Fallacy Of Helplessness – 13 Expert Insights And How To Overcome It (2024)

Are you feeling stuck? As if you’re incapable of changing the situation you’re in? Let’s get to the bottom of it.

Fallacy Of Helplessness
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Especially as children, we can repeatedly experience situations we can’t control. This may develop the helplessness fallacy which causes many to think they don’t have control over subsequent situations even when they do.

If this is how you feel, stay with me as I explore the fallacy of helplessness and learn how to overcome this thinking to progress in your life.

Let’s dive right into it.

1. The Definition of Helplessness Fallacy

The fallacy of helplessness is the thinking that one is unable to control or change a situation because forces beyond their control are involved. This causes them to do nothing about an issue.

The helplessness fallacy leads you to think that the power to be happy and satisfied with your life is beyond your control. That some people are meant to be happy/ (whatever good thing you want) and some are not. So instead of doing anything about solving an issue, you get stuck in doing nothing to solve the situation.

Related: 9 Steps How To Change Your Paradigm

2. Effects of the Helplessness Fallacy

The symptoms of the helplessness fallacy include: 

  • Low self-esteem
  • Frustration
  • Not asking for help
  • Procrastination
  • Despair
  • Passivity
  • Low motivation
  • Failure to put effort
  • Frustration

Since these symptoms marry, you might manifest all of these effects at once when feeling stuck.

Related: Reasons Why You’re Stronger Than You Think

3. What Causes the Helplessness Fallacy?

This fallacy of helplessness is derived from learned helplessness, a psychological explanation for having a way out of trouble and yet not taking it. One thinks falsely that they’re helpless even when they’re not because past experiences taught them that they have no control.

This was discovered through an experiment with dogs.

In the famous 1965 Martin Seligman’s experiment, dogs were conditioned in a caged environment where they got zapped every time a bell rang. After some time in this conditioning, the dogs were transferred to a low-fence crate so they could easily jump to the next partition to escape the shock whenever the bell rang. However, the dogs instead stayed in their usual position and tolerated the shock.

Another dog that hadn’t been conditioned in the caged environment was put together with the dogs previously experimented on and it jumped to escape the shock. 

This proved that after some time in a condition where we’re helpless(objective helplessness), we get used to it and fail to help ourselves out of a similar situation even if we’re presented with a way out (subjective helplessness).

You’ll understand this further in the examples below.

Related: 11 Steps To Rewrite Your Story And Change Your Life

4. Fallacy of Helplessness Examples

As you can see with the helplessness fallacy definition above, this thinking leaves you feeling stuck and yet doing nothing about it.

For example, Scott keeps saying he doesn’t have enough money to have fun the way his friends do. And yet, when asked by his parents why he doesn’t get a job to fund his needs and wants, he says he can’t because he doesn’t have any qualifications and stays at home playing video games.

Many examples of the helplessness fallacy involve statements like, “I can’t do this,” “I don’t know how to do this,” and “I can’t change” among others.

For instance, when asked why you don’t have a friend, you might say stuff like, “I’m just not good at relationships.” While this mindset might have been built when you were a child and was bullied or simply couldn’t make friends, you might take it to adulthood, thinking you have no capabilities for creating good relationships even though your coworker keeps asking you out for drinks or many other acquaintances strive to strike a relationship with you.

Some of the common helplessness fallacy examples we tell ourselves include:

  • I’m not good with money
  • I am not good with people
  • He can’t like me, I’m just not good enough
  • I’m not meant to be happy
  • I’ve always been a loser, I can’t be successful in life
  • I can’t be a successful entrepreneur, it’s just not in my genes

Related: 12 TIPS How To Change The Story You Tell Yourself

5. Effects of the Helplessness Fallacy

Helplessness Fallacy
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The helplessness fallacy renders one powerless in their mind so they do nothing to change the outcome. This brings various negative effects including:

  • Inhibiting implementation of positive coping strategies to a particular situation. Instead of planning and executing the available solutions to a problem, one resorts to procrastination, avoidance, and other maladaptive behaviors.
  • Helplessness feelings through your own self-talk lower self-esteem and bring more dissatisfaction with life
  • Helplessness hinders recovery from mental and also physical conditions
  • Tolerating the irrational thoughts of helplessness can promote the development of diseases and mental disorders

But how do we unlearn/defeat or overcome the helplessness fallacy?

Related: Proven Strategies To Take Massive Action

6. Expert Insights on How to Overcome the Helplessness Fallacy

Since the helplessness fallacy is built by conditioning or repeated helplessness scenarios, you can consciously detach yourself from it with practice. Below, you’ll find the techniques you can use to overcome the helplessness fallacy and get unstuck.

6. Optimize your life outlook

People can be divided into optimists and pessimists depending on the area they incline towards most. Optimists look at life in a way that encourages them to act progressively while pessimists are generally negative about life and hence get little motivation to change things.

In his book Learned Optimism, Dr. Seligman explores the way optimists and pessimists think and how turning optimistic can change your mind and change your life. Instead of thinking about how helpless you are, start thinking about how helpful you can be.

