Is there any way to avoid 'learned helplessness' in recovery? - SoberRecovery : Alcoholism Drug Addiction Help and Information
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Old 06-05-2018, 12:38 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Is there any way to avoid 'learned helplessness' in recovery?


Hi All,

I have been struggling lately with relapse and depression. I have been going to AA meetings and trying to work the steps with a sponsor etc. So by all means I thought I was 'getting it' but was then hit with this deep depression... lead me to a major relapse cycle.

I then came across this article and found I identified a lot with it:
Quote:
Learned Helplessness in Recovery

People Learn to Feel Helpless

Helplessness is a psychological state that people can develop because they have learned it. Research on animals has shown that if these creatures are repeatedly faced with an unpleasant stimulus that they are unable to control they become helpless. They stop trying to avoid the negative stimulus and just accept it. Even if later in the experiment the means of escape is provided he animal will not make use of it. This same reaction can occur with humans. They can learn to feel helpless.

Learned Helplessness Defined

Learned helplessness refers to a mental state where people feel completely powerless to improve their own situation in life. This means that they become unwilling to take action to improve a situation because they have already decided that it will not make much difference. An example of this would be the individual who is addicted to alcohol. Even when they accept that this substance abuse is making their life difficult, they can still feel helpless to improve the situation. This pessimism means that the world appears as a very hostile place and the individual becomes a passive victim.

Symptoms of Learned Helplessness

These are some of the most common symptoms of learned helplessness:

* The tendency to give up easily when faced with a problem
* Being prone to procrastination
* A reduced ability to solve problems
* The tendency to be passive when action is required
* Feelings of frustration
* Feelings of incompetence
* Feelings of loneliness
* Feeling of powerlessness
* Believing that things will turn out bad no matter what action is taken
* Feelings of low self-esteem
* Belief that there is no way to control things that are going to happen in the future

The Dangers of Learned Helplessness

If people have learned to feel helpless when faced with problems, it can make their life difficult. These are some of the dangers of this type of attitude:

* If people feel that they have little control over their future, they will be unwilling to put a great deal of effort into maintaining their physical well-being. They will not see the point in exercising or eating the right type of food.
* If people feel helpless they will put up with a great deal of misery in their life even when such problems could be resolved with a bit of effort.
* People may learn to be incompetent at tasks that they are fully able to handle successfully.
* Those individuals who have developed learned helplessness are far more likely to suffer from depression.
* Such people will tend to feel unsatisfied in employment because they will develop no feeling of mastery over their job.
* Even when they achieve some success they will not feel happy about it, because it feels undeserved . They will also suspect that anything good in life will be short-lasting.
* It can be harder to develop meaningful interpersonal relationships. This type of person will usually be shy in social settings. Those who get close can find such individuals hard to deal with because of their neediness and pessimism about the future.
* Parents who have developed this mental mindset will tend to neglect their children. For example, if their child is crying they parent will feel incapable of providing comfort.
* Such individuals can become overly dependent on other people. They may require help with even the simplest of tasks.

Learned Helplessness and Depression

The mental mindset of learned helplessness has been used as an explanation for depression. This theory originated in the 1960s from the work of the American psychologist Martin Seligman. He suggested that people become depressed because they feel they no longer have any control over the punishments and rewards in their life. Such individuals will also develop the belief that they are somehow responsible for their powerless state. The reason for why this state of learned helplessness develops is that the individual is faced with a situation that they are unable to control – they then develop the idea that they are responsible for this lack of control.

Learned Helplessness and Motivation

Motivation can be defined as the driving force behind action. Humans can accomplish amazing things if they have the enough motivation. In order for them to develop this inner strength, they first need to believe that changing their behavior will lead to a desirable outcome. If the individual does not believe that their actions will make a difference then they will be unable to summon the motivation to take these actions.

