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Learned Helplessness and Depression

When looking for causes of depression this concept is huge. If you have been depressed for a while and just can’t seem to shake it this may be of help to you.

It is a psychological state in which you may have learned to believe that you are helpless in particular situations. You may feel that you have no control over your life  and “give up.” The result is that you have learned to remain passive in the face of unpleasant, harmful or damaging circumstances, even when you actually have the power to change things. You just don’t realize that you do.

Learned helplessness is  further defined as the “giving up reaction” or “quitting response” that follows from the belief that whatever you do doesn’t matter or doesn’t change things.

Learned helplessness is closely related to your explanatory style or Locus of Control, which I covered in an earlier blog.  Much research has been done in this area over the years, and it has repeatedly reported links to emotional ills. It’s easy to see how Learned Helplessness can lead to dependency, anxiety, pessimism, depression and despair.

As a child, you may not have been able to escape the dysfunction you were subjected to—whether it was physical or emotional. You may have felt that no matter how hard you tried to be “good,” you were still punished. This was due to your family’s dysfunction and should be left at their door.

As adults with free choice, you are never helpless.

If you are being abused currently, you can leave as there are a myriad of help systems in place. It may be scary and hard, as you may not have the same financial resources in a new situation. Still, you have the choice to leave. If your children are being abused, you have an obligation to remove them from the situation. You are not helpless.

In psychological treatment, Learned Helplessness theory is the idea that depression and related emotional illness can result from the perceived absence of control over personal situations. Therapists then you develop the necessary thought processes and beliefs that allow you to see where your behaviors and decisions are actually important and do determine your outcomes.

You will learn to do decision trees, you will unlearn dysfunctional and non productive thought patterns and most importantly, you will learn to start trusting yourself instead of giving up.

This instills hope in that you now will learn to design your own future. It brings with it a certain amount of excitement and new enthusiasm toward life in general. It puts you in the driver’s seat of your life.

Feelings of Helplessness =Depression

If you think you may be struggling with some dysfunctional thought patterns learned early in life, come to and get your free resource, How to Break Free from 12 Dysfunctional Thought Patterns…and a handy chart to help you track your progress.

Feel Good For Life!!

Learned Helplessness and Depression

Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

Audrey Sherman is a psychologist, speaker and author of the book Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now. She has been working with individuals and families for over 20 years and her expertise is in helping others to overcome the emotional baggage that keeps them stuck in unhappy and unproductive relationships, jobs and more. She currently works with clients in person or via Skype or telephone. To learn more about Dr. Sherman, her book and workshops you can visit her website,

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APA Reference
Sherman, A. (2016). Learned Helplessness and Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2018, from


Last updated: 28 Dec 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 28 Dec 2016
Published on All rights reserved.