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Learned Helplessness is a term I came across in my reading this week. It is a technical term originally used in reference to animal psychology but is also appropriately applied to human behavior as well.

Learned helplessness describes an animal or a person who has learned to behave helplessly, even when there is opportunity to avoid an unpleasant or harmful circumstance. It is essentially, in humans, it is a mental state in which the person perceives he or she has no control over the outcome of a situation. (

A pertinent example of learned helplessness would be the tragic and heart-rending case of Jaycee Dugard who was kidnapped when she was 11 years old while waiting for her school bus. Jaycee was held captive for 18 years, living in sheds and tents in the backyard of her captor...despite numerous opportunities to escape she felt she had no control over her situation.

Self improvement coach and Guru Brian Tracy couches it a little differently. He sums that kind of behavior up in what he calls The Law of Belief. The Law of Belief states, "Whatever you believe, with feeling, becomes your reality; you always act in a manner consistent with your beliefs." In other words, what we think either inhibits and limits us or energizes and frees us.

So what do we do when we realize we have learned helplessness behavior? The key to unlearning helplessness and learning hopefulness is to replace "limiting beliefs and attitudes" with "empowering beliefs and attitudes."

(From a sermon by Monty Newton, Optimism 101, 10/25/2010)

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