Learned Helplessness Explained (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1…

During the last post, I promised to show you how to get out of that bad place. Here’s the short list of things you can do:

1.Seek therapy. Counselling that is. Counselling allows you to talk and get things off your chest. However, this should be in conjunction with other steps like…

 2. Prayer. Believe it or not, prayer works. So, spend a minute or two in prayer and ask Him to show you what to do and what you need to understand.

 3. Reading personal development. You must know how to change your situation and personal development will tell you how. It did for me.

For example, if you’re having a hard time making friends, I recommend the books “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, and “The Art of Seduction” by Robert Greene!

Also, read any of Joe Navarro’s books about body language. He is a former FBI profiler, and his books will teach you how to better read nonverbal communication. The better you read body language, the better you’ll communicate with others!

4. Practice, practice, practice. None of what you’ve learned will do you a lot of good if you don’t put it to practice. You must practice every day to build your confidence and it will require stepping out of your comfort zone and facing your fears head on.

 Remember, your transforming will take time. Don’t rush the process. Do everything and learn at your own pace. Patience is the key.

Learned Helplessness Explained from Personal Experience

A Very Bad Place

That god-awful place I was in years ago is a place I never want to return to. There was a time I’d given up- a time I felt that I had no control over my own life. Instead of running my life, I let my life run me. Even worse, as much as I wanted to fix it, I didn’t know how.

All I knew was that my life was a constant battle- a war I never volunteered to fight in but one I felt I’d been involuntarily drafted into- with no furlough, no R&R, and one that seemed to be never-ending. I was as a ship without a rudder.

Bad things kept happening back-to-back and I didn’t know what was broken. Therefore, there was no way of knowing how to fix it.

It looked as if everyone else was happily enjoying life- getting what they wanted (or more appropriately, what I wanted)- everyone except me, and I was sick of always being an exception.

I had been programmed to believe, though subconsciously, that love, success, anything good and meaningful, was for anyone who wasn’t me. I felt that God loathed me and wanted to punish me by blocking me from any kind of happiness, satisfaction, and contentment, while making sure I’d see everyone else reaching successes and enjoying their lives.

And I hated them all for it. Even worse, I hated God for seemingly blessing them and cursing me- for allowing me to suffer and seemingly leaving me to fend for myself, then cutting off ways for me to do it. I felt that it just wasn’t fair. I stopped talking to God. I wanted nothing to do with Him. I either wanted to ignore Him flat out or curse Him in my heart. I was angry- no. I was outraged!

Depression Concept with Word Cloud and a Humanbeing with broken Brain and Heavy Rain

I was in such a bad place and life sucked- royally!

It was as if He were forcing me to suffer and, at the same time, rubbing everyone else’s successes and blessings in my face. It was the feeling of being starved and denied essential nourishment while being tied to a chair and forced to watch everyone in the room eat heartily and enjoy a huge feast.

That was torture!

It’s Only the Result of Learned Helplessness.

But you see? This is what learned helplessness does. It programs you to believe that you’re at the mercy of Fate! You ask yourself, “what’s the point?” After so many disappointments and heartaches, you come to feel that there’s nothing you can do to change your situation- that you’re just “stuck with it,” and “that’s just the way it is.”

Learned helplessness forces you to believe that you have power over nothing! You’re just a leaf being blown about by the wind- a car without a steering wheel. It is as if your life has been set to autopilot and there’s no way you can navigate its direction.

You come to believe that you should just roll over, resign yourself, and accept your fate and station in life- just go with the flow and let yourself be blown wherever the wind decides to take you.

At the time, therapy helped a little, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t enough. It only allowed me to keep existing instead of living. All the therapists wanted to do was shove anti-depressants down my throat, which, in most cases, left me feeling like a zombie- like I was just there, and that’s it. They were only treating the symptoms and not the root cause.

The Turning Point

My saving grace was when God showed me what I needed to do. And what pulled me out of this dark pit was when I began reading personal development and putting everything I learned into practice. I was hungry for any knowledge I could use to make a better life for myself. I ordered and devoured book after book, and I continued to practice the new habits I’d learned everyday until it became like second nature, and I no longer had to think about it.

The transformation didn’t happen overnight. It took a few years but I was amazed at the results and the good blessings that begin to flow into my life almost immediately!

I now realize that all along, I’d always had the power to change things, only I’d never known I had it.

And power you don’t know you have is power you don’t have because it’s power you can’t use. You cannot use anything you don’t know you have.

A Positive Outcome

In general, I’m a happy person today. I’m confident and comfortable in my own skin. I know who I am and what I want out of life, and I go after it with excitement and fervor. Yes! Now, I get excited about my life and about the future!

This is not to say that I don’t have days when I’m not at my best because I do. Things will still go wrong as they most certainly will for anyone of us. I just have a much better way of looking at it and it doesn’t feel nearly as bad as it used to. I may not have total control of my life, only God has that. But I have control over much more than I did years ago.

Any time I even suspect that I’m slipping back into the “old mindset,” I quickly begin counting my blessings and reminding myself that there are many people who have it much worse than I ever had it and before I know it, I’m back to where I need to be.

But most importantly, I’m making my peace with God and there’s nothing better than that!

So, I want you to know that, if you’re in the same bad place, you don’t have to continue living there. You have more power than you realize, you just don’t know it’s there. You do not have to accept everything that you’re not happy with and that brings you pain.

You do have the power to change it. I’ll show you how in the next post!

When People Tell You, “You Can’t Do Anything Right!”

It’s true! When you’re a target of bullying and mobbing, you really can’t do anything right. But understand that bullying does that to targets. It causes them to be extremely nervous and always on edge.

