By Akin Ojumu

In 1967, Martin Seligman and his partner, Steven Maier, were researching animal behavior when they accidentally discovered the learned helplessness theory. They found that the dogs who had been exposed to a series of inescapable shocks stopped trying to get away from the electric shocks altogether. 

When Seligman and Maier tried this experiment with human beings (replacing the shocks with loud noises), they found that people had a similar reaction. The ones that couldn’t control the noise in the first experiment didn’t even bother trying to control it in subsequent trials – even though the aversive stimulus was now escapable. 

This research led to a new understanding of trauma. People that experience repeated abuse and other aversive situations eventually learn to become helpless if nothing they do changes it.

It’s as if they internalize that since nothing worked in that situation, nothing will work in similar situations, either. The trauma begins to erode two other critical aspects of mental well-being namely, self-efficacy and locus of control.

Learned helplessness occurs when an individual continuously faces a negative, uncontrollable situation and stops trying to change their circumstances, even when they have the ability to do so. 

For example, a smoker may repeatedly try and fail to quit. He may grow frustrated and come to believe that nothing he does will help, and therefore he stops trying altogether. 

The perception that one cannot control the situation essentially elicits a passive response to the harm that is occurring.

Locus of control is the degree to which an individual feels a sense of agency in regard to his or her life. That is to say, the extent to which individuals believe they control the events that affect them. Locus of control can be internal or external. 

Someone with an internal locus of control believes that the things that happen to them are greatly influenced by their own abilities, actions, or mistakes. A person with an external locus of control tends to feel that other forces – such as random chance, environmental factors, or the actions of others – are more responsible for the events that occur in the individual's life.

In extreme situations in which people are exposed to situations in which they have no control, they may learn not to act because they believe nothing they do will affect the outcome anyway. 

Even when the situation passes and they find themselves once again in arenas in which they can exert control, this lack of action may persist. At this point the person has fallen into learned helplessness. 

External locus of control and learned helplessness are psychological disorders that have come to define Nigerians. Having been oppressed and suppressed for so long, Nigerians have crawled into a shell of learned helplessness. 

The repeated trauma to which Nigerians have been subjected by their rulers and abusers have led many to assume a crouch of helplessness.

Hapless victims of abuse by Nigerian rulers have accepted their fate of abuse. Some have even gone so far as to embrace their abusers as saviors, and they celebrate their tormentors as heroes.

For real change to come to Nigeria, it’ll take men and women with an unyielding internal locus of control. These are the relentless folks with backbones who’ll never back down or allow themselves to be trampled upon by miscreants and will never bow down to scoundrels who violently cheat their way into positions of power. 

Courageous Nigerians with internal locus of control who’ll remain fired up, geared up, and ready to fight are the only hope Nigerians have to take their country back from thieves and thugs.

(Sources: Jack Westin, ThoughtCo, BetterUp, & Psychology Today)


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