Learned helplessness: delving into the psychology of the victim

the learned helplessness it is perhaps one of those psychological phenomena whose importance affects the existential plane of the human being, and the research and the answers which science launches there must be able to improve our relations with one another. Minimizing learned helplessness will be a breakthrough for society and individuals in particular.

But, What exactly is learned helplessness and why is it so important to know this concept? In today’s article, we will explore this phenomenon and its implications in our daily life.

Learned impotence: a syndrome to consider

Learned helplessness is something that can affect people as close as a family member and even yourself. It is therefore not simply an academic concept irrelevant to reality, but something that affects the daily lives of many people and often their lives may depend on the effective help of a family member or of a health care professional seeks to alleviate this learned and dysfunctional behavior.

What is learned helplessness?

But What exactly is learned helplessness?

Generally speaking, it refers to the condition whereby a person or animal is inhibited in the face of aversive or painful situations when actions to avoid it have not been successful, eventually developing passivity in such situations. . Understanding how this phenomenon develops is essential in order to be able to understand and help people who suffer from this psychological bias, as it can be a limiting belief that it acts as a heavy burden on their personal development and self-esteem.

Contributions from Martin Seligman, the researcher who discovered learned helplessness

Seligman I Bigger they were among the first researchers to wonder why an animal or person with constant harmful and painful skin conditions did nothing to give up on this situation. This discovery was reported in research on dogs, and was subsequently followed by some researchers such as Watson I Ramey, Who studied learned helplessness in humans.

On another side, there is no specific situation that generates impotenceIn other words, many people can experience the same unfavorable situation (even in a group) and react to it differently. has been Bernard weiner who considered the influence of the interpretation and perception that each individual has of the event on the development of impotence and also on the way to cope with it.

Signs of learned helplessness

When someone falls into helplessness, which manifests itself in three deficits: motivation, emotional and cognitive. A person who begins to fall into impotence or who already suffers from it begins to show a delay in triggering voluntary responses until they gradually stop having them (motivational deficit). Likewise, a series of behavioral disturbances, The most common are anxiety and depression (emotional deficit), which take effect to the extent that the affected person is unable to see solutions to the problem that plagues them (cognitive deficit).

The answer to the question of why a person in a situation is clearly doing nothing to get out of it it lies precisely in the integral affectation not only of these three spheres (motivational, emotional and cognitive) but also at the physiological level. In a word, his whole person, the different psychic and somatic domains, join this syndrome. Therefore, it will not be enough to make the decision to break the negative cycle but it will involve unlearning how the aversive or painful situation is handled.

Why do some people develop learned helplessness?

How do you get to impotence? A simple way to understand this is the story of the frogs. It is said that in order to cook a live frog, it is necessary to put it in cold water and gradually increase the heat to a boil. On the other hand, if we decide to throw the same frog in boiling water to cook the same frog, the frog will jump; it will escape boiling water. With this example, I want to explain that learned helplessness is a thought pattern that gradually develops and gradually corrodes psychic and bodily forces to the point of bending the will.

The sad thing to consider is how easily learned helplessness can develop. We are all vulnerable to adopting such thought patterns because there is rarely an emotional education to deal with it.

It is enough to constantly expose the potential victim to adverse circumstances, lower morale, overload them with work, shut down their external support for a long time and repeatedly. The person thus treated will soon present deficits in the areas already mentioned: affective, emotional, cognitive and even somatic. And no, this is not something that does not happen every day: Domestic violence and / or domestic violence are common examples in which different degrees of helplessness learned by the victim are often perceived.

    But these are not the only scenarios in which relationship models can be generated that can lead to learned helplessness. There are at school, at work, in groups of friends… Communication and relationship styles that generate learned helplessness do not necessarily translate into physical violence. In many cases, violence can be psychological, economic, moral, among others.

    Solve learned helplessness

    As for the need to generate momentum in trying to help someone with learned helplessness, several things need to be said. It is of little use for someone to try to help by constantly telling the victim what to do or how to think. It would be like telling a patient with the flu not to feel bad: the flu virus and the mental patterns that lead to learned impotence are sufficiently ingrained in the person as if to resist simple well-meaning words or sketchy advice on how to handle the situation.

    Indeed, the person suffering from learned helplessness does not feel bad because he wants it but because his psyche has consolidated dysfunctional patterns that prevent him from changing his own situation. Therefore, it is necessary to de-stigmatize the victim. Realize that you have lost the ability to see solutions that others without problem can see and that the help you need is not just for others to tell you what you “should” or “should not” do, but reaffirm in their ability and self-esteem; give him back control of his life so he can regain control of what he saw once unresolved.

    1. Psychological therapy to treat these cases

    In this regard, there are mental health professionals who can deal with cases of people with learned helplessness. One of the most frequently used therapies for this purpose is cognitive behavioral therapy. Through different sessions, the psychologist will help the patient to restructure his thoughts and emotions, As well as learned behaviors that keep you from moving forward.

    To finish, impotence is not just an individual matter. It can go “viral”, if I can use the expression. In other words, helplessness can spread to an entire society or to a social group. World War II was an extreme case in which all the cruelty human beings are capable of was exposed, and the Nazi concentration camps saw thousands of human beings who, having lost all hope of survival, they practically fell apart. rendered to death.

    Either way, you don’t have to go that far in time or space. Domestic violence, harassment, bullying are just a few everyday examples which show us that this phenomenon is very present in our societies. It is up to us to begin to realize this and to fight not only to minimize its effects, but also to combat the causes.

    Bibliographical references:

    • http://www4.ujaen.es/~rmartos/IA.PDF

    • http://mariangelesalvarez.com/igualdad/relacion-de-control-o-igual/la-indefension-aprendida

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