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Learned Helplessness

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🤔 Have you heard of ‘learned helplessness’? (I know, awful term…). If so, I bet you’ve only heard half the story. And it’s the 2nd half that’s *vital*:

Seligman, now known for Positive Psychology, used experiments electrocuting dogs (I know…) to evidence ‘learned helplessness’:

Group 1: Do nothing
Group 2: Restrain dogs. Give inescapable electric shocks.

Group 1: put 🐶  in cage. Give electric shock. Dog learns to move to stop pain. *Action is effective*. Repeat x60, dog still takes action. Open cage door, dog leaves cage.

Group 2: put 🐶  (who’s already learned they can’t escape pain) in cage. Shock. Dog is distressed but does NOT move. Repeat x60, still takes NO action. Endures pain. Open cage door, does NOT leave cage. Thus establishing learned helplessness

Have you ‘learned’:
❌ You’re wrong no matter what you do
❌ There’s no point trying
❌ You’re always being told off, criticised, undermined
❌ No matter what you do or how you do it, your environment (incl people) will inflict pain upon you?

As with animals, so with humans, studies show, with this abrasion of hope and agency:
1. motivation to respond decreases
2. even when actions are successful there is a *difficulty in learning* our action *works*
3. anxiety & depression increase

That’s the 1st part. Here’s the *vital* 2nd:

🔐 For the dogs to re-learn to take action, the researchers  had to actively *hold their paws* and *move their limbs* away from pain, so they had the lived, embodied, experience of their action being effective.

🤝 Hand by hand 🐾 paw by paw. 👣 step by step. Out of the cage 🕊

So if ✨YOU✨ are struggling, this might be what’s going on. And if you need a hand, that’s 👏 normal 👏  natural 👏  and a path to healing and proper empowerment 👏


Eve Parmiter, Quest Cognitive Hypnotherapist.