Learned Helplessness


Researchers once did a study in Florida in which they divided a large, fish tank in half by putting a glass wall in the middle.  A barracuda was put on one side of the tank and a mackerel on the other.  The hungry barracuda tried to get the mackerel but smacked into the glass barrier.  Again and again, the barracuda smacked the glass in its attempt to reach its dinner.  Finally, realizing how futile its attempts were, the barracuda gave up.

Researchers then removed the wall to see what would happen.  Surprisingly, the barracuda made no new attempts to reach the mackerel.  It eventually starved to death even though food was within easy reach.

The technical term for what happened is “learned helplessness.”  The barracuda had learned to be helpless from its many failed attempts to reach the other fish.  When the barrier was removed, the barracuda continued to operate as if the glass wall was still there. (S – Seligman, Martin.  Learned Optimism.)

Many of us also suffer from learned helplessness.  We learn from early experience that we aren’t good at resisting temptation. All our failures are irrefutable evidence that we have no control. The slightest temptation causes us to give in. Why fight it? It’s inevitable. Our beliefs create our results. Because we have programmed our brains with self-defeating self-talk, our half-hearted attempts meet with failure.

The Enemy loves this type of thinking. It makes his job incredibly easy. What our learned helplessness fails to take into account is that we are growing in our walk with the Lord. We’ve gotten stronger since the last temptation (or should have). If you are in the Word, praying and obeying what the Lord leads you to do, then you are constantly growing stronger spiritually.

Apply a little bit of that muscle to resisting the Enemy’s temptations. You’ll be surprised how little effort it actually takes to defeat the Enemy on this battlefield. He suffers from learned helplessness, too, but his is real. He has learned that he is powerless against the righteous person who applies the power of Jesus Christ to his temptations.

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1 Comment

Filed under christianity, expectations, Fear, overcoming obstacles, Persistence, Religion, self-image, sin, Spiritual Growth, spiritual warfare, Spirituality

One response to “Learned Helplessness

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

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