Most people who are caught up in addiction are going to reach a point where they realise that their behaviour is making life a misery. At this point, the will to recover can start to grow inside them, which can eventually lead them into recovery. Unfortunately, some people can also develop this desire to change yet remain trapped because they believe they need to be saved by somebody or something else. This is referred to as learned helplessness, and it can mean individuals remain trapped in addiction indefinitely.
If you were dealing with learned helplessness, it would mean that you do not believe it is possible for you to improve your situation. This feeling of helplessness can leave you feeling full of despair, creating the conditions whereby you cannot go forward in your life. By predicting your inability to change, you make this change far less likely to happen – this is commonly referred to as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Learned helpless also means that you might just put up with anything bad that is happening in your life because you have accepted that it is beyond your control.
Some of the symptoms of learned helplessness include:
- a fatalist view of the future – i.e. your actions now can’t improve your future situation
- low self-esteem
- believing that no matter what you do, the outcome is likely to be bad
- resistance to taking on any type of responsibility
- blaming others for your situation
- believing that you are incapable of making good decisions
- feelings of frustration with life – ‘why me’, etc.
- giving up as soon as things get hard.
The process of addiction can easily lead to the development of learned helplessness. One of the reason this can happen is due to repeated failures to control drinking or drug use. Every failed attempt to regain control can reduce self-esteem, reaching a point of giving up on the idea that you are capable of improving life. It leads to a type of thinking where you begin to justify the addictive behaviour with the idea ‘it’s just the way I am’.
- It can mean you remain trapped in addiction long-term because the only person who can save you is yourself
- you can alienate people because you may become too demanding – you expect them to fix your problems for you
- learned helpless often leads to depression
- it means you become willing to put up with the bare minimum in life
- it can mean there is nothing to stop you from reaching the end of the addiction downward spiral (insanity or death).
Learned helpless is a pattern of thinking that many can pick up due to the process of addiction. The fact that it is a learned behaviour means that it can also be unlearned. Some of the things that can help you escape this limiting way of thinking include:
- seek the help of an addiction therapist
- benefit from therapies such as motivational interviewing
- spend time with people who have managed to overcome their addiction problems – you will see that they are just like you
- learn to observe your thoughts more objectively – you will see that these self-limiting thoughts are not based on reality
- start achieving small goals because this can create a snowball effect so you can later achieve much bigger goals
- enter a rehab programme where you can be given professional support as you learn to regain control over your life
- believe that you can change and that you deserve a better life
- develop some self-compassion – practices such as metta meditation can be good for this.