Learned helplessness: why we avoid defending ourselves

When we go through difficult times, it is normal to try to get out of the situation and solve the problem, fight against it, stop having a bad time, and for that we can try different solutions, however there are times when we throw in the towel ... why? must be? Why does the time come when we give up? Do we stop acting? Of trying to solve what is hurting us?

What is learned helplessness?

Learned helplessness is a psychological phenomenon studied by Martin Seligman, to understand the processes by which people are unable to react to situations that cause us great suffering and pain developing a passive attitude.

When we go through difficult times, when we have problems, we are suffering and have tried to solve in different ways what is hurting us, without having a successful outcome, without things changing the way we expect, we fall into what the experts we call iNdefence learned, that is, we learn that there is nothing we can do to get out of this unpleasant situation, that whatever we do, nothing will change, because we have already tried everything!

Imagine that we are on our way to work and we are stuck in a traffic jam, the first day you get angry and scream, the second you curse a little and the third assumes that you can not do anything to avoid the traffic jam, or that every time you take the plane, this is delayed, the first time you go to the counter very angry and put a complaint, the second you return to complain doubting that it will take effect, the third assumes that it is useless to put the complaint and you put up with it.

How we fall into learned helplessness

All these situations mentioned above are everyday situations without further impact in our lives, however when we go through difficult personal moments and we assume that we can not solve them, we have already tried everything and we conclude that whatever I do is not going to to serve nothing, that everything will remain the same is when things get complicated, because we are passive, we stop trying to get out of that situation, we stop fighting, we have hope that we are able to solve the situation, we stop believing in we and little by little we begin to have negative feelings about ourselves, diminishing our own confidence and self-esteem, and with this affecting the ability to solve the problem or the situation that we face, we fall into conformity and submission, in short, in the Learned helplessness.

Bullying, domestic violence, even what happened in the concentration camps, etc ... are examples of situations that reflect this learned helplessness, the victims do not escape, do nothing to get out of their situation, because all the previous attempts of solution have not served at all and have learned that they can not do anything to change their situation.


What can we do to get out of helplessness?

Most of our behaviors are learned. Riding a bike, helping others, being aggressive, lying, keeping silence in certain places ... are behaviors that we have been learning throughout our lives. The good thing about this is that just as we have learned behaviors that limit us, such as helplessness, in the same way we can unlearn them and change them for others that make us feel better.

When a person has fallen into the learned helplessness, it is not enough to be encouraged, act, change, but it is necessary to unlearn the helplessness, recover the self confidence that we have lost and strengthen our self-esteem. To do it, you can follow any of these steps:

1. Be careful in the way you speak to yourself. Many times we send messages to ourselves as "I can not do this" "it scares me", when you realize that you are talking like that, FOR and question your way of thinking. What is it that makes me unable to? What really scares me?

2. Take control of the situation. The control is in you, not in the situation, generates different solutions to solve the problem, keep in mind the resources, your skills, etc. Draw a plan and start it.

3. Develop positive expectations about the outcome of your behavior. Believing that we will do well and we will succeed is the first step to achieve it.

Rocío Navarro Psychologist Director of Psicolari, integral psychology

Video: Locus of control, learned helplessness, and the tyranny of choice | Khan Academy

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