I sat in my Psych class tonight, expecting another boring, noninteractive PowerPoint presentation when the concept of Learned Helplessness popped up on the glowing projector screen before me. The example was of an experiment where a dog is contained in a room with a floor that is electrified and would emit a slight shock to the dog no matter how he reacted. Therefore, the dog learned that nothing he did…bark, jump, or run around… would change his circumstance. He learned to give up and lie down on the floor, accepting the shocks as they came. I thought to myself, “I am that freakin’ dog!”
I have read about Learned Helplessness many times, but I never really attributed it to me or the thought processes that underlay my MI. Firstly, who really ever believes that they are helpless, and secondly, accepting that you fit the Learned Helplessness criteria has a heap of shame and embarrassment attached to it. After all, if I learned to be helpless, I must be weak, right? And why can I not unlearn it?!
Once the realization that I did indeed suffer from Learned Helplessness sank in (presumably passed down in grand tradition from previous generations of people who did not have access to help, were too ill to seek help, or who simply cared more about their pride than their affect on their loved ones- Yeah. I’m salty!), anxiety told me to get the heck outta the classroom! (In anxious situations, I am much more or a flight kinda gal as opposed to a fight kind of gal.) Of course, that was not a rational thought, and I was able to tell myself that in a way that my brain accepted. But I did realize that once we begin covering chapters of coursework that hit closer to home…can you say “Personality” or “Psychological Disorders” boys and girls?…I might be in for a rush of anxiety that might just win the battle of rational vs. irrational thought. Luckily, I have previously spoken to my professor about my varied diagnoses, so when I explained to her after class that I was fearful about my reaction for the upcoming work, she smiled and told me to just let her know if I needed to skip any certain classes. That was a big, anxiety disarming relief.
I will be considering rational, calm ways to handle any discomfort and anxiety that may be ahead of me in the classes to come, building upon Distress Tolerance skills and having them ready for use in my “Let’s Get Through the Day Without Running Out of the Room Like a Wild Animal” arsenal!
I have a long journey ahead but am miles from where I was before.
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