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#278854 - 03/10/09 04:22 AM Learned Helplessness
ericc Offline

Registered: 01/05/08
Posts: 1986
This morning at work I started thinking about something. It seemed important and related to my experience. I looked up the term "helplessness syndrome" on the internet. That seemed to be what I was looking for. In fact, what I was thinking about is more properly called "learned helplessness". That was the term that was forming a vague impression in my mind.

I didn't have much time to read up about it, but I took a quick look on wikipedia to confirm this is what I was thinking about. I might not totally have this correct, but the basic idea is that we can start to believe that nothing we do will have any positive effect, so why try. After so may failed attempts, we can start to "learn" that there are no options. So we give up.

I was thinking about how not too long ago I didn't know what I could do to deal with my problems. Nothing made them go away or eased their pain. I certainly did my share of drinking to extremes to run from myself. I was destroying myself, but why did it matter because there was no use anyway. There were other ways as well where I was destructive or unmotivated to improve my life. I didn't know how and didn't know there was any possibility in it anyway. One caveat to all of this, I never let myself fully sink too far as I don't think it is in my nature to not at least put up a basic fight against the worst. But treading with my head barely above water was pretty much where I was at for a long time.

I no longer feel that I have no control in my life. In fact I have seen my life improve over the last few years. I can look back about every six months and see that there was some sort of advancement, however small. Certainly many doors have been closed over the years, but that doesn't mean all possibilities have disappeared. I know that my personal actions can make a difference, and because of that I am trying to make good choices. And when I make mistakes (as I will always do) I try to learn from them. Anyway I just wanted to share this. I feel I am no longer as bound to the ideas of learned helplessness that I once was, and that is a good thing.


#278858 - 03/10/09 04:55 AM Re: Learned Helplessness [Re: ericc]
Charlie24 Offline

Registered: 09/28/08
Posts: 562
Eric first off I must say I LOVE Wikipedia.

Now getting back to your topic. I feel like in so many ways I have learned helplessness. How did you get through it? What were the steps you took?

I have so many days where I just really wonder if I will ever get good back into my life? Is it all just karmic retribution?

I don't know if you were looking for answers from others but I'd love some answers from you buddy.


#278861 - 03/10/09 05:32 AM Re: Learned Helplessness [Re: Charlie24]
endlessjourney Offline

Registered: 11/01/05
Posts: 518
Loc: Cincinnati Ohio
I'm glad that you are progressing forward in your life. I think a big part of CSA is breaking through those "learned helplessness" barriers. They are like fences between you and a happy life. Each fence has a sign saying, "You can't cross this fence". After looking at that sign for so long and after trying to climb it and failing, we get pissed and find a way to barrel through it. Anger is a huge driving force to help us to bash through those obstacles when we learn how to harness it correctly. It seems as if you've bashed through a few yourself.


Truth is the very reason we strive to live. It surrounds and resides within us. Accepting the truths we already know and seeking out those we do not is a direct path to inner balance and joy. For life is not a means to an end, but a journey. Life comes and goes but the truth will always live on.

#278867 - 03/10/09 06:30 AM Re: Learned Helplessness [Re: ericc]
tony2c Offline

Registered: 01/22/09
Posts: 37
Loc: ny

There are barriers for us no doubt, but I try to think of it in this way:

Everyone in life has a 100 foot wall to get over, there is no getting around it. Some people have a 99 foot ladder handed to them and never make it over the top ( they never had to achieve anything, so they never learned to climb )
CSA survivors were thrown into a 40foot pit of muck and mire at the base of the wall, and before they could acheive anything in life they had to somehow climb out of the pit.

when you begin to climb the residue from the pit causes it to be slippery.

That was the bad news here's the good news, when you start making progress up the wall the climb becomes easier, when others climb with you it seems like there is no effort to it at all.

Backslides happen. Just keep looking up, and get a good grip you'll be amazed after time how high you've climbed.

God bless you and grant you his peace.

we are so accustomed to adopting masks before others, that we wind up being unable to recognize ourselves

#278872 - 03/10/09 09:27 AM Re: Learned Helplessness [Re: tony2c]
dark empathy Offline

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 2708
Loc: durham, north england
the term "learned helpelessness" takes me back to a time in my first year. This was when everything seemed to be working in my life, when I'd got over the initial depression i experienced immediately after the abuse, i was 19, starting a degree, and though I knew I had over lasting affects from the abuse, i thought "Well I know what they are and where they are, so everything's okay"

I went to a lecture on philosophy of mind where the state of learned helpelessness was used as an example of the functional interactions betwene self and the world.

Unfortunately, the lecturer decided to use battered wives as an example of learned helplessness.

One girl, got up, and in an incredibly angry tone lambasted the lecturer on his evil suggestion that battered wives were responsable for their own problems. The lecturer of course, stated that "learned helplessness" did not translate to responsability, and appologised that said girl had got the wrong end of the stick.

I don't know why, (well now maybe I do), but something in the discourse disturbed me. I'd known about learned helplessness for several years by that stage, ---- ever sinse I fist studdied the concept in A-level psychology when i was 17. The thought that I'd personally experienced it, that my freezing when abuse happened, that my inability to move or do anything else but stand stil and retreat into the back of my mind while my body reacted was itself learned helplessness never occurred to me at all.

but when said girl got incredibly angry at this lecturer, something in me went a bit wrong.

so, i investigated. I invited said girl for a cup of after-lecture coffee to discuss feminism (a subject which really interested me).

Within an hour, she was telling me that she herself was a recovering alcoholic, and that the learned helplessness thing offended her because of some experiences she had herself.

i didn't say anything about me whatsoever. I detailed some of the psychological experiments I'd heard about which tested learned helpelessness on animals, and explained to her that it was an incredibly sad thing.

Of course, the idea of associating myself with it never occurred until five years later in 2007 when i completely crashed.

I'm not sure where this is going, just some of my thoughts when I here about learned helplessness.

i'm incredibly impressed how you've dealt with it eric, ---- I'm stil struggling myself. Some days I THINK i'VE GOT IT FIXED, others I don't have the energy or motivation even to move.

What you say about 2keeping your head above water" eric, really does seem to have described what I was doing pretty much all of last year. I think things are generally improving, ---- though specifically things seem to stay the same, but I'll just keep plowing on and see where I get to.

Oh heck! I'm really sorry about the wrant, I'm not sure where all this came from at all! sorry, I'll stop now.

#278888 - 03/10/09 02:28 PM Re: Learned Helplessness [Re: dark empathy]
ericc Offline

Registered: 01/05/08
Posts: 1986

The above posts have good suggestions. I'm not saying things are all better, only that I know there have been improvements and they have come about by my actions and effort. Personally for me some of what I have done is taken practical action like paying of debt and starting to save so I can reduce that stress. I have dealt more and more with the clutter in my apartment. I have tried to improve my job situation. Even slowly finding clothes I like to wear so I feel more comfortable has helped. I also agree that anger can be a motivator if you harness is correctly. It has helped me focus my thoughts and determine what I truly believe as opposed to agreeing with other about everything. Sometime you need to just keep on when you are not sure what the outcome will be. Sharing with others is helpful (which is why this place is such a good thing). I guess the best thing is to just try and identify the areas where we can make things better and try to do so. Also, to be able and recognize those things that are what they are and can not be changed and find peace and acceptance in those. One thing for sure, a lot over the past couple years that has happened has been sort of serendipitous in that it wasn't what I was searching for it, but the work I was doing allowed me to see that there was something to be gained and learned and I have grown from that. Anyway, keep at it.


Don't worry about ranting or not. It was good to read here what you had to say.



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