In my work as a counsellor, I often take clients who are struggling with depression and/or anxiety to the research of Martin Seligman.
Seligman and colleagues proposed that subjecting participants to situations in which they have no control, results in three deficits: motivational, cognitive, and emotional. Cognitive deficit – the idea that their circumstances are uncontrollable. Motivational deficit – lack of response to potential methods of escaping a negative situation. Emotional deficit – depression. Based on his research, Seligman made an important connection: the link between learned helplessness and depression (Positive Psychology Program, 2019).
Learned helplessness and catastrophising self-talk
When we catastrophise, we predict the worst possible outcome; and we assume that if this outcome transpires, we won’t be able to cope, and it will be an absolute disaster. Catastrophising can lead to high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, and it can also make physical pain worse (Headspace, 2017).
Martin Seligman developed three explanatory styles to combat learned helplessness and turn it into learned optimism.
Being mindful of what you are thinking and feeling, is a vital step in changing your catastrophising helpless thoughts to specific, realistic, empowering thoughts.
Best Possible Selves
Researchers at Obero University found that students who thought, wrote and reflected about their best possible selves were more optimistic about their future than students who did the same about a typical day in their lives. The authors speculate that this is because picturing the best possible self is linked to goals (Learned Optimism – Cup Half Full, 2019).
Learned Optimism – the Cup Half Full, 2019, Positive Psychology Program
Positive Psychology Program, 2019