What is learned helplessness – causes, manifestations, solutions (II)

The impact of learned helplessness on personal and professional life

Learned helplessness has been associated with several different psychological disorders - depression, anxiety, phobias, feelings of loneliness, and shyness can all be exacerbated by learned helplessness.

When a person feels they have no control over their life or that their efforts do not lead to positive changes, they may enter a vicious cycle of negative thinking that supports the onset and persistence of anxious or depressive symptoms.

Moreover, if you suffer from anxiety or depression, you may feel you can do nothing to alleviate these symptoms and thus cease to seek solutions. Although psychotherapy could be one solution, you believe that nothing can help you feel better, so you give up even before trying.

Learned helplessness can erode self-confidence and self-esteem – when someone faces repeated failures or does not see positive results from their efforts, they may develop the belief that they lack the ability to influence events or achieve success. This sense of helplessness can undermine the confidence in their own abilities and contribute to a decrease in self-esteem.

Learned helplessness can also have consequences in interpersonal relationships - for example, feeling shy in different social situations may make people feel they can't do anything to overcome this state. Because they feel they can't control their symptoms, they may give up trying to engage in social situations, thus making their shyness even more pronounced.

People who feel powerless may have difficulty building healthy relationships or coping with challenges that arise within those relationships. Low confidence in their abilities can affect how someone responds and behaves in their interactions, potentially leading to avoidance of confrontations or excessive dependence on others to solve problems.

Poor performance at work or school - if a person no longer believes in their ability to influence the outcomes or achieve their professional goals, this can lead to a poor performance at work, lack of motivation, and career stagnation. You may feel stuck, unfulfilled, apathetic, and may feel you will never be able to reach your full potential in your field of work.

Therefore, one of the most important consequences of learned helplessness is the limitation of a person's personal and professional potential. If you feel you can't control your life and believe your efforts are futile, you are less likely to take risks, follow your passions, and achieve your goals. You may develop strong feelings of worthlessness and lack of self-value, despair, and hopelessness, and you may have difficulty coping with stress and maintaining a good emotional wellbeing , all of which significantly affect your quality of life.

Overcoming learned helplessness

Of course, ideally, parents should allow their children from an early age to explore, learn from their own experiences, encourage their curiosity, and provide support as they learn to navigate the world on their own, without taking on their responsibilities.

 Children are often surrounded by challenges and obstacles they must face to grow and mature, and one of the most significant influences during this period is how parents support and guide their children. Although the desire to overly protect may be strong, it is important for parents to be aware of how their interactions can influence their children's development. When parents take on their children's responsibilities or overly protect them from failures and difficulties, they may internalize the idea that they have no control over their own lives and that their efforts are in vain. This type of mentality can lead to decreased self-esteem, lack of confidence in their abilities, and avoidance of action in the future.

Even if children experience various failures, it is important for parents to convey the message that failures are normal and can be turned into learning and development opportunities. Failures are inevitable in life and are part of the growth process. Thus, instead of trying to prevent or minimize their children's failures, parents should encourage them to take risks and learn from their experiences.

Teaching children to think critically and approach problems focusing on solutions can counteract learned helplessness. They need to understand that they can control many aspects of their lives by proactively addressing challenges.

By encouraging independence, taking responsibility, and managing failures constructively, parents can contribute to the development of a positive and resilient mindset in their children. It is important for parents to provide emotional support and encourage their children to express their emotions and concerns while also providing them with the necessary support to cope with difficulties.

Most often, people do not have ideal childhoods, a multitude of other factors contributing later to the formation of their personality, so identifying and becoming aware of learned helplessness are the first steps towards change, facilitating the adoption of strategies to overcome it.

To better understand how learned helplessness has become part of your thinking and behavior, psychotherapy can be helpful in the process of identifying and changing negative and dysfunctional thoughts, adopting more realistic perspectives, and developing a positive self-attitude. It can also help in learning healthy stress management strategies, developing problem-solving skills, and building self-confidence. Thus, you can learn to cope more effectively with life's challenges and achieve your personal and professional goals.

Questions such as "how do I feel when facing challenges?", "how do I react to failures?" or "do I use my skills in various situations?", being aware of the emotions felt in difficult situations and identifying behavioral patterns, reflecting on past experiences, especially those associated with failures or challenges, identifying limiting beliefs related to your own ability to cope with difficulties and achieve your goals can help in evaluating your own state.

 Changing the way you relate to yourself and speak to yourself in your inner dialogue is essential - replacing negative thoughts with positive and realistic affirmations contributes to building a healthy self-image. In this direction, adopting the belief that your abilities and talents can be developed through effort and perseverance counteracts the limiting beliefs of learned helplessness.

Start noticing and changing negative thinking patterns. Learn to distinguish irrational thoughts and replace them with more realistic and constructive thoughts. Keeping a thought journal can be a method to identify and analyze negative thinking patterns. Noting and reflecting on these thoughts can help raise awareness of them and develop positive alternatives.

Identify your personal resources and abilities - make a list of situations in which you have succeeded and analyze what contributed to those successes.

Mindfulness practices and meditation can help reduce anxiety and focus your attention on the present moment. These techniques can provide a way to manage stress and regain control over your emotional responses.

People can cope with learned helplessness by engaging in activities that can restore their sense of control. For example, creative activities such as painting, writing, music, or cooking can provide excellent opportunities for expressing one's individuality and personal passions. These activities can not only stimulate imagination and creativity but also provide a sense of control over the creative process and final results.

Continuous learning and the development of new skills can contribute to increasing self-confidence and a sense of control. Going to courses or workshops, studying a foreign language, or acquiring new professional skills are examples of activities that can provide opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Setting realistic and measurable goals and tracking progress toward these goals can help regain the feeling that you are in control of your own life. Breaking down these goals into smaller steps and celebrating successes can increase motivation and personal satisfaction. Every success, no matter how small, will contribute to developing confidence in your ability to take action.

Learned helplessness is a complex reality and can be a real challenge, but it is important to understand that you have the power to overcome it. Regaining control of your life begins with becoming aware of your thinking patterns, exploring the origins of helplessness, and engaging in concrete steps toward change. With determination and support, you can transform helplessness into confidence in your ability to face challenges and build your path to the life of your dreams.

Start embracing your inner strength and take control over your life!

Dr. Ursula Sandner


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