Learned Helplessness is a common challenge for survivors of trauma, controlling or toxic relationships, abuse, and exploitation. The survivor has learned through repeated experience, that in order to stay “safe”, they must not challenge the status quo. That they have no power over their situation anyway and must flip into freeze mode. They go numb to what is happening around them. Pretty soon this numbness is the go-to mode. There is no more of the natural fight or flight response. It has become eliminated. Only freeze remains.
People who feel powerless to change their adverse circumstances quite naturally become depressed. But Depression only worsens the feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. Depression colors our world grey, narrows our focus to the point we can no longer see any shades of light or possibility. Depression and Learned Helplessness feed off of one another, and the cycle is perpetuated.
Hurtful, toxic relationships, controlling people, abusive, demeaning and traumatic situations do not empower us to be the best versions of ourselves, to think and act powerfully and authentically for ourselves. They do the opposite. They ensnare us into becoming dis-empowered, ineffective, cowering, hesitant, over-thinking, emotionally frozen and helpless servants of the agendas of others.
In order to heal, and become self-actualized individuals – to become our best, most effective selves, we must be able to live free of controlling, toxic, and negative situations. Like a plant in an overcrowded garden starved of sunshine and nutrients growing spindly, crooked and malnourished, so the survivor becomes stunted by learned helplessness. Only when the plant is freed from overcrowding can it bask in the sun and be completely nourished, and grow to full potential. Only when people can live in peace and freedom, can they begin to have their needs met, and begin to grow, learn, and peel back the layers of helpless, ineffectual thought and behavior patterns that were learned over time.
Though it is a process, we can learn new ways of thinking. We can learn new approaches to living, decision-making, identifying and working towards our own goals, and self-development. When we make our own needs and self-care a priority, we can gradually un-learn helplessness. Our brains have great plasticity, and our own confidence, courage, effectiveness and empowerment can be re-learned.
Some articles on Learned Helplessness:
Medical News Today: Learned Helplessness
Learned Helplessness and C-PTSD