Feeling of lack of control

05.01.2021
Learned helplessness makes us completely surrender control of our lives. That fatalism and feeling of lack of control is in many cases at the base of anxiety disorders.

Anxiety and learned helplessness often go hand in hand . They are situations in which we assume that whatever we do, our situation is not going to change. It is to understand that suffering and discomfort are inherent in our life and that any attempt to solve or change our reality will fall on deaf ears and into the abyss of uselessness.

The term learned helplessness was coined by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier in the 1960s and since then, we have seen this entity seep into multiple areas of our existence. It is the ingredient, for example, of those relationships in which abuse is inscribed. The victim assumes that they have no control over the situation and that any attempt to break out of that bond is useless.

Likewise, and from a social and even anthropological point of view, the idea that "whatever I do will not change anything" is almost like a mantra in many areas of our society. Reacting passively to events in our environment puts us in a vegetative state in which we stop acting as transforming agents.

Worst of all, the shadow of fatalism and negativity appears in our minds .

Anxiety and learned helplessness, the face of the same coin

When we see that anxiety and learned helplessness appear together in a person, we usually become aware of a phenomenon. It is very difficult to give help and advance in therapy when someone is installed in immobility , when they accept that their state is inevitable and unchanging. This view makes many patients reject the intervention plan proposed by the professionals. Your train of thought is logical, the problem is that the initial premise is wrong.

On the other hand, this link between states of anxiety and helplessness is also recurrent in the school environment . Many children, for example, assume their low competence in mathematics or another subject. They tell themselves that whatever they do they will fail. Fear, anxiety and a sense of lack of control are at the root of school failure.

Studies , such as those carried out at the University of Florida, show the double link between anxiety and learned helplessness that is seen so frequently in children and adolescents. The most complex of all is that when this state of learned helplessness appears at an early age, it is very likely that it ends up dragging itself into adult stages.

Learned helplessness and generalized anxiety disorder

The generalized anxiety disorder (TGA) is defined by a state of constant concern for oversizing any small problems, feeding irrational ideas, by phobias suffer and a lot of physical symptoms (palpitations, fatigue, muscle tension, etc.).

A good part of these psychological conditions accompany the patient for years or even decades. They are situations of high psychological exhaustion that often have their origin in childhood. A parenting based on a lack of secure attachment sowing a deep sense of learned helplessness . Within a few years, they already assume that their needs are not going to be met.

Thus, as these little ones grow, they understand that their realities cannot be changed. They integrate the idea that whatever they do, what happens to them is beyond their control, that all effort is useless and that few things end up happening in their favor. All this is laying the foundations of anguish, which is mediated in turn by a brain that outlines that relationship between anxiety and learned helplessness.

The amygdala is more reactive, dangers are constantly anticipated . Likewise, lower activation is evidenced both in the prefrontal cortex and in the anterior cingulate cortex. All this makes it so difficult to promote adequate coping strategies, solve problems proactively or apply a more optimistic judgment.

Why do I see the world this way and feel like I can't change anything?

Living with the filter of anxiety and learned helplessness causes us to derive in three types of behaviors.

  • Lack of motivation to face daily difficulties , to emit new thoughts, behaviors and coping strategies.
  • Cognitive deficit to learn from our mistakes , to be creative and think of new ideas, to focus attention, reflect, solve problems ... The mind is gripped by cognitive distortions and clearly irrational approaches.
  • Emotional reactions contingent on fear, negativity, and fatalism.

All these dynamics undoubtedly act to intensify anxiety states.

Anxiety and learned helplessness, how is it treated?

It is important to get professional help. When we live mediated by this filter, by this psychological layer made up of helplessness, by the mantra of "everything is bad", "whatever I do will be useless", " his has no solution" it is very easy for us to go from anxiety to major depression.

We need to commit ourselves in therapy and in ourselves, in working for our balance and well-being. Helplessness feeds on fear, feeds on the feeling of worthlessness and guilt that ends in inaction. Breaking this vicious cycle is something that can be achieved, for example, through cognitive behavioral therapy .

In this case, we will gradually manage to deactivate and counteract the instincts of helplessness learned to replace them with more rational and, above all, optimistic thoughts. Let's bear it in mind, change is always possible and, with it, new and better ways of existence.

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