Disclaimer: I’m neither a psychologist nor trained in mental health whatsoever. However, I do read a lot of books, articles, studies, teachings, ideas, etc about mental health and the people who suffer from mental health issues. My heart goes out to them. If it were one people group who I would love to see most set free, healed, and delivered it would be those who suffer with mental illness. History has shown that patients with mental illness have had atrocious things done to them and I am horrified about it. Thankfully science, psychologists, and revelation has increased and brought much growth, understanding, and tools to bring freedom, healing, and deliverance to those precious people suffering under the weight mental illness.
The past several weeks I’ve been reading “Brain Rules” by John Medina. Needless to say the book fascinates me. I just finished the chapter on Stress and you can read the overview of the chapter here: http://www.brainrules.net/stress.
In the chapter on Stress, one point in particular jumped out at me and it was talking about Learned Helplessness. If you Google it you’ll come up with several different links that are much more detailed and scientific that anything you’ll read below. But I’ll do my best.
Learned Helplessness is when a human or animal is subjected to aversive stimuli which is inescapable. The result is that a person or animal stops trying fight against it and just takes it basically. Things will never change so why even try anymore type of mindset. Even when opportunities exist to get out of the stimuli their learned helplessness will forestall any movement to get away from it.
This concept is geared more towards animal psychology however, it can apply to many situations regarding human beings. The notion is that the lack of control a person experiences breeds a helpless attitude, which in turn will cause a person to overlook openings for change and/or growth.
Steven F. Maier and Martin Seligman were the two psychologist who stumbled upon this discovery. They detected this via an experiment on dogs. They found helpless behavior in canines who were trained to expect an electric shock after hearing a noise. After this conditioning, they placed the dogs in another box where there is one side that would provide an electric shock and another side which provided no shock and the only separator was a very low wall which the dogs could easily walk over to get to the other side. The dog who was conditioned to feel the shock never even attempted to leave the electrocuted side. In another test one of the dogs was harnessed and shocked so the dog was unable to vacate the electrocutable side. (To read the rest of the explanations and different test that were fun visit: http://psychology.about.com/od/lindex/f/earned-helplessness.htm)
Now regarding people. It happens all the time. A person undergoing stress for a prolonged time that is inescapable can Learn Helplessness. It can be a root issue that can lead to depression. Personally, I’ve experienced Learned Helplessness, but not to extremes as some have I’m sure, but I’ve felt it’s twinge in my life. However, my reactions usually show up in other ways like being angry at bad drivers or people who mess up by food order.
Here’s a quick backstory. Growing up I, for the most part, was raised in the ideology that a kid is meant to be seen and not heard(some of you may have grown up with “It’s better not to be seen or heard”). It was not always the case but most of the time it was true. I was the quiet one, who didn’t excel in sports, so I was pretty much dragged along to my brother’s traveling sports team. I was raised not to ask questions therefore, my opinion didn’t matter. This was and is still an issue in my adulthood. Without a voice as a child, I “knew” my voice didn’t matter as an adult. I learned that it was pointless to speak my mind because it was never heeded nor sought out. Now as an adult my wife almost always wants my opinion, she even loves my opinion. This was new to me. I lived so long on the electrocuted, your voice doesn’t matter so why even say anything, side of the box. Growing up hearing my father reply to me asking a question, “Just say, ‘Yes, dad.'” was my harness holding me back. I just went along with things.
Another slight pang of Learned Helplessness I’ve experienced is lack of control in my life. For the Alphas out there it is probably the exact opposite you’ve experience. In the lion’s share of my adult life I was again dragged along with others. I didn’t go to college and didn’t have a career. My parents divorced and my dad moved out so I was lived in our house with my mom and brother. It was a trying time to say the least. Both of them were party animals drinking and partying very late in the evenings when I liked to sleep. I felt totally disregarded. They didn’t give a lick of what I had to say. Then when I called them out on it, I wasn’t a righteous person either, they called me judgmental. So my uncle in MN had ALS so my mom wanted to move out there…so I followed with no real choice. I lived in MN for three years, my cousin passed away, my mom dispersed all her money from selling the house, then she decided to move back to MD…I followed. I felt helpless to make my life’s choices because I didn’t feel I had a choice. Electrocuted again.
Now back in MD I lived with my dad, because I didn’t have a choice. Then moved back in with my mom and brother and the partying commenced but this time at other houses thankfully but unthankfully. Unthankfully because I received a phone call at 2:00 AM saying there was a car accident and my mother was pinned in the car. Harnessed and electrocution. I told my mother that evening to come home. She didn’t listen. Thankfully she is in Our Father’s arms. It took me years to be able to keep my phone on during the night after that. Being as I lived with her and she was no longer alive…I was forced to move once again.
Lack of control is still a pain I feel from time to time. This isn’t the need to control everything but simply having a choice and making a choice. I’m going on 32 and am almost three years into a career that I thought I’d like but ended up not being exactly what I thought. Now it’s not that I don’t like what I do but it is a very high stressful job. My biggest problem is that I care. I want to help people. Fixing computers isn’t really helping people but it does partially pay the bills. Being married presses me onward though because I need to support my wife and any future children. The job is stressful and that is the crux of Learned Helplessness. I care and want things to work but I am given poor tools. It’s like giving me a screwdriver when I need a screw gun. Five months into the job I started getting panic attacks at very random times. Not to mention leaving a church and having a brother and father who didn’t want me to get married, didn’t hear what I had to say, and even tried to split my wife and I up. Mixed in was lies, gossip, triangulation, and never being able to provide the other side of the story.
