By Nan Van Den Bergh, Ph.D.
- The theme, limit control or mastery over the environment, often begins with the child’s realization that he or she cannot control parental drinking, arguing. Illness or other major and repeated parental behaviors that are consistently detrimental to the child’s home life.
- The second theme of learned helplessness is passivity in the face of disturbing stimuli, while simultaneously worrying, being angry, frightened and thinking about them. At the same time the child feels powerless to do anything about the problem…
- Disturbed normal routines are the third theme of “learned helplessness.” Here the child has difficulty in knowing what is normal for what is expected will change depending on the cycle of the drinking or the abuse. This means it is difficult for the child to develop clear expectations and to have a sense of security at home, This fact of feeling secure translates over time to low self esteem and poor self concept.
- Avoidance of social support is the fourth theme of learned helplessness. The child becomes fearful of what he or she will find at home and gradually begins to disengage socially. The child begins to feel different and reach out to others less often, as he or she is not sure how to share with what is happening at home. Withdrawal also serves to protect the child from being seen by others as dysfunctional and helpless. And, you first learn by watching our parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles model appropriate behavior within our family. If one of more family members are codependent, meaning they adopt a powerless stance, in times of stress, then this pattern is internalized. We may acquire some of this information through screen memories that are acquired so early that do not have words attached to them. Such memories include being in a crib, throwing food or playing. There may also be sensations around us that we record as fear or pleasure. By learning to trust external cues only, the child learns dependency, as well as the belief that feeling good comes from sources external to the self. This explains why many children of alcoholics become dependent on others when in a relationship. It also explains why such children learn to eat, drink, take drugs, work, gamble or have sex compulsively.”
NOTE: Persons who claim that they have been depressed all their lives might want to reflect on the above material.