Instead of saying:

  • “Something is wrong with me because I keep failing at this business”(destructive self-talk) say “I didn’t follow the principles of successful business plans for my business and so I haven’t got the results I wanted.” (Constructive self-talk)
  • “This will probably happen again, I am doomed!”(hopelessness) say “This would probably not repeat, there’s hope for a better tomorrow” (hopefulness) 
  • “I am a loser at this, I’ll always screw up everything!” ( destructive generalization) say “I have failed at X because of Z but this isn’t related to situation Y.” (situation-specific)

In a nutshell, if how you make sense of a situation isn’t helping you progress in it, find an explanation that motivates you to act. You can do this by contemplating it yourself or finding someone to advise you positively on the subject.

Related: Why Life Sucks And 13 Expert Strategies For A Turnaround

7. Focus on what you can control

Instead of fretting about what you cannot do, think of what you can do to influence a positive outcome.

Since we learn helplessness from the situations we genuinely can’t control like the loss of a loved one, we can unlearn helplessness by focusing on components of situations we can control.

Instead of looking at how a disease is preventing us from doing something, we can check our goals and focus on what we can do to progress towards them — perhaps all we can do at that moment is learn.

There’s always something we can do, always a positive thing we can meditate on, always the silver lining in a cloud that we can look at. There’s always something. So focus on that.

Related: Things You Can Control In Your Life Instantly

8. Remember tough times you overcame

When feeling helpless, it’s easy to forget every good emotional expression you had, the good things you’ve created, and the trials you’ve overcome. But instead, focus your mind on the times you’ve shown courage and got positive results so you can become more optimistic.

Meditating on your successes can help you get out of your rut and implement the things that can replicate past success.

Also, motivation stems from knowing that you can do something. So remember the praise you got from others, the encouragement you received regarding your strengths, and the things you did to bring forth such desirable outcomes. 

9. Recognize and replace behaviors that promote helplessness

Procrastination, denial, passivity, avoidance — all these behaviors promote undesirable feelings of helplessness. The more you escape dealing with helplessness, the more it weighs on you.

Therefore, seek to identify such maladaptive behaviors in your daily life and then pause to reflect on their consequences. Then choose to act the opposite.

When tempted to procrastinate, choose to tackle a task immediately, if you’re feeling like avoiding a situation, dare to face it as is, and so on. You get the point.

Even when feeling like acting poorly, pause and reflect on what would come of it and then act positively immediately.

Related: 13 Easy Ways Out Of “I Can’t Do Anything Right” Thinking

10. Explore the origins of your helplessness

Photo by SHVETS production from Pexels

When we recognize the source of a bad habit, it’s easier to gain helpful insights and tackle them effectively. And in the case of helplessness, it’s no different.

When you recognize the objective helpless situations that cause you to feel helpless now, you can become kinder to yourself and with newfound clarity, work towards unlearning the behavior.

For instance, if you were constantly told by your guardian that you’re useless as a kid, you’ll helplessly develop that irrational thought and frequently have emotional crises of helplessness. But if as an adult you get back to your childhood, you can remember the false statements reinforced in you and debunk them for a positive future. 

11. Get professional help

Applying the above tips consistently can help you get out of helplessness by a great deal. But if you can get an expert to help you untangle the helplessness fallacy from its roots, the better.

Especially if you’re experiencing chronic helplessness, getting professional help can benefit you immensely. Treatment techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy can help you get out of the helpless rut and even learn to help others in the same plight.

Related: I Hate My Life – 15 Effective Ways A Life Coach Intervenes

12. Emotional Fallacies Connected to the Helplessness Fallacy

To understand the helplessness fallacy better, you must understand that it is related to other forms of irrational thinking. They together form the 7 main emotional fallacies currently known to psychological experts.

The 7 core emotional fallacies include:

  1. The helplessness fallacy suggests that you have no control over your life happiness or satisfaction
  2. The fallacy of perfection claims that to be competent you have to handle every situation (especially in effective communication) with complete confidence and skill
  3. The fallacy of approval suggests that it’s important and even possible to obtain everyone’s approval.
  4. The fallacy of catastrophic expectations is when one thinks of the worst that could happen and believes that it will indeed happen. For example, you can say, “People will laugh at me when I try this business idea”
  5. The fallacy of overgeneralization bases its illogical conclusions on little evidence and exaggerates shortcomings. For instance, when you fail your driving test and claim, “I can’t do anything right, I’m so stupid!”
  6. The causation fallacy relates to the causes of things without concrete evidence. For instance, “I have to avoid speaking up because it’ll hurt other people’s feelings.”
  7. The fallacy of should is the inability to differentiate reality and what could be. For example, when it rains you might say “It shouldn’t rain,” or when another person already acts a certain way and you tell them, “You shouldn’t do this,” in an effort to convince them to not do something.

As you can see, these forms of irrational thinking are related and can cause many psychological entanglements if you don’t deal with debilitative feelings in your life positively.

13. Helplessness Fallacy and Debilitative Emotions

Irrational thinking paradigms/emotional fallacies like the helplessness fallacy lead to debilitative emotions which dissuade us from effective functioning. They’re part of being human but their presence in our lives for far too long or in extreme intensities can do great harm.

These difficult emotions include:

  • Frustration
  • Irritation
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Overwhelm
  • Jealousy
  • Pride
  • Sadness
  • Inadequacy
  • Helplessness

So, what could you do to minimize debilitative feelings? Check out Button Pushing Tactics And How To Stay Calm 

Final Word on the Fallacy of Helplessness

No matter how deeply helpless you feel, there’s a way out. You can always trace back your helplessness to conditioning that no longer exists and use the techniques we’ve provided to overcome. You can break free!

About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.