Now my story isn’t that bad and nowhere near other people’s stories. We can all find places in our life where we’ve Learned Helplessness. The issue here is the “learned” part. It’s very hard to unlearn sometimes. The number one thing to help Unlearn Helplessness would be an incredible conspiracy of grace to come upon you. A conspiracy so profound that it would totally shift your paradigm. Thankfully some do experience it. I envy them. However others do not. For those who don’t, there is one word that will explain the medium for healing and that is process. I do not like process. It’s messy, it disturbs my current reality, and can be quite painful. It takes trust and when it’s hard to trust it’s hard to submit to process. As Wm. Paul Young says in The Shack,
“I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships so will our healing, and I know that grace rarely makes sense for those looking in from the outside.”
You can’t schedule friendship and friendship is where healing comes from the most. Friendship with God and friendship with His children, our brothers and sisters. Even then it’s incredibly difficult to find friends who are willing to be available. That’s why people have to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on counseling or therapy when just having real, available, grace empowered friends would provide the soil for healing. So where do we go from here? Great question!
Pray for willingness. It’s the obstacle that births Learned Helplessness to begin with. We don’t posses the ability to be willing to walk over that small wall to that other side of the box where there are no pangs, twinges, or electrodes. We can’t be willing because we are hurt. Is it no wonder that in Matthew 8:2 the leper asked Jesus,
“Are you willing to make me clean?”
Sometimes we need someone else’s willingness to breath upon the ember of our fading willingness. And what did Jesus do in response? He said,
“I Am willing. Be cleansed!”
Then He reached out and touched him. He reached out. He touched.
Maybe you don’t have any Learned Helplessness…but you know someone who does. Maybe, based upon the Spirit’s movement, it’s time for you to reach out and bring a whole bunch of willingnessness with you. Sometime all someone needs is a touch. A gesture. Intentionality is key. Generally speaking, people know when someone does something intentional. There is usually a cost or sacrifice entailed with it.
Now for those in my boat and so many others what do we do? Is there hope? Are we harnessed somehow? Have we lost the willingness we so desperately need? Like I said above we need to pray. Pray for willingness. God has promised to give us willingness. Philippians 2:13 declares,
For it is [not your strength, but it is] God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work [that is, strengthening, energizing, and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose] for His good pleasure.
Dearly Beloved God is willing! God is able! Grace is within you whether you know or have experience it or not. Grace and Joy are your inheritance.
Our hurts don’t come prepackaged, so neither will our healing. Our wounds are specific so our healing should be just as specific.
For your soul:
Father, yes, you are a father despite my experiences that try to tell me otherwise. I have learned helplessness. I’m not speaking death but being real. I’ve been harnessed and electrocuted. I’ve been hurt. The pain is real and I flinch at the smallest things sometimes. I see faith, I see hope, I see joy but they seem so out of reach. But I choose to say, “You are Good.” You are a good Father despite it all. Give me willingness. Holy Spirit breath and birth in me willingness. Send me those who are willing who can walk with me, side by side. Father show me your willingness. Jesus reveal Yourself to me. Show me where you have been throughout my life. Show me that you’ve been with me in this box all along. Apply Your salve. Apply your oil. Heal my soul. Heal my body. Give me back a voice. Give me back my ability of choice. Make my will free again. Father, I ask You to lift off all crushing and shame that’s on my spirit. Lift off rejection from my soul. Release all demonically inspires lies and harassment. Remove the talons of the enemy from my mind. Father, give my soul perspective that in the midst of stress I can choose peace. In the midst of heartache and despair I can walk to the other side of the box and have joy. In the midst of this dark night of the soul I want a bright day of the spirit. Thank you Father for being my Father.
For the spirit:
Soul I recognize the frustration, pain, hurt, and trepidation that you have been experiencing. But, if I may, ask you to step aside for a brief moment. This is not rejection. I am just applying something to the spirit that will assist you along the path of healing. Spirit of _____ I call you to attention in the name of Jesus Christ. Spirit, I understand if you may be distant and afraid to come fully forward and I understand that and I acknowledge your right to feelings of safety. Please stay present throughout this blessing. Spirit if you are fully forward than great. Receive the word of God for you today in Philippians 2:13 , “For it is [not your strength, but it is] God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work [that is, strengthening, energizing, and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose] for His good pleasure. Spirit God has and is giving you willingness to jump to the other side of the box. Where the soul has learned helplessness, spirit you have learned willingness. You are designed to lead, guide, and bring into alignment the soul with the Kingdom and to take all of life’s woes with a more than conqueror mindset. You have the ability to help the soul get free. And spirit only you and the Holy Spirit knows the things of man. The soul does not. I bless you spirit with going to mind and setting things right. Where stress has taken over and damaged the brain, you spirit have the ability to repair. You, spirit, are the sustaining force that God created the whole of man to have. You, along with the Holy Spirit sustain man. Spirit go to the face of the Father and receive instruction, insight, revelation, power, and authority to set things right. Joy, Peace, Love, Faith, Hope are all your forte. It’s who you are. You are created and creative light made from the same substance as God. You are created in His image according to His likeness. You have what it takes. I bless you spirit in the name of Jesus Christ.
I hope this helps. I love people and I want to see them whole, healthy, set free, and walking in the fullness that Jesus died for and God created us for. Be blessed today and for the rest of your life. Let us no longer learn helplessness but to learn willingness to move over and manage, with out spirits and the Holy Spirit, the stress that the worlds brings.
If you’ve read through and I got something wrong please comment below cordially. If you have any insight or tools that may help comment as well.