Have you ever felt yourself get stuck in an ugly cycle of learned helplessness? This is where you experience what psychologists call the learned helplessness reaction to negative conditioning. A learned helplessness reaction to negative conditioning occurs when we are repeatedly exposed to events, people or things that cause us pain or discomfort beyond our ability to change our responses. These events can either be self-induced or externally forced upon us. The most common type of response to negative conditioning is flight or fight reactions.
Flight or fight reactions are characterized by quick physical responses. Our bodies tense up and our thoughts speed up to compensate for the perceived threat. Such a response is often associated with being too fearful to move or defend oneself. It can also be associated with trying too hard to escape from a dangerous situation. In fact, some would say that it's all in our mind, which means that one can never truly be fully sure when or why such a reaction occurs.
People who have experienced a traumatic life experience have a very real need to feel connected to the object of their affections in order to gain solace and comfort. They want to know if they are being hurt, they want to know if they are being harmed. When they learn that others have treated them in a way that upsets them, they become driven to repeat the same behavior in an attempt to prevent future or impending pain. In other words, learned helplessness.
In addition to feeling emotionally connected to the object of their affections, they may also feel physically attached. For example, a mother or father may shield their children from events that hurt them. They may become overly protective of them or excessively attentive to their needs. Such extra bonding might be what's referred to as learning or relational immunity, and the person who develops this learned immunity tends to react negatively to situations that would once have triggered a similar strong response.
Another explanation for why people react in certain ways to negative stimuli is the fact that they view life in terms of survival. Life is either winning or losing, depending on our current situation. A person with learned helplessness tends to focus on losing rather than winning. This type of thinking has a parallel in many cases with depression. The person experiencing this personality disorder believes that everything is unpredictable and that nothing will go right or wrong.
Although it seems unlikely that the root cause of emotional pain can be found in the thoughts and attitudes of a single person, it is helpful to consider how these characteristics can impact a . . . . . . family unit and society as a whole. If we are able to identify and eliminate learned helplessness, we could improve the quality of the lives of those around us. We could then take steps toward ensuring that everyone has the best possible start in life, and that the world has an adequate supply of people ready to help those in need.