Learned Hopelessness vs Learned Helplessness in Young Adults

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May 26, 2016

Learned Helplessness vs Learned Hopelessness in Young Adults

The truth is, I don’t even know if learned hopelessness is a thing.  I tried to “Google” it, but I keep being pushed towards learned helplessness. I think the two concepts are different, and I use them in my sessions as if they are.  While working with my Participants, I often see signs of learned helplessnessLearned helplessness can be defined as someone who has tried things in the past and fallen short; they have not been able to reach expectations others have placed upon them; and have come to believe that they are not able to perform adequately, so have stopped trying.

Young adults suffering from learned helplessness were given special accommodations for their mental condition(s) or others stop holding them accountable due to their seemingly “not being well enough” to do what is normally expected. This caused the person to get comfortable with a lowered standard and the thought that they can continue to “keep the bar low.” They consciously, or unconsciously, start to rely on taking the easy way out by hiding behind their perceived inabilities because they learned they could.  They have threatened to harm themselves, or perhaps they have actually done so, and others take it easy on them so as not to “set them off,” and the individual accepts this and feels relief by the lowered expectations.

Learned helplessness is more of an “I can’t do it” attitude.

Whereas, learned hopelessness, on the other hand, is more of an “It doesn’t matter anyway, why bother” attitude.

This shows up a lot in the form of “I’ve had it,” “I’m so done with this,” “why bother.”  Learned hopelessness usually stems from the belief that no one understands them and, therefore, they rarely get their desired outcome.  The individual repeatedly over-identifies from a victim’s perspective and see others as a threat, or they believe the situation they are in is unfairly biased against them.  They have been disappointed in the past and decide that it is not worth it to get excited or look forward since they will only be let down again.  While growing up, they had been the object of much attention and then something (i.e. family crisis) or someone (i.e. a sibling) came along and demanded some of that attention.

Both learned helplessness and learned hopelessness are obstacles to personal growth and get in the way of an individual’s ability to thrive. Encouraging our Participants to step outside of their comfort zone, to challenge faulty beliefs, to quiet the self-critical voice and build their confidence are some of the challenges we work on each day.   We teach our young adults to stand tall and to say, with determination, “Yes, I can!” To build resiliency and tolerance to withstand the times they may fall short; to know “I am ok, anyway.” We help to uncover who our Participants really are, to make friends with this new discovery, to believe in themselves, trust themselves, and to understand that “I am enough.” Our goals are to help our Participants look forward to their future with hope, to see their faces brighten with light and joy, to witness the transformation from helplessness or hopelessness to endless possibilities.  It is an honor to work with OPI and be a part of the healing that takes place here.  At OPI, hope happens!!