Learned helplessness is also a reoccurring phenomenon in the human experience. A term coined by Martin Seligman, it occurs when people adopt a sense of helplessness after experiencing a major traumatic event, or reoccurring failure to influence negative outcomes in their lives for the better. In short, people simply give up (in varying degrees) in their pursuit of their goals and dreams.
One of my favorite stories, is the story of a MBA graduate, who couldn’t find a job, despite having graduated from a prestigious university. During an interview with a reporter, he spoke about how he had removed the names of certain associations he was affiliated with from his resume, in order to not reveal his ethnicity, as he suspected that this was a factor in his inability to get employed. To make matters worse, the reporter who wrote on his story, portrayed this intelligent man as a victim, simply because biased employers had refused to give him a chance. There were actually about two more examples used by the reporter in the same story.
I mean, how could this be possible? Why couldn’t this man with his formal training in Business Administration become his own employer? Or even better, collaborate in a start up with his peers? (One of the men featured in the article was actually attempting this route). You would think this crossed his mind, maybe it did. However I am certain of one thing, continuous and prolonged exposure to the singular message that he could only practice his craft by being employed by some establishment or entity, lead to his feelings of inferiority and defectiveness when he routinely experienced rejection in his adherence to this singular message. Heck, even the reporter made matters worse by writing an article featuring this man and proclaiming his hardship. I bet even his family members, probably strong believers of the singular message, wondered if he was trying hard enough in finding a job in his field. I believe he was.
Are you getting where I am going with this? Unlike the dog in that cruel experiment, human beings have the unique advantage of imagination. Our imagination affords us the ability to consider other alternatives to the singular messages we have been exposed to, even if we have not been formally trained in taking actions based on other alternative messages.
Life’s hardship are brought on by a multitude of changing variables, this calls for the embrace of an open mind towards thinking outside of box, when traditional approaches no longer work. Learned helplessness can be overcome, through the power of imagination or by having a vision of what could be, people can develop emotional resiliency in response to any ordeal they are experiencing
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC, a professional counseling and life coaching practice.