?
No, although these two things often go together. According to studies1 of the nine typical symptoms of depression: sad mood, loss of interest, weight and sleep problems, psychomotor problems, fatigue, worthlessness, indecisiveness or poor concentration, thoughts of suicide, eight are identical to learned helplessness.
To simplify, we can say that learned helplessness is a belief that nothing one does matter. From a psychological point of view, learned helplessness is not seeing the pattern between the actions taken and the results. People affected by depression and learned helplessness live in the belief that whatever they do, nothing will change. Such people fail to see that every decision and every action taken has some effects. Moreover, not taking any action also has consequences.
What you have in life is the result of what you give
Learned helplessness does not always apply to all aspects of life, sometimes it might affect only few aspects. Let’s take shyness as an example. Coyness blocks a person in a new company, and this leads to isolation and even greater shyness. Consequently, it leads to learned helplessness in only specific situations.
Of course, you can sit all your life on the couch staring at the TV and chewing on your complaints, blaming the whole world for being unhappy, feel great injustice for how the world and other people treated you, and expect compassion from others. It’s easy to stay in a world built up with excuses that makes you feel better because you don’t feel like trying.
Start by taking responsibility for yourself
When you think you have no bearing on reality, you give up. You are not living your life – life just happens to you. And yet change is possible, because you can take control of your mind. You can learn an attitude that will help you regain control of your life. Control is the ability to influence reality through conscious action, which is the opposite of helplessness..
Change is possible when you acknowledge to yourself that only you are responsible for your decisions. Don’t shift responsibility for your life to other people or fate. Work on changing your beliefs to positive – you can use affirmation and visualization for that. Start to set yourself small tasks that you will perform – over time it will build faith in your inner strength. Remember that changing your mindset is a process that is often slow and unpleasant, so don’t be put off if everything doesn’t go right away – one small step every day is enough to get somewhere.
1 Klein DC, Fencil-Morse E, Seligman MEJ Pers Soc Psychol. 1976 May; 33(5):508-16.