When I Discovered I Might Have ‘Learned Helplessness’


Life at times seems so random, chaotic and just plain out of our control. Try as we might to prevent bad things from happening to ourselves or to the ones we love, it sometimes feels pointless. We begin to question our efforts. Are we doing enough? Could we have done something different? Sometimes we wonder, “Why even bother?” 

Back in 2010 I was studying for my Behavioral Science class when I came across a section discussing something psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman called “learned helplessness.” He found that those who couldn’t escape a situation that caused pain or injury, despite several attempts, would eventually stop trying, even when an escape was presented to them.

Growing up, I went to many doctor appointments and started treatments that were supposed to make things “all better.” But when I lost my ability to walk, even after all I had gone through to prevent the disease from progressing, I felt like nothing I did made a difference. There was no escape.

Suddenly, within Dr. Seligman’s experiment, I saw my own story and those of countless other people and family members dealing with mental and physical disabilities. Dealing with a rare progressive disorder, it seems that no matter how many things are “fixed” or how many preventative measures are taken, it never seems to be enough. Something else always turns up. That feeling of helplessness becomes inescapable, and nothing seems worth doing — not even the things that brought me happiness.

I think what helps me out the most is finding consistency in those that surround me. Knowing that family and friends are always there, constantly pushing me to see past the circumstance, getting me past my comfort zone — it makes me feel stable again. This is why we build communities with those who are going through the same things we are — so we can prop each other up during those times we feel the most helpless, so we can see that there is an escape; we just need to ask for help.

Read more from Travis Love on The Mighty:
The Time Everyone Gawked at Me, a Man in a Wheelchair About to Skydive

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