You drop things, trip over stuff, the intense nervousness and fear make you awkward and uncoordinated. It makes you clumsy. The human stress response is, indeed, a tricky little devil!

You become even more afraid, which makes the clumsiness worse- fearful of screwing up, afraid to fail, afraid to be yourself because you know your bullies are watching you closely, and you’re mistakes and failures are precisely what they’re waiting for.

verbal abuse bullying

A bullied girl bakes a cake in Home Economics, only for it to collapse like a souffle. A bullied boy accidentally drops the ball on the basketball court in Physical Education. A company supervisor oversees a project, only for it to fall flat and be ridiculed.

And it seems the harder you try not to screw up, the more you do. You’re confused and don’t know which way to turn, nor which end is up. Making choices is hard and you aren’t sure which decisions are the right ones. No one can think clearly when they don’t feel safe.

bullying victim nervous, walking tight rope

Because when your mind and body are in panic mode- when your brain rewires itself for a hostile environment after people have, for so long, subjugated you to inhumane treatment, the part of your mind that deals with decision-making and emotional regulation automatically shuts down. And you’re at the mercy of your primal instincts!

Again, all this is what bullying does to victims! It’s why most victims of bullying have low grades and performance in school and why their work projects suffer in the workplace. And it’s why they’re looked at by teachers and supervisors as failures and nuisances.

bullying girl physical

But know that you’re not a failure, a loser, or a freak. You must realize that any time you’re bullied, there’s no way to relax and just be. It’s impossible. So, understand that your bullies, in their sadistic abuse, have turned you from a once calm and happy person into one hot mess! Then they’ve taken that and exploited it by calling you things like, “train wreck,” “crazy,” and other such cheap shots.

But there’s hope. When you finally get out of the dangerous environment you’re stuck in, and away from those poisonous people, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the nervousness, clumsiness, and awkwardness will go away!

You will be calm again, finally. You’ll be able just to relax, breathe, and be. And that’s a freedom I can’t describe when I remember how it happened for me.

The relief is such that it’s a feeling of being able to come up for air after having your head held underwater, or of coming home after a long time away. When you’re in a new place and around better people, you can put your best foot forward and start over.

It may be frightening at first because, after all, you just came out of an abusive situation, and you may need time to get used to the new people in your life. You may be afraid of being bullied again. But I promise you that you can make new friends and you can finally enjoy equal treatment.

Because you’ll be a fresh face, and in most cases, everyone loves the new kid because there’s an air of mystery that surrounds them. So, take advantage of that.

And once you’re able to relax and be yourself, you’ll be able to speak and do things more confidently and assuredly. Your actions and movements will be fluid and the clumsiness and confusion will fade away. It happened for me, and it will work for you too!

Bullying and Changes in the Brain

PTSD

As we know, bullying is highly traumatic to targets. However, bystanders also suffer a degree of trauma as well, just by witnessing it.

For now, let’s talk about what bullying does to targets, since they’re most affected by it.

Any form of psychological trauma, whether it comes from combat, rape, or bullying, brings about actual changes in the physiology of the brain. It reprograms the brain’s alarm system, causes a sharp increase in stress hormones and activation, and changes the way the brain distinguishes real information from fake information, and the relevant from irrelevant.

Because of these changes and disruptions, people become hypervigilant. And the hypervigilance in some survivors is so bad they aren’t able to function day to day. It’s also the reason why trauma can cause one to repeat the same negative and destructive behaviors over and over again- survivors of trauma have a difficult time learning from experience.

Survivors of bullying who often repeat the same behaviors due to changes in their brains are often accused of being “bad” people – they’re accused of laziness, stubbornness, bad character, and immorality.

Understand that when a person is bullied for long periods of time, it rewires the brain to prepare for a hostile environment and expect hostility from others. This is why targets and survivors of bullying have a difficult time trusting other people.

Targets and survivors of bullying are accused of being lazy when what they’re really dealing with is “learned helplessness” as a result of being bullied and verbally abused repeatedly.

They’re accused of being hotheaded or crazy when they’re actually experiencing the release of pinned up rage from being abused, then being silenced and punished for speaking out about it.

They’re often accused of being defiant and stubborn when they’re actually shutting down.

All this comes from being repeatedly bullied and abused and having no way of fighting back to defend themselves, no way of fleeing the bullies and abusers, and no way of escaping the toxic environment. Learned helplessness comes not only from being bullied and abused repeatedly, but more so, it comes from being trapped and powerless to do anything to better your situation.

For examples: If a group of bullies lock the door of the bathroom or surround the target, blocking any escape, then hold the target down as they attack him/her, this is likely to cause “learned helplessness.”

Or, if the target reports the bullying to the school principal or teacher and they blame him and refuse to give him protection- then the bullies retaliate against him the next day and beat him even more severely for snitching, this also causes “learned helplessness.”

If a battered wife is constantly threatened by her abusive husband that, if she leaves, he will take the children from her, or kill her, or worse, kill her entire family, than she’s trapped with no way out. She is likely to develop “learned helplessness.”

Therefore, it’s not so much the bullying and abuse that causes this condition called “Learned Helplessness.” There have been many abused and bullied people who have escaped their situations and later because highly dependable, healthy, and successful people.

What causes “Learned Helplessness” is the inability to oppose, stand against, or escape bullying and abuse. Being trapped, held down, having no one to turn to for help, or constantly having possible paths of escape blocked, with no other recourse than to take the abuse just to survive- that is what causes “learned helplessness.”

With knowledge comes empowerment!

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.