learned helplessness

World English Dictionary
learned helplessness
 
n
the act of giving up trying as a result of consistent failure to be rewarded in life, thought to be a cause of depression

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Dictionary.com's 21st Century Lexicon
Main Entry:  learned helplessness
Part of Speech:  n
Definition:  a mental condition in which one becomes unable to help oneself due to previous failed attempts at controlling one's life; also, a condition in which a person establishes and maintains contact with another by adopting a helpless, powerless stance
Example:  Learned helplessness is conditioned behavior in which an individual gives up trying to escape a painful situation after repeatedly failing to escape.
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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

learned helplessness n.
A laboratory model of depression in which exposure to a series of unforeseen adverse situations gives rise to a sense of helplessness or an inability to cope with or devise ways to escape such situations, even when escape is possible.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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