The Other Virus: Learned Helplessness

Why would any American allow the government to deny him a final goodbye to the person who raised him? Why would anyone allow grandma to die untouched in a hospital room without fighting back? In the post-vaccination era, why don’t people remove their masks? Learned helplessness, employed as a control tool.

Learned helplessness is well documented. It takes place when an individual believes he continuously faces a negative, uncontrollable situation and stops trying to improve his circumstances, even when he has the ability to do so. Discovering the loss of control elicits a passive reaction to a harmful situation. Psychologists call this a maladaptive response, characterized by avoidance of challenges and the collapse of problem-solving when obstacles arise. You give up trying to fight back.

An example may help: You must keep up with ever-changing mask and other hygiene theater rules, many of which make no sense (mask in the gym, but not the pool; mask when going to the restaurant toilet but not at your table; NYC hotels are closed while Vegas casinos are open; Disney California closed while Disney Florida was open) and comply.

You could push back, but you have been made afraid at a core level (forget about yourself rascal, you’re going to kill grandma if you don’t do what we say) and so you just give in. Once upon a time we were told a vaccine would end it all, yet the restrictions remain largely in place. You’re left believing nothing will fix this. Helpless to resist, you comply, “out of an abundance of caution.”

American psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier created the term “learned helplessness” in 1967. They were studying animal behavior by delivering electric shocks to dogs (it was a simpler time). Dogs who learned they couldn’t escape the shock simply stopped trying, even after the scientists removed a barrier and the dog could have jumped away.

Learned helplessness has three main features: a passive response to trauma, disbelief that trauma can be controlled, and stress.

Example: You are being stalked by a killer disease which often has no outward symptoms. There is nothing you can do but hide inside and buy things from Amazon. The government failed to stop the virus initially, failed to warn you, failed to supply ventilators and PPE gear, and failed to produce a vaccine quickly enough. You may die. You may kill your family members along the way. You have lost your job by government decree and are forced to survive on unemployment and the odd stimulus check—manufactured dependence. It is all very real: WebMD saw a 251 percent increase in searches for anxiety this April.

Americans, with their cult-like devotion to victimhood, are primed for learned helplessness. Your problems are because you’re a POC, or fat, or on some spectrum. You are not responsible, can’t fix something so systemic, and best do what you are told.

The way out is to allow people to make decisions and choices on their own. This therapy is used with victims of learned helplessness such as hostages. During their confinement all the important decisions of their life, and most of the minor ones, were made by their captors. Upon release, many hostages fear things as simple as a meal choice and need to be coaxed out of helplessness one micro-choice at a time.

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