Learned Helplessness

When a person has been bullied and abused long enough, they develop a condition called “Learned Helplessness.” In essence, they give up and forego any options they may have to make a better life for themselves.

Many targets and survivors of bullying are stuck in the only life they know and if bullying and abuse are the only things a person knows, they’re likely to stay stuck in relationships and environments that are harmful to them because they’ve been conditioned all their lives to accept it and that it’s normal.

This can happen to animals as well. Here’s a piece from the book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M. D.

“Maier and Seligman had repeatedly administered painful electrical shocks to dogs who were trapped in locked cages. They called this condition, ‘inescapable shock.’”

“After administering several courses of electric shock, the researchers opened the doors of the cages and then shocked the dogs again. A group of control dogs who had never been shocked before immediately ran away, but the dogs who had earlier been subjected to inescapable shock made no attempt to flee, even when the door was wide open- they just lay there, whimpering and defecating. The mere opportunity to escape does not necessarily make traumatized animals, or people, take the road to freedom.

Like Maier and Seligman’s dogs, many traumatized people give up. Rather than risk experimenting with new options, they stay stuck in the fear they know.”

This is interesting.

Many targets of bullying have been repeatedly traumatized just like the electric shock dogs in the excerpt. They have been abused for so long that they’ve been programmed to stay in a miserable environment and tolerate more abuse. It’s heartbreaking!

Nine times out of ten, the target is trapped in the bullying and has no chance of getting away from it. They’re trapped in a school they can’t transfer from, or a job they can’t afford to quit. Many parents can’t afford to move to a new area and zoning laws forbid switching schools. Whatever the situation may be, there’s no getting away from the bullying.

When your fight or flight response has been blocked, what can you do? What can you do when you’re prevented from running away or from fighting back? You either fly into a rage and end up committing a serious crime or you shut down completely and surrender to “what just is” or “the way things are”- you give up.

Targets and survivors who suffer from Learned Helplessness have been programmed to believe that there is nothing they can do to defend themselves. They are trained to believe they have absolutely no control over what happens to them.

This is why we should take care never to allow bullies and abusers to drive us to the point to where we give up and become brainwashed into believing that we’re helpless because it will have devastating consequences for your entire life. No matter how others treat us and how bad things get, we must hold on, with everything we have, to our belief in ourselves.

We must hold on to hope and keep our eyes on our goals and dreams. Only then will we be able to truly break the hold any bullies or abusers have on us.

Although you may not physically be able to escape the bullying and abuse you suffer, you still have control over your mind. You still have a say in what goes into your mind and what you choose to kick out of it. So, never allow the words of a bullying abuser clutter your brain. Instead, fill your mind with your goals, dreams, and things that make you feel good about yourself.

Work on devising a plan of escape and stick to it. Then, when the time is right and a door opens, put your plan into action.

Trust me, you’re worth it and you deserve to live drama-free and in peace.

5 thoughts on “Learned Helplessness

  1. I have seen this occur in the work place. Even when the bullying escalates, the employees just take it – because HR has never helped and employment options are far and few between.

  2. Pingback: Learned Helplessness – Tonya LaLonde

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