Narcissistic Abuse Recovery: Learned Helplessness

“All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.”

Noam Chomsky

We live in a dangerous world, with threats around every corner. Our parents are supposed to protect us and teach us how to survive in the world. However, some parents choose to spend their time to break down their children instead. Children learn by a simple process: If it worked, then I can do it again, if it did not work then I can’t do it again. Eventually, they repeat something enough times to remember it and do it again by themselves. Any healthy parent will teach their children what works and what doesn’t.

However, a narcissist does not care about their children learning how the world works. They care about their children learning to obey them. They will interfere with their children’s learning process if they feel disrespected. Even if a child does something correct, the narcissist may give negative feedback because of how they feel. What they do not understand nor care is that this sends the message that whatever the child does is wrong, as long as the narcissist is unhappy. When they go out into the real world, with people who have no stake in their survival they can be taken advantage of very easily. A small number of wrong ways turns into everything being the wrong way to do things. This is how learned helplessness starts.

Learned Helplessness: Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t

I can’t do anything right! I may as well not even try…. Learned Helplessness is a state that occurs because a person feels that no matter how much effort they put into something, they will get negative results or get hurt too much in the process if they try. They assume that no matter what they do, they will always be in pain or discomfort so it is better not to waste the energy doing anything to prevent that pain. It is one of the most common and most dangerous conditions caused by abuse and neglect. It eventually evolves into apathy where a person simply does not care about anything. People need a way to escape suffering.

It is a terrible miasma of feelings to endure. When you assume things just won’t get better, your body mind and spirit shut down. You do the bare minimum because you just don’t have the energy to continue. Thinking of a way out feels like a chore. Your body will barely move because it doesn’t see a purpose. The only thing you can feel is hope, a light in your heart that someone somewhere will come and save you. The longer you go without help, the faster that light seems to just fade out and fade away until there is nothing left. The only question you do end up asking when trying to think is, “Why?”.

The Major Effects of Learned Helplessness

The mindset that you are all on your own and you can’t do anything right can affect all facets of your live. It creates a negative feedback loop that makes you believe that it isn’t worth the effort to fix the problems and challenges that arise in your way. If you start gaining weight, you may just assume that dieting and exercise isn’t worth the effort because you will probably fail at it. If you have medical problems or emergencies, you may assume that nothing can be done about them.

Escaping Learned Helplessness: How to Earn Your Way Out of Hell

It’s hard, but there is always a way out. The first thing you have to recognize is that you can’t control anything outside of you. That other people will make you feel helpless for their own reasons. To maintain power over you, to feel better about their own weaknesses, or even just out of boredom and they need a quick laugh. Just as you can learn helplessness it is possible to reset what you know, and unlearn it.

The first thing you need is hope. The belief that you can escape your situation. The second thing you need is a starting place or a foundation to build upon. Test what you know. Find the smallest win of knowledge you can think of. Something that you can do, that you are good at. Keep doing it over and over until you start to feel the glimmer of confidence entering you. Something that is decently challenging for your mental state. It can be completing sudoku puzzles, or doing push-ups. Anything that you know you can do. Once you build that starting point. Just keep building it, as much as you possibly can.

Once you get good at it, start with something else. Repeat the process over and over until you have at least 7 things that you can decently do. That way if someone tries to shame you for one thing and you still can’t find a way to trust yourself, you have 6 other things to keep you going until you can prove the 7th thing again. It is going to take a lot of work, a lot of trial and error, but it is just something you have to do to survive and thrive.

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