Great empty space gaps in my soul – about learnt helplessness

“I feel, in fact I know this is not good but I am not able to act.” “No results of my efforts.”


Are these sentences familiar to you? Most of us have time periods in life when we feel helplessness-inability. It is a dangerous condition which can lead to self-fate destruction and depression. Why does it work out, like we lose all of our power of disposal?

The symptom of learnt helplessness refers to an acceptance and endurance of uncomfortable situation as a result of serial conditionings. It includes the disability of avoidance of these situations, even if they would be avoidable.

Simply learn helplessness is a condition, in which case the dominant feeling is lost control.

Whatever or however we do, we continuously feel that we don’t have any control or influence on the end. So our efforts step by step disappear.

Might be possible to act but still don’t.

Learnt helplessness behind depression

Learnt helplessness shows relation with a lot of mental problems, like with depression. The symptoms are very similar: passivity, sadness, anxiety and hostility. Beliefs start to control our mind and acts whereas we are not able to control important parts of our life anymore. Most of the time we do not even believe there is a solution for our problems and actually start to find explanations and self-justifications to prove it. Usually those people who had destructive childhood are more susceptible to fall into this condition. Like a frozen condition.

Yet there are cases when people don’t become depressed notwithstanding that they experienced several negative situations and losses. They keep their joy of life and optimism. Attributional style difference can be the explanation for the difference. This defines how and what we attribute to the lack or missing control. While some people explain their lack of successes with situational elements, others explain with stable, personal elements. This is a fundamental attributional defect-mistake.

Serious depression and learnt helplessness appears when we explain negative experiences consistently with internal, constant type reasons. Also typical to feel hopeless and the feeling of disbelief in changing.

Learnt helplessness can give an explanation for those people for example who stay and live in abusive (physical or verbal) relationship, why they take their situation passively and helplessly, without doing nothing. But also we can explain with it common daily situations, like when we are not able to change our workplace although we have felt that long time ago it should has been done.

To identify on ourselves when we have learnt helplessness condition is very difficult and also very hard to step out from it. Most of the time it requires professional help. Therapist who has an outsider view can help us to step back, realize our beliefs, support and guide us to the way finding solutions.

Source: Comer R. J. Fundamentals of abnormal psychology

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