The physicality of humans has always been end all and be all to such an extent that it often overclouds the psychological dimension of one's persona, thus lop siding and debilitating the other side at expense of mental wellbeing.
The psyche of the man is so sentient and impressionable that whatever stimulus is entering his psychological space, mounting to good or bad his response to it becomes extremely foreseeable. The response becomes so much fixated that if encountered once with a bad experience and if the person does not rise to the occasion, it results in the formation of conditioned behaviours’ negative in nature like that of self -doubt, low Self-Esteem, and sense of low self - efficacy. This casts a shadow on the persona of an individual and makes the individual feel psychologically cramped and incapacitating. Thus, leaving the individual to the dark dungeons and in hapless condition which is often attributed to the external locus of control from which bouncing back becomes arduous and grave.
We live in the world of constraints some physical whereas some merely in our minds. To quote Jean Jacques Rousseau he said "Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains”. Therefore, a man has nothing to lose but his chains. Here We will try to understand the concept of learned helplessness by taking you through the tale of three baby elephants.
At a tender age the baby elephants when held captive and fettered to a post enough to control them by their owner, gradually lose the sense of retaliation and belief of their own physical strengths for the rest of their lives. As time goes by, they grow up to be robust and potent enough that after coming so far when they could easily uproot trees not to talk of those shackles which were outgrown now but, in their cognizance, their mind still remains tethered by that puny rope. To our surprise they don’t even try to obliterate the chains and liberate themselves from these physical barriers and behave utterly helpless even having the opportunity of decamping accessible. What was it that was holding them from disenthralling themselves from the chained harness. It was surely not the physical restraints but the mental manacles which were very early reinforced by conditioning and came to the surface in the form of what is called as learned helplessness.
In psychology, a mental state in which an organism is forced to bear aversive stimuli or stimuli that are painful or otherwise unpleasant, becomes unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with those stimuli, even if they are “escapable “, presumably because one has learned that it cannot control the situation. The elephants too were touched with this learned helplessness so much that this condition was deeply ingrained in their mind and reflected in their behaviours’ as well. Hence annihilating the building blocks of their tender psyche. When they for the first time tried to knock down by setting themselves free from the manacles, their efforts were not lucrative and as a response to the situation they developed Cognitive expectations believing their whole life and hinging on the Cognitive distortion that they cannot make it, without even trying their power. It is in the case of Animals like elephants who are so mighty and humongous that they can turn the mountains can be weighed down by learned helplessness and become inefficacious in breaking the chains. Same holds true for humans which are higher order organisms bestowed with rationality and wisdom to sense things.
Humans too are clutched in this vicious cycle of learned helplessness. We humans being captain of our own ship are also loaded down and cannot navigate and often attribute the emotional turbulence in our lives to the external locus of control and do not even budge to escape. Thus, we slowly hand over the control of our life and live with this mindset that we cannot change our condition and consequently cease to function. Our thinking becomes polarized and we see the world in black and white. As a result, alienating ourselves from the world around us and creating a shell around us because of few bad experiences. We thus gauge our response contingent on previous repercussions of the incident and dwell in the past unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
- Bareen Majid (The author is Psychological counsellor)