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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Learned Hopelessness & Your Health

Vai, Crete (Greece)
Learned helplessness and hopelessness are terms that have come into our vocabulary principally through the research of authentic happiness and learned optimism (click here to test yourself on learned optism) psychologist Martin Seligmann, who has been referred to here in this blog in the past. Learned helplessness can be understood as the near passive acceptance of unpleasant situations. This passive acceptance eradicates those reactions another more positive thinking individual might have, which would help the person to try to escape from or control the situation. Learned hopelessness is a more serious state, bordering on deep depression, that is the result of prolonged immersion in the prior state of learned helplessness.

In Seligmann's experiments with rats, dogs, and eventually (consenting) humans, it was discovered that when a test subject had experienced a situation where no matter what it did, it could not escape a negative outcome, its subsequent experiences of the same situation, even when conditions were much more positive, and the subject could have escaped the negative outcome merely by trying something different, that subject would invariably give up, assuming that it had no chance of escaping the inevitable.

Victor Frankl, the renowned psychiatrist who was held in Ausschwitz during the Holocaust, and father of logotherapy, wrote in his famous Man's Search For Meaning that one of the main reasons he was able to survive, was because he had not lost hope, as so many inmates of that hell hole had.

BBC Journalist Alan Johnston freed on July 4th of this year after being held by a Palestinian faction in the Gaza Strip for nearly four months, insisted that one of the main reasons he had been able to survive psychologically, was because he never lost sight of hope. So also speak - in some fashion or another - Nelson Mandela and Alexandr Solzhenistyn.

Hope and optimism are essential to our physical, psycho-emotional and spiritual well-being. In the above-mentioned research, and much more that has been done since, a state of learned helplessness can lead to a weakened immune system, heart attacks, cancer, and all manner of illnesses. In order to find your way back to such a state, if you feel that you are leaning towards learned helplessness or even hopelessness, you might begin by reading some of the suggestions made in earlier posts about reaching for joy and happiness.

If you are aware of a negative inner state, the first step is to realize that your awareness has given you a choice. The next step is to begin to implement that choice at every step of the way...little by little. Get your inner freedom back and begin to live your life that way you are actually meant to. Start now. Don't wait for some calamity to befall you and then begin, or regret that you didn't begin earlier. Take your life into your hands. Change the negativity and believe in yourself and what you are truly able to do.

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