Does it sound familiar to be stuck in a never-ending cycle of defeat and disappointment? Have you ever felt absolutely powerless? Have you felt like all your efforts are in vain or that you can not make a difference regardless of your actions? If so, you may be suffering from the psychological phenomenon of Learned Helplessness. In this blog post, we will explore the Theory of Learned Helplessness[1]. From its discovery, symptoms and examples to its impact, overcoming strategies and more.

The primitive concept of Learned Helplessness is the behavior a person (or animal) exhibits when constantly faced with a negative, uncontrollable situation. In this state, the person tends to stop trying to escape or change the circumstances even if they could.


Amazingly, this theory, which is closely related to human behavior and thought mechanisms, dates back to the pioneering animal psychology research of psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier. They discovered this concept by accident while studying the reactions of dogs subjected to inescapable electric shocks. They observed that although the dogs initially tried to escape, they eventually gave up and accepted them after failing several times. This observation indicated that the dogs had developed the cognitive expectation that nothing they did would prevent or eliminate the shock, so they gave up trying.

This discovery sheds light on the fact that humans can also develop forced helplessness, especially when they perceive a lack of control.


Learned Helplessness can manifest through varied symptoms, including decision avoidance, a pessimistic explanatory style [5], inability to tolerate frustration, lack of effort, low self-esteem, procrastination, etc. Usually, it is a feeling of uncontrolled vulnerability that leads to demotivation and a drop in performance.


Both adults and children tend to experience learned helplessness in various aspects of their daily routines. For example, a student who consistently receives poor grades despite a great deal of effort may lose motivation to continue trying and may abandon academic performance altogether[1]. In another scenario, a smoker who tries in vain to quit his addiction may relapse.

Learned helplessness is also directly related to low self-efficacy (self-efficacy is knowing one’s abilities). A person loses confidence and belief in his or her own ability to overcome challenges or accomplish tasks, even though they are practical. [8]


Learned helplessness can result from a variety of causes or triggers. However, in most cases it is due to early trauma, abuse, neglect, domestic violence, natural disasters, or other difficulties. Even seemingly innocuous practices such as overparenting can lead to the development of learned helplessness. When parents over-intervene with their children or shield them from challenges and failures, it often leads to overwhelm and underdevelopment of their self-esteem and problem-solving skills.


The effects of Learned Helplessness are significantly observable in both humans and animals. In Addition to the previously mentioned examples, this phenomenon can also be linked to several psychological disorders. Anxiety, Depression [10], Phobias, etc. can at times be exaggerated by learned helplessness. In another instance, feeling shy in some situations may cause an individual to believe that there is nothing they can do to overcome their symptoms and may lead to them avoiding all social interactions.


Recognizing one’s own (or others’) development of learned helplessness undoubtedly requires a great deal of self-awareness and reflection. Asking oneself questions such as “Do I feel that my efforts are in vain?” or “Do I tend to give up easily in difficult situations?” can help uncover the presence of this phenomenon. In this case, however, it is crucial to distinguish between actual and learned helplessness.

Actual helplessness is a situation in which a person actually has no control over circumstances, such as being trapped in an inescapable space. Learned helplessness, on the other hand, is a constraint that one imposes on oneself in order not to react to a situation where change and escape are possible. Constantly being actually helpless can lead to learned helplessness .


Overcoming learned helplessness requires a combination of strategies. Developing self-awareness, challenging negative beliefs, setting achievable goals, and developing a growth mindset are some steps one can take individually. Other self-care measures such as eating a healthy diet, managing stress and getting enough sleep are equally important. Psychotherapy can also help reduce learned helplessness in the long term. Cognitive behavioral therapy in particular can effectively intervene in negative thought patterns and replace them with positive and constructive motivation.

Social support

Encouragement and motivational measures from others also go a long way toward helping people remain optimistic about overcoming learned helplessness. A supportive network of friends and family helps by

  • Providing perspective, guidance and motivation
  • Being a role model on overcoming personal limitations
  • Instilling a sense of belonging
  • Practically Assisting the helpless in overcoming their emotional disability

While it isn’t always easy to seek the help that one needs, identifying people that you trust and can comfortably confide in is key. It is vital to be specific about your struggles whilst welcoming to different perspectives and suggestions. Don’t hesitate to ask for assistance, whether personal or professional. Sharing your own goals and in parallel expressing your setbacks will help others understand your situation better, and in turn assist you.


Understanding and dealing with learned helplessness is paramount to promoting personal growth and well-being. By uncovering its manifestations, discovering it within oneself, and developing effective strategies to overcome it, one can lead a more fulfilling life. 

Learned helplessness is a condition that can make a person introverted, as they lack confidence in their abilities. However, it is possible to recognize and recover from this condition through self-motivation and building confidence. If these efforts are not effective, it may lead to depression, anxiety, and other psychological problems. In such situations, seeking medical help from an online psychiatrist for depression would be beneficial. 

With effective counselling, it is possible to regain lost confidence and achieve victory. The primary objective of counselling is to identify the triggering factors and assist in overcoming challenging situations. There are numerous best counsellors in India offering online consultation services. Opting for their services can greatly improve one’s well-being and overall sense of positivity.