Learned Helplessness - Prof. Dr. Olesya Volkova

Lee Justin Rondina

Learned helplessness is a psychological phase an individual undergoes due to certain factors and conditions wherein the individual is incapable, or rather, thinks and feels that he/she is incapable of overcoming a problem or a difficult situation, thus makes no effort in doing something about it. This phenomenon is already common among people but the currently occuring pandemic at the time of this writing has especially made it worse for most people to manage.

While it may be considered a temporary phase, a prolonged time of learned helplessness may be integrated into a toxic form in the individual’s personality. Additionally, the learned helplessness state is said to affect the four specific spheres in an individual’s life: (1) emotional sphere, (2) motivation, (3) willpower, and (4) cognitive sphere.

In the early ages of childhood, about three to six years old, the emotional sphere is considered to be the most delicate and sensitive sphere in a child. And so, if these early times are filled with stress and frustrations to the child due to reasons such as toxic familial relationships, the child will “learn” helplessness and might feel fear, anxiety, and lack of self-esteem to face the world and the people, incapacitating him/her the ability to face and solve problems for him/herself.
This can be likened to the most adults pressured into emotional tensions due to house confinements following lockdown protocols and not being able to work as they used to during in these times of a pandemic. It is revealed that populations among different countries feel a dysphoric emotional state, the central link of which is panic, aggression, despair, anxiety, frustrations, and uncertainty.
The second sphere of personality sensitive to learned helplessness is the motivation which is common among children of ages six to eight. It is in this period of times where the child now usually enters formal schooling, where the child who is previously motivated to play for childhood development, is now changed to be motivated in studying. A shift of motivation can be very psychologically delicate, thus needs proper and appropriate communication strategies and relationships between the child and his/her parents, teachers, etc. If the shift is somehow associated with negative things such as self-anxiety, frustrations, or inappropriate aggression, the specific motivation (e.g. motivation to study), is significantly hindered, thus such factors will most likely lead to a state of learned helplessness.

In the current conditions of the pandemic, the motivational sphere has also significantly changed especially in the adult field. Due to certain limitations, communications and relationships are significantly affected, thus the capability of the people to involve in processes of self-actualization, self-realizations, professional and personal formation are hindered and the motivations are rather focused in maintaining of non-adaptive forms of in the “preservation” of life (e.g. uncontrolled or irrational purchase of basic necessities).
Another personality sphere which can be involved in developing learned helplessness is willpower most especially in teenage years. While a strong willed person can easily prevent from developing any learned helplessness, a person with a weak willpower is more prone to be affected by the phenomena, incapacitating him/her of independence and being able to stand in his/her own two feet. Toxic parental relationships may influence a teenager to be overly dependent on the parents thus developing a rather weak will power and being incapable of solving basic life problems by him/herself. Because of the current limitations, the will, or the level of self-control for example, as a manifestation of the will of the population has significantly decreased which has been manifested into a violation of the daily regime, lack of reliance on elementary rules of time-management, cooldown of maintaining foundations of a healthy lifestyle.

Thus, moving on to the last sphere which is directly influenced by learned helplessness is the cognitive sphere. From a devastated emotional sphere in childhood, lack of motivation to study or to be capable of self-study for personal development, and a ruined will-power sphere wherein the individual no longer feels that he/she is capable of overcoming a hurdle, will inevitably lead to an unhealthy influence on one’s cognitive sphere. With no experience in facing difficulties, the individual has no capability nor advantage of life strategies or cognitive skills in solving life problems. And that is, undeniably, is learned helplessness.