Sanctuary for the Abused
Thursday, June 17, 2021
There are people who rely on learned helplessness as a means to cope with negative events happening in their life. Keith Joseph McKean points out that learned helplessness is based on three things:
Internal blaming - "It's me!"
Global distortion - "It'll affect everything I do!"
Stability generalization - "It will last forever!"
Parents/caretakers play major roles in whether or not a child develops learned helplessness. Learned helplessness can develop early in one's life. Therefore, adults need to be aware of how their type of criticism they use will affect children.
If adults are continually using negative criticism, the child will eventually have low self-esteem and will come to a point to want to give up trying. This can lead to the child having negative viewpoints throughout his/her life.
The type of reinforcement given to the child by the caregiver can determine whether or not the child will develop learned helplessness as a coping mechanism for everyday life events. The child will eventually feel he/she has no control over these events.
Heyman, Dweck and Cain confirm the influence of constant negative criticism on children by revealing how young children in their study assumed when they were receiving negative criticism they must have been "bad" children. Therefore, the children felt they were deserving of such negative criticism.
But, researchers claim as a child gets older the child feels the negative criticism is based on their lack of abilities, not based on if they were "good" or "bad." This study cites that children who have a secure attachment will demonstrate positive self-evaluations whereas children who don't have this positive attachment will demonstrate negative self-evaluations.
Learned helplessness can develop in any stage of one's life, not just childhood - it affects behavioral, cognitive and affective domains at the same time.
When a person is wanting to give up or has a continuous habit of putting things off, this is learned helplessness affecting his/her behavioral domain. A person's self-esteem will be low and feeling of frustration will be high. With these effects a person's ability to solve problems will be very low due to the fact that the person has no confidence in themselves.
These factors affect the cognitive domain. The affective domain is when a person will show signs of depression. When one fails, the blame will be that person's lack of abilities and when one succeeds this will be due to "luck."
Also, a characteristic of a person with learned helplessness is low self-esteem. Low self-esteem will decrease one's confidence in trying to change negative things that are going on in one's life. When a person with learned helplessness experiences success he / she will make themselves and others believe it was due to "luck" and not based on ones' own abilities.
This pessimistic explanatory way of dealing with events can affect a person's job performance and a student's academic performance which can eventually lead to wanting to give up. As stated earlier, learned helplessness can develop at any age.
Learned helplessness can be seen when comparing depressed elderly women and non-depressed elderly women (65-96 years) on successes and failures. The non-depressed women would describe their success due to positive reasons such as, their success was due to their own abilities. Whereas, the depressed women would use more of a negative reason by saying their success was due to "luck" and not based on personal abilities.
When it came to explaining failures, the non-depressed women would blame them on "bad luck" and the depressed women would blame it on their so-called lack of abilities. The depressed women would blame negative outcomes due to inner forces and positive outcomes due to outer forces. These depressed women show how people with learned helplessness will use these reasons to give up and not put an effort to take control of their lives.
Strube emphasizes a situation where learned helplessness traumatically effects lives. Women in abusive relationships have developed at some point in time learned helplessness. These women have low self-esteem and blame themselves when things go wrong, therefore, they feel they deserve the physical and mental abuse (similar to the young children who felt they deserved the negative criticism they received because of being "bad").
Society and family play a partial hand in this abuse by putting unnecessary pressures on the woman by making her feel it is her responsibility to make the relationship work. These pressures need to be removed and support from family needs to be increased.
Society as a whole needs to take a stand against abuse. Just as these studies show how learned helplessness can develop during early childhood and continue through adulthood, I know of a woman who has overcome learned helplessness.
There was this little girl who wasn't afraid of anything. She didn't even know what fear was. Then one day a traumatic event happened in her life. After that she knew what fear was.
She was made to feel what had happened was her fault. She tried hard to thing of what she did to deserve being treated so badly. For many years she felt she was a "bad" girl. After that experience came many other negative experiences. She felt she caused them because she was "bad" therefore, she deserved these bad experiences. She decided to be so "good" that nothing bad would ever happen again. But, bad things kept occurring. She figured it didn't matter if she was "good" or "bad" because she had no control over anything that happened in her life.
All through life whenever she failed she would just decide that was expected, so why try?
When she did achieve anything good, she would count that as being "lucky" - not because of her abilities. At times of success she didn't like to acknowledge it to anyone because she knew there would be someone there to remind her how "bad" she really was. She got to the point whenever she would achieve anything in life she never gave herself a chance to enjoy the precious moments. She felt she didn't deserve any praise for accomplishments. She even blamed herself for a relative's death.
For some reason, she felt she must have done something bad and she was to be punished by having him taken away from her. She continued for a number of years failing to achieve any goals that were set for her. She tried to finish college a number of times but continued to fail. She did not fail necessarily in grades but in giving up on everything in life. She just figured there would be something that would stop her so she didn't try.
During her early adulthood years she had no goals set and would just go along in life doing what it took to get by. She constantly placed herself in negative situations; abusive relationships, other relationships that were doomed to fail, and she felt any mistakes on the job were due to her lack of abilities. She felt she had no control over any events in her life.
She felt she was doomed for the rest of her life. She felt her family didn't expect anything from her since she was a woman. She was to get married and raise a family - nothing else. She became engaged numerous times but failed at actually going through with the marriages.
No matter how hard she would try, she always failed. Her negative surroundings and negative reinforcements over many years caused her to develop learned helplessness.
By her late twenties she knew something had to change.
After receiving professional help and joining a support group [see below], the once frightened little girl has turned into a woman who knows now that she has control over her life. Now in her thirties, she has gone back to school and has set short-term and long-term goals to help herself succeed in life. Now her belief is that if she has given it her best she has succeeded (no matter what others would rule as success and failure).
There are still days when she feels she has failed. At first she will start to blame herself and she will stop and tell herself over and over she is not to blame. She will then look back to analyze why she did not achieve what she had set out to do and if she didn't do her best, she would do her best to try and correct this. but, when she did her best, she will tell herself she must accept it and go on.
She is learning to accept that when she does something good, she knows she worked hard for it and deserves it without feeling guilty, and she didn't get it from the luck of the draw.
She has a new life after thirty years of living with learned helplessness. Society and parents play major roles in making sure a child avoids learned helplessness. Children must be encouraged to use their cognitive abilities to their fullest, be given positive criticism and be shown adaptive ways to cope with negative events that happen in their lives.
A person's self-esteem is very important to one's future. No one can eliminate negative events in anyone's life but one does have the power to help someone cope in a positive manner.