Lessons for Living
Learned Helplessness

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What have you learned that you can't do?








Psychologist Dr. Martin Seligmann made his early reputation studying the phenomenon known as "learned helplessness."

The basis of this concept was simply that if you learn that you can't do something, and you truly believe you can't do it, then you can't.

Seligmann did research with dogs that were given a mild but inescapable electric shock. Later these dogs were placed in a cage that had two compartments and a low divider gate that was easily jumped over. When a normal –untrained dog – was placed in one compartment and shocked, it quickly jumped to the safe side. However, when the previously trained dogs were placed in a compartment and shocked, they did not respond. They could now easily escape the shock but had learned that they were helpless, so they just tolerated a bad situation.

This concept of learned helplessness was useful metaphor for psychological phenomena such as some types of depression.

Many people with depression are thought to have become that way because they learned to be helpless. During their early lives, some depressed people apparently were in bad situations where nothing they did to change them worked, so they stopped trying.

If as a child, you learned it was no use to express your feelings, you may have stopped trying. As an adult you still lock up your emotions believing that no one will listen. You think, "What’s the use."

The problem is that what was once true may no longer be true because circumstances have changed, and you’re stuck in an outmoded behavioral pattern.

The treatment for learned depression is teaching people to challenge their beliefs so they can take back control of their lives.

If you are depressed, consider the possibility that you have learned to be that way. Look at your current circumstances and see if they are different. Try a new behavior and see if you get a different result. The good news about learning to be depressed is that you can unlearn it, if you are willing to make the effort.

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