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learned helplessness

Learned Helplessness: Living Beyond Your Past

By: Jami McDermott, Outreach Coordinator

In our minds, we all have some funky mental stuff going on, right? It’s what psychologists call “complexes.” They’re like the mental patterns that shape how we see ourselves and the world. They come from past experiences, trauma, belief systems, and upbringings.

So, what are these “complexes”? Think of them as your inner feelings and thoughts that affect how you see yourself and act. Some people might feel like they’re not good enough—that’s an inferiority complex. Others always want to be the big shot—that’s a superiority complex. But today, we will chat about another complex called “Learned Helplessness.”

If you have ever been to a circus, you might have seen an elephant tied to a small stake in the ground. Have you ever asked yourself why this massive creature doesn’t pull the stick out of the ground and break the rope holding it? What is keeping it there? It’s weird, right? That’s what learned helplessness is like.

When the elephant was a baby, the trainers put a similar rope around its neck and tied it to a stake that was much stronger than the baby elephant. It was discouraged by various means to avoid pulling on the rope and trying to escape.

Eventually, the little elephant grows to believe it will never be strong enough to pull out the stake. Even as it grows bigger and stronger, it will never try to escape because the elephant remembers feeling small and powerless.

Let’s move from the elephant to something more relatable, like an unexpected pregnancy.

When a woman discovers this unplanned event, it can trigger emotions from the past –  feelings of powerlessness and self-doubt. She may find herself without the energy to plan or trust in her ability to make even the smallest decisions because she is certain it will not make a difference. That’s the complex of “Learned Helplessness” showing up.

The nagging self-doubt tells you you’re not strong enough to handle the challenges you are facing, and it can feel pretty overwhelming.

Here’s the cool part: Your past doesn’t rule your future. Just like that elephant could’ve busted free from that small stake, you can break free of these internal limitations placed on you by your past experiences, traumas, or relationships.

So, how do you do it? Think of it like this:

Recognize your strengths and abilities

You have been created with unique strengths and skills. Start by believing in yourself. You’ve got the power to deal with this unexpected change in life. Your past doesn’t control your awesomeness. It has shaped you and given you the skills to become more than you could have imagined.

Get some support

Don’t do it all on your own. Talk to friends, family, clergy, or professionals who can help you through this tough time. Many community services, like Birthright St. Charles, can provide you with free professional counseling and resources. They can help you navigate what is making you feel stuck.

Set small goals

Break your big problems into smaller, doable steps. This makes things more manageable. Start by confirming your at-home pregnancy test results by visiting our center for a free, medically approved test. Then take some time to identify the course you need to tackle. It is not a race. What might look like a dead end may require a detour that leads to places unimagined.

Embrace change

Change can be cool. It’s like a chance to level up. So, embrace it and grow from it. New schools, new jobs… even an unforeseen pregnancy can cause feelings of anxiety at first, but time heals, and soon you realize that—you got this! A modified plan is still a plan—your plan.

Positive vibes only

Kick out those negative thoughts. Tell yourself you’re not small or insignificant – you’re a powerhouse and can do this. Missteps are a natural part of our journey; they don’t exist to shame us but to shape us. Acknowledge the decisions that led to detours, pinpoint where things went astray, and commit to a transformation plan.

Ultimately, dealing with an unexpected pregnancy or any other curveball life throws your way can be a wild ride.

The “Learned Helplessness Complex” is real, but once you can identify that your mind is just revisiting the past, you will know exactly what to do. Take courage; you are no longer who you once were and can break through those constraints.

Remember, your past doesn’t define your future, and you have what it takes to shape your destiny, no matter what happens.

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