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Defense Mechanisms

12 Examples of Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness is the inaccurate belief that something is impossible based on experience. The following are illustrative examples.


Self-efficacy is the degree to which an individual believes they can handle a particular situation. Low self-efficacy can be learned. For example, an individual who has little confidence in their driving ability after an accident.

Sense of Agency

The degree to which an individual believes they control or influence outcomes. For example, an individual who believes they can't influence politics such that they fail to exercise their right to vote and participate in political processes.

Invalid Assumptions

Invalid assumptions often lead to learned helplessness such as the invalid belief that something is impossible. For example, a software developer who believes mid-sized changes can't be done in less than six months who feels helpless when they join a firm that completes such changes in a few days.

Failure of Imagination

Failure of imagination is the invalid expectation that the future will resemble the past. For example, a teacher who believes that a student who hasn't thrived in a class will never thrive. This can be viewed as learned helplessness on the part of the teacher who is failing to imagine ways to help the student improve.


Learned helplessness is often portrayed as being the result of malicious intent whereby an individual attempts to undermine the self-efficacy of others. For example, a manager who feels threatened by a talented team member so they set them up to fail with impossible work assignments.


An individual who learns to be dependent on another person to the point that they begin to doubt they can handle things on their own. For example, an individual who has always had a parent prepare all meals for them such that they begin to believe they can't cook where it is actually within their ability to begin to learn this within minutes of self-study.

Motivated Reasoning

Motivated reasoning is the process of finding logic to support what you want to do. This can take the form of arguments that you aren't talented in some area that doesn't interest you. For example, a student who claims to be bad at science because science bores them.

Motivated Failure

Failing at something as a means to escape it or benefit from the sympathy of others. For example, a child who learns that if they do a poor job at a household choir their parent will take over.


Self-handicapping is the use of motivated reasoning to avoid damage to self-esteem. For example, a individual who is invited to dance who convinces themself they can't dance as means to avoid some dread risk of rejection or embarrassment.


Pessimism is a general belief that things are difficult and a tendency to overestimate risk. This can be a learned behavior based on experiences. For example, an individual who believes that IT projects are likely to fail because they have participated in a wide range of failed projects.


Defeatism is when an individual allows pessimism to interfere with their performance. For example, an individual who fails to deliver to a project because they think it's failing anyway.

Victim Mentality

Victim mentality is the unreasonable belief that one is a victim. For example, a student who doesn't try in a class because they believe the teacher is biased against them due to critical feedback that was only intended to help them improve.
Overview: Learned Helplessness
Definition (1)
The unreasonable belief that something is impossible, difficult or unlikely.
Definition (2)
The inaccurate belief that a goal is beyond your control, capacity or talents.
Related Concepts

Human Behavior

This is the complete list of articles we have written about human behavior.
Cold Logic
Frame Of Mind
Human Beings
Human Experience
Human Needs
Human Spirit
Inner Strength
Natural Language
Personal Life
Political Behavior
Rational Thought
Risk Taking
Shared Experience
Social Acceptance
Social Experience
Social Status
State Of Mind
Superiority Complex
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