Learned Helplessness

Do you block yourself from progressing or taking any steps forward for your betterment? Are you the elephant in your life? Here is the story of an elephant that was tied with a small rope around one ankle.

Visitors saw the big elephant tied to a small rope and wondered why the elephant didn’t break free from the rope, as it is easy for strong giant elephants. The visitors asked the trainers what was stopping the elephants from freeing themselves, and the trainer responded.

When the elephants were babies, they were tied with rope around their ankles to keep them secure, and this rope tied on the elephants goes all the way up to adulthood. When they were small, it would have been difficult to free them from the rope. It is not difficult for an adult elephant to be freed from the rope, but they struggle to be freed from that small rope because they are conditioned to believe that the rope is stronger than them and that the rope can still hold them even if they try to fight and free them.

The elephant could break free at any time from the bond, but because it believes that they are weaker than the rope, they are stuck right there. At times, we are stuck right where we are because of our beliefs. This is known as learned helplessness.

The definition of learned helplessness, according to the American Psychological Association, is a phenomenon in which repeated exposure to uncontrollable stressors results in individuals failing to use any control option that may later become available for them. Learned helplessness was first described by the psychologists J. Bruce Overmier and Martin E. P. Seligman. Learned helplessness can undermine the motivation of an individual to make any effort to change or alter their situation. Learned helplessness can also affect mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

Learned helplessness is a mental state that impairs an individual’s ability to make any effort to change or alter their situation, and in some situations, they completely avoid situations. This happens when an individual has encountered a lot of distress and trains his/her brain to believe that they cannot do anything about the situation, so they don’t even try to do anything. They have a limiting belief system and defeatist thinking, which stagnates them from being progressive and persistent in doing things that are essential to be done to manage their lives.

Signs of learned helplessness
  • Feeling there is little or no control over any situation
  • Low self-esteem and confidence
  • Hesitant to ask for help
  • Low motivation to take any initiative
  • In all the tasks, they put in very little effort
  • Lack of persistence
  • Feeling frustrated and irritated
  • Being pessimistic & negative self-talk
  • Always giving excuse or silly reasons
  • Giving up easily
How to unlearn learned helplessness
  • Identify and challenge your negative, distorted beliefs and thinking
  • Plan your days
  • Set your goals based on the SMART strategies. Make sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound
  • Be accountable to someone who is trustworthy
  • Distinguish clearly about the things that are in and out of your control when encountering stressful situations
  • Learn to accept your limitations and use your strengths to manage things that are within your control
  • Be mindful of the words you use toward yourself
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