Learned Helplessness and Addiction

It is suggested that addicts suffer from learned helplessness. They are caught in a downward spiral and will usually feel powerless to prevent the descent. Even when the individual is clearly able to see beyond their denial, they can still feel unable to escape their addiction. If these people have tried previously to escape their addiction and failed, then this can reinforce the idea that the problem is beyond their control. This means that the addict is trapped in their misery, because they will be unable to summon the motivation to quit. Once the individual gives up trying to quit their addiction, they will be accepting a death sentence.

Learned Helplessness in Recovery

If people feel helpless in recovery, it will greatly interfere with their ability to build a satisfying life away from addiction. This is because the path of sobriety involves facing and overcoming challenges. These are the dangers of learned helplessness in recovery:

* If the individual feels that they are about to drink or use again, they will feel unable to prevent the relapse. They will just accept their slide back into addiction. Throughout their recovery, the individual is likely to have times when they need to fight for their sobriety. If they feel helpless, they will not put up much of a defense.
* If people accept the bare minimum in sobriety then this is all they will get. In order to build a successful life away from addiction, the individual will need to take action. The good things in life do not automatically fall into people’s lap. If the individual is prepared to accept the minimum they will find sobriety to be unsatisfying. They will then likely develop dry drunk syndrome, in which recovery becomes something to be endured.
* Emotional sobriety is all about the individual taking control of their life. This will not be possible if people feel helpless.
* One of the great joys of sobriety is the ability to help other people. If the individual feels unable to improve their own life, they are unlikely to be of much benefit to other people.
* People with this mental outlook will find it hard to develop friendships in recovery. This will mean that they will suffer from loneliness, a potential relapse trigger.

How to Overcome Learned Helplessness

There are several ways that people can overcome the mental state of learned helplessness:

* Helplessness that is learned can be unlearned. The individual can begin by tackling the small problems in their life. Once they have achieved some success, they will feel more capable of dealing with the bigger challenges. Success always leads to more success.
* It is vital that people realize that learned helplessness is a belief. It is not who the person actually is. The individual has the power to get beyond this negative belief they have about themselves.
* Overcoming learned helplessness involves people taking responsibility for their own life. It is making the decision to take the power back and to build a life that is desirable.
* The individual needs to closely examine the beliefs that are keeping them trapped in the mental state of helplessness. For example, if an addict feels that they are powerless to escape the substance abuse, they should examine the evidence to support this. They will need to look at other possible reasons for why they failed in their attempts to quit previously.
* There are different self-help programs that can help the individual escape their ideas of helplessness. Those who are attempting to escape an addiction may find that 12 Step fellowships can be of benefit. In groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, they learn to depend on a higher power to get beyond the feeling of helplessness. Members talk about how God (higher power) is doing for me what I could not do for myself.
* If people are finding it hard to get beyond their learned helplessness, they will likely benefit from therapy. The therapist will be able to help the individual to identify the faulty thinking that is getting in the way of a more positive outlook.

from alcoholrehab.com
I guess my real question is, is there any way of avoiding learned helplessnes AND still work the 12 step program? Since the basic tenant is to give up all control to a higher power etc.
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Old 06-05-2018, 12:44 AM   #2 (permalink)
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sorry for the long cut and paste but we can't accept links to rehabs in forum threads.

If it's a really good article its best to pick out the highlights and maybe post those.

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Old 06-05-2018, 12:48 AM   #3 (permalink)
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is there any way of avoiding learned helplessnes AND still work the 12 step program?
Quote:
Learned helplessness refers to a mental state where people feel completely powerless to improve their own situation in life. This means that they become unwilling to take action to improve a situation because they have already decided that it will not make much difference. An example of this would be the individual who is addicted to alcohol. Even when they accept that this substance abuse is making their life difficult, they can still feel helpless to improve the situation. This pessimism means that the world appears as a very hostile place and the individual becomes a passive victim.
Wouldn't that be one of the reasons someone might give themselves over to a Higher Power?

