I was introduced to learned helplessness in my psychology studies many years ago, and it's one of several concepts that made a deep impression on me. To sum it up simply, animals and humans exposed to situations where they have (or don't think they have) control eventually act helpless, even at times when they can restore control. In short, people and animals can be exposed to experiences that make them act and be helpless even when things change.
This is an incredibly important psychological finding because it's a reminder of how experiences – and approach to handling them – affects our ability to take control of our lives and deal with stress. Many is the time I've witnessed people in the throws of learned helplessness, and I'm sure upon reflection you've seen it too. In fact, chances are you've experienced it now and then yourself.
I also see it a lot in people's careers, especially in this economic climate. I would go as far to say that I think learned helplessness is making the Great Recession far worse for many people.
Do you have a friend or family member whose basically given up on their job or career, become withdrawn, and doesn't feel they can make a difference?
Did you give up on your career? Have you surrendered and decided things can't improve and can't get better – so you stop trying?
Has learned helplessness infected your friends or family? Do you see whole groups of people reinforcing each others senses of powerlessness?
Learned helplessness is an insidious thing, and you need to catch it because it can and will destroy you. It's a terrible thing at the best of times; in hard economic times such as this, it could be the death knell to your career and life, or that of friends and family.
Look out for it.
Now as for beating it? That may require therapy or sympathy, activity or vacation, but work to beat it we must. You'll have to wade into the swamp of people's personal learned helplessness – or your own – in order to fight it. The tools are there, from common sense, to good advice books, to therapists.
Indeed, this blog is one of the ways I fight it, by spurring people to action and encouraging them.
Don't let learned helplessness destroy you or your loved ones. It's something we can catch and we can fight.
– Steven Savage