What Is Learned Helplessness And How It’s Connected To Trauma

learned helplessness connected to trauma

Some children rebel, but that may lead to further repressive measures. They develop learned helplessness and negative internal attributions that follow them into adulthood. Sometimes, they experience independence in their late teens and early adulthood but might marry someone who repeats their painful family drama. Before long, their learned helplessness returns.

This can also happen when a more powerful sibling abuses or repeatedly teases a weaker one. I recall being tickled by my older brother until I was breathless and in tears. This established a belief that I was helpless and later did not fight back when I could.

Related: 25 Signs You Have a Wounded Inner Child and How to Heal

Other Consequences Of Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness creates a self-reinforcing negative feedback loop that can damage our health, job satisfaction, and our relationships. It can lead to unhealthy habits where we neglect our nutrition and regular exercise. We might not seek appropriate medical and dental care, get help for addiction or manage our finances.

Learned helplessness may affect people stuck in poverty or who experience unremitting prejudice. Beliefs can be handed down through generations, creating a cycle of passivity and poverty.

Students who don’t perform well in school attribute failure to their own inadequacy. Their confidence and self-esteem suffer. They don’t believe they can do better and expect to fail. They stop trying and often drop out. Similarly learned helplessness and associated shame restrain us from excelling professionally and increasing our earning potential. It leads to depression and ill-health. In fact, research shows that a pessimistic outlook can negatively affect inflammation, our immune systems, and risk heart health.

Overcoming Learned Helplessness

The good news is that this condition is not a life sentence. Low self-esteem is learned and so is healthy self-esteem. Our brains are malleable, but it requires therapy to challenge negative internal attributions and cognitive distortionsChange requires therapy that addresses our thinking and beliefs.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is effective in overcoming shame and altering our brain and attitudes. A therapist also supports us in risk-taking new actions that modify our negative preconceptions. As our self-esteem and confidence grow, we become self-empowered—self-esteem in action. Pent-up energy is unleashed. We develop a positive feedback loop, where we expect positive outcomes and then experience them. When we don’t, we refrain from self-shaming. We consider make external attributions and change what we can.

You can begin progress on your own by overcoming perfectionism, which can feed shame and negative feedback loops) self-criticism, and self-blame, and shame, and reading Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You.

©Darlene Lancer 2021

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and an expert author on relationships and codependency. She’s counseled individuals and couples for 30 years and coaches internationally. Her books and other online booksellers and her website.

Check out Darlene Lancer’s website, What Is Codependency for more such informative and interesting articles.


Written By Darlene Lancer
Originally Appeared In What Is Codependency
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