We can feel hopeless and helpless when we experience chronic abuse or repeated obstacles. You might feel stuck in poverty or an unhappy relationship. You could or be dealing with your own or someone else’s addiction that feels powerless to change. You might be experiencing a debilitating health condition or repeated school, relationship, or work failures. It’s easy to feel despair when you believe there’s no exit from constant pain and unhappiness.
Frequently, there are solutions and steps we can take to change our circumstances and alleviate pain, but with a hopeless outlook and “learned helplessness,” we don’t seek or accept help and can sink into depression.
Learned helplessness was a term coined by Martin Seligman in the 60s to describe a mindset where you don’t try to get out of a negative situation because in the past you learned that you were helpless. In Seligman’s experiment, he rang a bell and then gave a dog a light shock to condition them to expect a shock after hearing the bell. He discovered that after a while when hearing the bell, the dogs reacted fearfully as though they’d been shocked, although they hadn’t been.