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Old 06-05-2018, 12:58 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Admitting powerlessness over a situation gives you an instant excuse.
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Old 06-05-2018, 01:52 AM   #5 (permalink)
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I also have trouble with concepts like powerlessness and surrender and, in this case, helplessness. Words like that seem very passive, like my addiction and my life are things that are simply happening to me. My own sobriety is very much on me and my actions. Ironically, for many successfully recovered folks, that action is surrender, which really messes with my thinking! Words are hard...

I saw a lot of my own mental tendencies reflected in that article, though. I'm sure it will generate some fairly passionate responses. So I'll passively wait for them to appear! But as to OP question: I personally found that basic tenet of AA to be insurmountable, even after many years of exposure to the program. My experience only, no disrespect intended...
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Old 06-05-2018, 02:03 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Doing the steps and admitting powerlessness over alcohol isnít helplessness.

To me, AAs steps were tools that I used in helping myself.

They gave me power in sobriety. Power to choose not to allow alcohol to be the power of my life.

I guess we see what we see in them - but I sometimes wonder if a struggle with the term helplessness or even a clinging to helplessness as an excuse isnít another of the many manipulations of the addicted mind.
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Old 06-05-2018, 02:07 AM   #7 (permalink)
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sorry I forgot to ask, Lone Wolf - what are you doing about your depression?

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Old 06-05-2018, 02:14 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Thanks for the article LW. It seemed to have resonated with me also.

For me, I know deep down my reason for LH. But I can't seem to figure out a way to fix that reason. Infact I don't even know where to start with the problem.

My method atm is to just keep going forward and build as much as I can in myself.
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Old 06-05-2018, 05:55 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Oh man I know learned helplessness extremely well. Pretty sure it developed out of childhood abuse and neglect. Ok, that sounds very melodramatic. My childhood was good too. But there was sexual abuse at a young age and emotional neglect. There were good bits too But an overall feeling of powerlessness and loneliness prevailed.

It is interesting how folks often react to the message in AA...me included. That I am powerless over EVERYTHING. That I have to surrender to everything. Those of us that have experienced trauma tend to run 'to the bank' with these phrases and think 'hell no, I'm not powerless'. Because for me, based on my childhood, the thought of powerlessness meant being traumatized. Getting in the middle of the herd meant being trampled. But I've learned to back way off that black and white thinking. I am powerless over alcohol...which frankly I gave all power to, kind of like a God really. That I had to surrender to the fact that I cannot drink without massive, even deadly, consequences. And in doing so, I took the power of my life and my reactions back from alcohol. The idea that I am powerless over everything outside of me is also empowering. I stopped focusing on other things and people (which I don't control) and started focusing on me, which I do control. It makes life much easier, actually. But there is no room for blame or self pity in this model...something my addiction doesn't like a whole lot.

I think learned helplessness is rendered ineffective when I take control of my actions and feelings. I learn that I am not helpless by focusing on what I have control over, me. And owning my shlit, not blaming others. Learned helplessness is the ultimate pity party. Pity only leads to one thing...drinking. So it is off the table.
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Old 06-05-2018, 06:11 AM   #10 (permalink)
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I guess my real question is, is there any way of avoiding learned helplessnes AND still work the 12 step program? Since the basic tenant is to give up all control to a higher power etc.

The crux here is locus of control: people with learned helplessness have a low sense of self-efficacy: that is, they don't feel like they are the drivers in their lives.

The admission of powerlessness in AA, only refers to an admission that one is powerless once they consume alcohol. It's not a general sense of powerlessness.

And powerlessness over alcohol, once consumed, is not the same thing as learned helplessness.

In any case, you can have an internal locus of control, yet still believe in a higher power.

And you can have a strong sense of self-efficacy, and still admit that you're powerless over alcohol.

