Demystifying Learned Helplessness: An Explanation and Life Coaching Solutions

In the domain of psychology, ‘learned helplessness’ is a significant concept that underpins a wide range of mental health and behavioral discussions. Introduced by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier during the 1960s, this theory encapsulates the mental condition that ensues when an individual consistently experiences insurmountable, distressing circumstances, leading to a feeling of hopeless surrender. Such a state of mind not only affects individuals but also has broader societal implications. This blog post will seek to elucidate the concept of learned helplessness, its impacts, and the role a life coach can play in overcoming it.

What is Learned Helplessness?

Learned helplessness refers to a psychological state in which individuals perceive themselves as incapable of avoiding negative situations because previous experiences have conditioned them to believe their efforts don’t matter. In simpler terms, they’ve ‘learned’ to be ‘helpless’. Consequently, they feel they have no control over their environment, resulting in passivity and reduced motivation to seek or learn new problem-solving approaches.This notion stemmed from animal experiments that were exposed to unpreventable adverse conditions. When the opportunity to escape was available, the animals, having learned their actions were futile, did not attempt to escape. This behavior, mirrored in humans, is associated with various mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Impact of Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness has profound psychological, emotional, and physical implications.

  1. Psychological Effects: Learned helplessness can lead to low self-esteem and decreased motivation. Individuals may struggle with decision-making or task initiation due to anticipated failure.
  2. Emotional Consequences: This often culminates in feelings of deep sadness, isolation, and depression. A person may feel stuck in their current circumstances, leading to chronic stress and anxiety.
  3. Physical Health: Chronic stress, as a result of learned helplessness, can deteriorate physical health, causing immune system weakness, fatigue, and other health complications.

Overcoming Learned Helplessness through Life Coaching

Though learned helplessness can have severe consequences, it’s not an irrevocable condition. Here are some strategies a life coach can employ to help overcome learned helplessness:

  1. Solution-focused Coaching: A life coach can encourage clients to identify achievable goals and develop concrete steps towards reaching these goals, fostering a sense of control and self-efficacy.
  2. Positive Affirmations and Visualizations: A life coach can guide clients to use positive affirmations and visualizations to counteract feelings of helplessness, promoting a more optimistic outlook.
  3. Accountability Partnership: Life coaches can provide a necessary support system, holding clients accountable for their actions and providing a safe space for open discussion about challenges and progress.
  4. Teaching Resilience Building Strategies: A life coach can help clients develop resilience, assisting them to bounce back from adverse situations and view challenges as opportunities for growth instead of signs of defeat.
  5. Promoting Self-care: Life coaches emphasize the importance of self-care and healthy lifestyle choices, which can help combat feelings of helplessness and improve overall wellbeing.
  6. In addition to the above, Life Coach Specialists, like Russ Kyle, will employ NLP, NAC and other integrative psychological approaches.


Learned helplessness can often induce feelings of being trapped in unfavorable circumstances. However, comprehending this concept marks the first step in overcoming it. With the right strategies and supportive coaching, it’s entirely feasible to unlearn helplessness, regain control, and steer one’s life towards more constructive and positive paths.

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