(The following excerpt from When You Feel Like Giving Up: Combatting Learned Helplessness by Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., recently appeared on psychology today.com. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
I’ve written about this feeling many times–the sense that nothing that you do really has any effect on the what is happening in your life. I’ve experienced it many times as well–during the postpartum period, when my colicky daughter would not stop crying no matter what I did, at times in my career when it seemed like I worked hard and nothing came of it, and even in trying to find a mate. There’s a sense of powerlessness as you realize that you can try to solve a problem but that all you are doing is banging your head against a wall that does not seem to move. That sense of powerlessness is learned helplessness.
Learned helplessness is associated with depression. It describes that quality of depressed people where you retreat to your bed and just give up on trying to impact the world. You give up your agency, sense of purpose, and feeling of hope and find yourself deep in a hole. Once you are down that deep, it is hard to dig your way out of it–especially if you don’t even try to dig. So learned helplessness can maintain depression.
So how do you dig your way out of this pit?
1) Do not to accept your helplessness. You must continue to try to escape the shock because you never know–maybe something that you do will work.
2) Change your thoughts. If you believe that you cannot affect change, you will not even try.
3) Try and try again. Once you try to make a change or to find a solution to problems in your life, don’t give up if the first solution doesn’t work.