Trained Helplessness

Do you know how to train an elephant?  When the elephant is very young, the trainer will tie her up with a strong rope to a tree or other immovable object.  The young elephant will struggle to get loose.  She will try every means possible to get away, but will eventually learn that she cannot escape the rope.  Whenever the rope is tied around her leg, no matter what she does, she cannot escape, so she merely succumbs to the rope.  The trainer can eventually, to the rope to any object (such as a small stake) and the elephant, even through adulthood, will not attempt to escape because she has learned that nothing she does will allow her to be free.  She has been trained to be helpless whenever she is tethered to the rope.

Trained helplessness can occur in humans, as well.  We become “trained” to believe that we are helpless to become free as long as we are tethered to certain things in our life.  For example:

  1. History – Some believe that a failure to achieve certain goals, positions, or responsibilities in the past means that none of these can happen in the future.  Not true!  Many (or should I say most) successful individuals have frequently faced failure, rejection, or negative events to thrive.
  2. Education – Some believe that their careers are limited because they lack a specific degree or discipline in school.  Certainly, there are some positions that require a degree or specific discipline.  However, there are many schools that offer night or weekend programs.  Additionally, a lack of degree might only be a mental tether and not one that could really limit your freedom.  It might be good to investigate.
  3. Family issues – Some are experiencing true problems at home that truly can inhibit their ability to break free of the rope.  However, I want to encourage you to believe that these issues will pass.  Though these problems may seem impossible or that they is no way to resolve them, time has a way of healing.  Having friends to share with or lean on is critical for finding your way through this current darkness.
  4. Financial concerns – Many believe that their current financial situation limits their ultimate ability to live confidently.  Certainly, financial obligations must be met.  However, working through these issues may require assistance from a trained financial advisor.
  5. Fear – It is true that many individuals allow fear to prevent them from reaching their full potential.  Taking that first step outside your comfort zone can lead to the pathway out.
  6. Health issues – Problems with your health or that of a family member can truly limit your ability to live and work freely.
  7. Hopelessness/Depression – Yes, there are individuals burdened by that feeling or hopelessness or depression that can severely limit their feeling of freedom.

Some of our ability to break away from the tether of “trained helplessness” can come from our own resolve or the help of coworkers, family, or friends.  Others need the assistance of trained professionals.

Please also consider how you might encourage a coworker, friend, or neighbor that may be experiencing one of these issues.  Supporting and encouraging each other could help more than you could ever imagine.

Don’t be an elephant!  Thanks for all you do and have a fantastic day!


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