Learned helplessness and not taking responsibility

Learned helplessness was put forward by Saligman. In this article, I will talk regarding learned helplessness and, I think, its derivative behavior of avoiding responsibility.


In all living things, human beings have to predict and control what is going on around them in order to survive in the evolution process and to live a quality life at a certain moment. Living things that cannot predict and control become difficult to survive, and their mental health deteriorates. If a person is constantly stuck in negative conditions that he cannot control and throws responsibility for what happened to them to external factors, saying “external outrages” or “The teacher got me”, he will be injured, but not depressed, but if he believes that what is happening to him is due to his own incompetence, he will most likely become depressed.

In laboratory conditions, a repulsive stimulus is given to a group of animals, and if these animals are given the opportunity to run away from this stimulus by pressing a pedal, this is called “escape-avoidance training”. Learning to control their environment, these animals try to escape when exposed to different repulsive stimuli in the future. There are also subjects who are given “helplessness training”; No matter what the animals in this group do, they cannot escape the repulsive stimuli directed at them. These subjects, who have received helplessness training, do not run away when they encounter a repulsive stimulus in a cage with a completely open door in the following time, they almost accept what has happened to them. I think the equivalent of this situation in the human world is the surrender of the slave to his master. Throughout history, many slaves were so intimidated that they believed they might not resist their masters or even escape.

Sensing people’s weaknesses in this regard, dictators and single men have developed methods that reinforce learned helplessness throughout history. Genghis Khan had killed the people and all the animals in the few castles he had captured and left. Seeing this situation, the people in the surrounding castles preferred not to resist, even if they had the strength to resist, and to open the gates of their castles as soon as they saw Genghis Khan’s armies. (Similar to the animal experiment above.) At the beginning of the last century, some European companies cut off one hand and one foot of their black workers (workers, not slaves) in African countries and hung these photographs in the squares. Almost all tyrannical rulers in history carried out executions in the squares, by displaying them to the public. In the age of television, some occupied countries broke into people’s homes, and under the pretext of security, they stripped and searched the head of the family in front of his wife and children. They just called. However, they recorded this call and made everyone watch it on TV. Thus, they aimed to reduce the masses to learned helplessness.

Desperation in the earthquake

The day following the Marmara earthquake in 1999, our President Demirel said, “No one should criticize it, this is God’s work.” In fact, no one asked, “Why was there an earthquake?” He would not say, “Why did so many people die in the earthquake?” he would say. Such hasty statements, made so that people do not criticize the administrators who allow rotten structures, open the door to learned helplessness in society. We saw such a statement in the last earthquake; In order to cover up both the rotten construction and the apparent delay of the rescue efforts, the press unanimously said, “This is the disaster of the century, there was an earthquake in a very large area, nothing might be done.” This explanation was wrong, moreover, it would push people into learned helplessness with the feeling of “there is nothing to be done” and would make it difficult for them to take precautions for future earthquakes. Sometimes, unintentionally, someone trying to save myself, as the press did in this case, can cause many people to fall into learned helplessness.

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We can say that learned helplessness is the basis of avoiding responsibility, or at least it can be found. I believe that there are two types of avoidance of responsibility. The first type of responsibility is to avoid the first type of responsibility, for moral reasons, when one is expected to take responsibility for others, not to take it, and for a person who can help someone remains passive with the thought that “nothing can be done” deep inside. In the second type of avoidance of responsibility, the person does not believe that he can change something in his life, so he lets things flow and avoids taking responsibility for his own life with a submissive attitude.

We might give many examples of avoiding both types of responsibility. Some complain regarding the country’s administration, but, “What will my vote change?” he does not vote. As some say in arabesque, “I’ve been asking myself this question for years, I don’t know why I came to this world?” says. If this person says, “My life has been bad so far, I wonder what I do will be better from now on?” If he can say that, he starts to get rid of the effect of learned helplessness. In our childhood, we heard a lot of saying, “Even if Atatürk comes to save our country”. To this person who avoided taking responsibility, “Why don’t you try to be Atatürk in your own way, when the ant turns black?” it’s coming. While many brave men might easily save a woman who was beaten on the street in the past years, they remained passive for fear of falling into Kadir Şeker’s situation.

In one of Aziz Nesin’s stories, one sheep says to the other, “The smell of the wolf is coming close,” and the other says, “Yes, let’s see what happens.” he replies. The first wolf soon says, “The smell of the wolf is very, very close,” the second wolf says once more, “Yes, let’s see what happens?” says, the story ends. “Let’s see what happens?” What they say is a learned helplessness behavior that avoids taking responsibility, a kind of submissive sheep attitude. Ask themselves and their country, “What can I do?” those who save.

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