The state of helplessness (or helplessness is defined as a situation in which the patient feels that he/she does not have the capacity to do anything, i.e., that none of his/her decisions are going to affect the outcome.It is a state of helplessness, i.e., that none of his or her decisions will affect the course of events. It is an abandonment of action preceded by the conviction that, whatever we do, the outcome of a given situation is completely inevitable. As clear as the concept may seem, it should be noted that helplessness can be objective or subjective.
As with all quantifiable facts in this life, objective helplessness can be calculated on the basis of certain parameters. An animal is objectively helpless with respect to a given outcome (O) if the probability of (O), given a given response (R), is the same as the probability of (O) if the animal had done nothing (notR). If this is applicable to all responses to a given event, the living being is objectively experiencing helplessness (O + R = O + notR).
Subjective helplessness, unfortunately, is another matter. The animal must detect the “lack of contingency” in the face of a given event and, in a certain way, be able to predict that future attempts at action are not going to be of any use after performing a given action. We no longer move only in an action and reaction, but in what the living being expects from the interaction in order not to act in future situations.. As you can imagine, this is practically impossible to quantify in animals, since we are entering into complex cognitive terrain.
Based on these premises, it is interesting to know that the state of helplessness can be applied in humans, more specifically in a concept known as “Learned Helplessness”.Learned Helplessness or LH). If you want to know all about this exciting condition, read on.
The experiments that uncovered Learned Helplessness
First of all, we must turn our attention to the scientific article “Learned helplessness“published in the Annual Review of Medicine in 1967, by the American psychologist Martin Seligman, because in his findings we find the first signs of learned helplessness in animals. In part one of the studies collected here, three groups of dogs were restrained with harnesses and subjected to different scenarios.:
- Group 1 dogs were restrained with harnesses and then released after a period of time. They are the “control” segment of the experiment.
- Groups 2 and 3 followed a completely different dynamic, as they were paired in tandem.
- Dogs in group 2 received a mild shock at random intervals that could be stopped by pulling a lever.
- Each dog in group 3 was paired with a dog from group 2. When the dog in group 2 received a mild shock, the dog in group 3 also experienced a mild shock.
- The key was that the dogs in group 3 could not stop the shock with a lever. For them, the outcome of the situation was inevitable.
In the second part of the experiment, the dogs were placed in a facility with two halves separated by a small elevation. One of the halves gave random shocks, while the other did not. The dogs in group 1 and group 2 jumped to the other side of the facility when they received a shock, as they were safe there.
Surprisingly, the dogs in group 3 did not try to escape from the shock, but simply lay down and waited for the stimulus to cease, even though they could jump to the safe zone like the others.They simply lay down and waited for the stimulus to stop, even though they were able to jump to the safe zone like the others. These dogs had associated the shock as an unavoidable event and, therefore, did not try to end it in any way. With this complex and intricate experiment, the foundations of learned helplessness were laid.
It should be noted that these experiments violate virtually all current animal welfare legislation. No experimental procedure is done with canine models unless strictly necessary and, if necessary, pain must be kept to a minimum in all cases and any procedure must be performed under local or general anesthesia, regardless of the species used.
This experiment is the result of research in 1967, when the limits of legality in the scientific field were much more lax.. Today, justifying such a methodology to an animal welfare ethics committee is, to say the least, difficult.
What is learned helplessness in humans?
Beyond experiments with electric shocks, the term learned helplessness is used today in human psychology to describe those patients who have “learned” to behave passively, with the subjective feeling of not being able to do anything in the face of a specific unfavorable situation.
Unlike objective helplessness in other animals, in our society it is always possible to act in a certain way to try to change things, so the same level of determinism as in the previously cited experiment is not conceivable. The person who adopts this mechanism believes that he can do nothing, but in no case does he have the real certainty that his actions are going to be empty..
Thus, learned helplessness is seen as the human failure to pursue, use or acquire adaptive responses in an instrumental way. People suffering from LH believe that bad things are bound to happen because they do not have the means to avoid them. This psychological event occurs mostly in patients who are exposed to problems for long periods of time, especially at vulnerable times during development. In these cases, it is learned that responses and events are not connected, which hinders learning processes and leads to inactivity.
How does learned helplessness affect?
Learned helplessness (or learned helplessnessLH) is common in people who have a history of abuse and/or neglect during childhood or early adolescence.. In addition to fostering the development of attachment disorders and other psychological events, the patient blames him/herself for the abusive dynamic and, as a consequence, develops LH, anxiety and a very marked state of inactivity. Early neglect also manifests with similar symptoms, as the child believes that his or her situation is deserved regardless of how he or she behaves.
On the other hand, learned helplessness can also appear in adult patients, especially in the elderly. Feeling the loss of faculties and having a backpack of negative experiences favor this emotional mechanism, because no matter what happens, an elderly person will grow old “regardless of what he or she does” (this is not true, since many measures can be taken to take care of oneself in old age).
By way of closing this topic, we present to you a series of symptoms that will help you to detect signs of learned helplessness in your own person or in those close to you. in your own person or in those close to you. Do not miss them:
- Constant fearIn HL, the link between response-effect is broken to some extent. Therefore, the patient believes that bad things will happen to him/her, regardless of how well he/she does things or how he/she behaves.
- Generalized anxietyThis state of continuous fear and pessimism translates into anxiety, which can become chronic over time.
- Passivityis the clearest sign of learned helplessness. Bad things will happen to the patient, but he will be inactive in the face of them.
- DepressionDepression: People with HL may develop depression, which translates into a myriad of different symptoms, both physiological and emotional.
The state of learned helplessness is completely subjective, as it is impossible to establish causality in 100% of cases outside the experimental setting. Applying a shock (O) independently of an animal’s response (R) is possible when the animal is tethered in a controlled environment, so the rule that the outcome (O) is the same whether there is a response or not (notR) is fulfilled. Fortunately, this never applies in the human environment.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on an ironclad premise: everything that is learned, can be unlearned….. Therefore, the first step in dealing with a state of learned helplessness is always to ask for professional help. Thus, by the simple act of seeking psychological treatment, the patient’s action is already conditioning the potential outcome of any situation. Breaking this cycle of pessimism and inactivity is possible, provided that the right psychological tools are sought.