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Helplessness, or as they say in the industry 'learned' helplessness, is "a perceived absence of control over a situation."

In a series of experiments, the American psychologist Martin Seligman established a link between perceived helplessness and clinical depression. I won't go in details here, but it's pretty interesting how he came to these conclusions. I would really suggest the book that he wrote, which not only explains his theories in detail, but offers the reader ways to counter act learned helplessness, and get back to health. The book is called "Learned Optimism", if you are interested.

There are two things that stuck me in this book.

1] helplessness, is in fact learned. Meaning, you are born inherently an optimist, and solution orientated. It is just a simple rule of survival that your biological system does for you.

2] Helplessness is learned from parents mostly, or authority figures around you. How it can be exposed is in the personal 'explanatory style'. Meaning how different people interpret the same negative events in their lives.

The Explanatory Style

What is important to understand is that some people [us who suffer from depression] have a pessimistic explanatory style which makes them see negative events as:

a] permanent ("it will never change")

b] personal ("it's my fault")

c] pervasive ("I can't do anything correctly")

and Seligman's hypothesis is that people who have this pessimistic explanatory style are most likely to suffer from learned helplessness and depression.

So the point of this is to keep in mind that there are very specific way and exercise you can do to challenge your personal explanatory style, if you are often stuck into the a-b-c above. The idea is to notice what you say to yourself when a negative event happens and challenge this belief.

Malign has mentioned before a part of this forum that is specifically made for that purpose CTB I think it's named.


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Huh, you know, the more and more I read, the more it is seeming that your thought really can control your mood. I always kind of thought it was the other way around, like your thoughts were so negative because your mood is so bad.

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Yah, it's kind of confusing with this world around us. But yah it seems to be that thought control the mood from what I read too. It really is. We have tons of habits that we are not conscious of because we were never taught to control our mind. We were taught to control our behavior and what we say, but never our mind, almost like it doesn't really exist. But it makes a whole lot of sense considering that we know that the brain can learn to do a whole lot of things. We have methods for learning how to read, write, languages, whatever... So it makes sense that we can learn how to control thoughts as well, in order to positively affect moods.

The idea is that, kids in a good nurturing environment are repeatedly taugh positive self talk, and an optimistic outlook, and good communication skills, etc, over a number of years, by their parents. The parents provides positive reinforcement, positive experiences, and also the kid learns just by watching how their parents interact with others, or respond to events in their lives. That's how we learn.

But if we are taught that we are useless, and that the world is a dangerous nasty place and everybody is out to get us, directly or inderectly, this is what we learn, over years and years. But we can also learn new things and 'unlearn' other things we don't want to do anymore. It's like, if you learn Spanish in school and become good at it, and then don't practice for a while and aren't exposed to Spanish for a while, all of a suden, you can't speak it anymore. You become 'rusty' at it. Same thing. To continue on the language learning analogy, say for example, you learned Spanish again, but you live in South america, all your friends speak spanish, your husband speak spanish, and you live there for, say 3 years, without speaking a word of English... Well, you'll still remember English, but I can assure you that when you speak Spanish, it is now like second nature, you don't have to think about it, it's pretty much automatic, you think in spanish, you dream in spanish, everything right? So, this is how I know for a fact that, this is how it is when you change a bad mental habit: you will still remember it, because you've been immersed in it for so long, but after practicing the good habit for a while, and consistenly working on your self talk, and beliefs, and all, it will be like second nature, it won't be an effort anymore and you'll be fluent at it!

I am convinced of this!

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