Learned helplessness and powerlessness are not the same thing.
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Old 06-05-2018, 06:20 AM   #11 (permalink)
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The article may be entitled "Learned Helplessness in Recovery" but helplessness, learned or otherwise, is a characteristic of addiction. And it's a major factor is one's struggle to get and remain sober. But I don't think it's part of recovery. Recovery is about overcoming helplessness.
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Old 06-05-2018, 06:36 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Hey there LW. I done the 12 with a sponsor.
I think there are some in AA who do the higher power- let go , let god bit very literally. I was advised by quite a few people jsut to accept the fight I was having to secure safe long term housing was just too big and leave it to god. I did not- pushed and fought and got what I needed. THAT was in my control

The let nature take it's course- to me means not trying to change anything other than me..within reason. I cannot change the world and to try and do so- would be contradictory to my recovery.
As to the helpless bit...their is a 'sick role' in hospitals, where the patient assumes a helpless like role- and obey instructions...some never loose that, but to loose it means always trying- getting up and going an extra step,or inch.
Support to you.
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Old 06-05-2018, 06:48 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LoneWolf04 View Post


I guess my real question is, is there any way of avoiding learned helplessnes AND still work the 12 step program? Since the basic tenant is to give up all control to a higher power etc.
first off i hope you address the depression by seeking professional that diagnosed you.

the steps dont say we give up control to a higher power.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
that one word- CARE- gets missed often. we still have our will(thoughts) and lives(actions).

i dont think avoiding learned helplessness is a good idea. facing it ,learning from it, and changing would probably be better.
could very well be addressed with the steps but may need outside help for it.
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Old 06-05-2018, 06:50 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Admitting powerlessness over a situation gives you an instant excuse.
an excuse for what?

my roommate when i was going through chemo didnt respond to treatment as good as i. he was dieing from cancer.
i was powerless over the situation.
what was admitting that an excuse for?
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Old 06-05-2018, 07:22 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Admitting I was powerless over alcohol is what gave me the freedom from it.

In admitting that, I surrendered; I could give up the fight where I was trying to master alcohol and control it. When I finally accepted that I just couldn't do it, then it became possible to leave it alone, because I knew I couldn't win. I walked away from the fight.

As for admitting powerlessness in other areas of my life, as with alcohol, I was only giving up the illusion of control. There are a few things I do have control over (myself), and most others that I don't (other people, circumstances...). What I had to learn to do was to determine which was which and stop beating my head against the wall trying to make everything go my way. (The Serenity Prayer)

My recovery program helped me to see where I did have the power and gave me the tools so that I really could do something about my addiction. I did have the power to get into action when I thought I might drink. Go to a meeting, call someone, go help others, etc. Those things were a start.

I wasn't helpless anymore.
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Old 06-05-2018, 09:03 AM   #16 (permalink)
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If people feel helpless in recovery, it will greatly interfere with their ability to build a satisfying life away from addiction. This is because the path of sobriety involves facing and overcoming challenges.

facing and overcoming challenges is exactly what the 12-step program has given me the "tools" to do.
so my answer to your question is yes.
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Old 06-05-2018, 09:16 AM   #17 (permalink)
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The longer Iím in recovery and AA the simpler it gets. Those who I see not intellectualise concepts of powerless etc are in the most contented sobriety. Find what works and work it. It doesnít matter how the higher power concept works if it works which it absolutely does. Humility, gratitude, compassion, and positivity is what itís about for me.

Grateful to be sober
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Old 06-05-2018, 12:20 PM   #18 (permalink)
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To me, AAs steps were tools that I used in helping myself.

They gave me power in sobriety. Power to choose not to allow alcohol to be the power of my life.
Nicely said FreeOwl. It's no accident that the serenity prayer was adopted by AA. The longer I'm sober the more I acquire the wisdom to know the difference, and I discovered there's much more I can change than I ever thought possible.
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Old 06-05-2018, 01:28 PM   #19 (permalink)
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Old 06-05-2018, 01:54 PM   #20 (permalink)
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I accept that as soon as i take the first drink/first bite of sugar/smoke the first cigarette I become powerless/helpless/hopeless myself as I have handed over my power to an addictive substance.

The chemical reaction of which in my body will take me over.
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