Helplessness is:

Learned behavior by which you have been able to "hook" people into caring for and nurturing you.

Sympathy provoking, by a composite of physical illness, academic problems, failures, work problems and relationship troubles which have drawn the attention, support, and caring for you from other people, places and things.

A tool you've used to manipulate people, places and things to allow you to remain overdependent on them.

A false sense of incompetence, by making others believe that you lack the competence, intellect, skills and abilities to handle your own problems.

Driven by a fear of success, a mask behind which you hide your fear of success so that others are convinced that you can't succeed when in reality you are afraid of succeeding.

A lack of self-trust, an inability to establish a sense of trust in yourself so that you can open yourself up to be vulnerable to hurt and failure by taking a risk to "do for'' yourself rather than to rely on others to "do it'' for you.

Refusal to "grow up'' and be an adult because then you would be held responsible for the outcome of your life.

A mask for the anger and rage you have inside for being expected to be mature, personally responsible and self-approving in your adult life when in your child life you feel you were too neglected, ignored and non-approved and now want others to do for you what you need to do yourself.

What Are the Negative Effects of Helplessness?

If you continue to function in a helpless way, you could experience these factors in your life:

You could become disabled by other people's attitude towards you because they do not believe you are capable of doing anything on your own.

Overdependency on caretakers to help you overcome the negative impact of your problems.

An increasing fear of success, since you fear stepping out on your own or pursuing anything that you are convinced you are not capable of handling on your own.

Losing your potential to have a happy and content existence because you are convinced that there are forces in the world always trying to handicap and keep you down.

Impaired self-esteem, and you become convinced that no matter how hard you try to do things you are never "good enough'' to succeed.

Atrophying skills, since you find that your inherent competencies, skills and abilities wither from nonuse.

Locked in the "yes, but" attitude whenever you are being presented with viable alternatives and solutions to your problems--so much so that you drive people away from wanting to help you in the future because of your pessimistic or fatalistic outlook on your problems.

Found to be a fraud, and discovered to be a person who doesn't want to become self-sufficient and independent. Asking for help could be seen as simply a ploy to control others and keep these people from choosing to leave you alone to solve your problem.

Depression and despondency because you run out of people to "take care of you'' and despair because you are in reality no longer competent to take care of yourself.

How Is Helplessness a Control Issue?

Acting helpless is a control issue because you experience these realities:

Your helplessness makes you look as if you are willing to transfer the "locus of control'' from your hands into the hands of others when in reality you are in control of those people. It is a form of controlling others even when they don't believe they are being controlled, because you are still "calling the shots" as you want them called.

You hold a mask of helplessness by which you are able to manipulate others to "fix," "rescue" or care for you when in fact you have the resources to do so for yourself.

Finding yourself in a power position whenever you run across an "addicted fixer" or "caretaker," or "addicted'' rescuer or enabler because you meet their needs and can dictate the extent to which they can help you avoid taking personal responsibility for your own life.

Physical debilitation when you are willing to let go of control over your physical well-being even if it means you become physically sick to the point of chronically ill in order to get people to attend and care for you.

Dramatic ploy that you have learned so well that you can resort to intimidation, coercion or suicidal threats and gestures if people are not responsive to your claims of being helpless.

Self deceiving role, since you can get so lost in the mask and belief of your helplessness that you no longer take control over your own life and hand over this power to others in your life.

What Irrational Thinking Leads to Helplessness?

  • If I am no longer in need of others' help or support, then how will anybody ever find me appealing enough to be loved and cared for?
  • There is no way I will ever be able to get myself out of this mess.
  • How would I know since nobody ever told me?
  • I don't have the ability to be supportive of your feelings since I don't know how I feel nor can I identify my feelings.
  • If people hadn't abandoned me, then I would have been able to solve these problems.
  • People are basically selfish and they don't care about me.
  • People will only show interest in me when I am sick, in grief, hurting or perceived as a failure or loser. Since no one really cares about me when I'm healthy, then I must only be worth something when I'm sick or in trouble.
  • No matter what I do, I'll be abandoned anyway so why should I change?
  • If they really loved and cared about me, they would do it for me.
  • I'm a weak, frail, human person and people can't expect me to get strong overnight.
  • I've only been in my recovery program for such a short time. How can you expect me to start doing for myself already?
  • Don't pressure me to change. I become immobilized under pressure.

How to Overcome Helplessness

In order to reduce your sense of helplessness and become more self-sufficient, competent and self-confident, you need to do the following self-help activities.

First: Identify those problems, obstacles, fears or issues over which you feel helpless and identify what beliefs keep you locked into being helpless for each one.

Second: Develop a new belief system that encourages you to recognize that being independent, competent, self-confident and capable of helping, fixing and changing yourself is healthy, desirable and necessary.

Third: Learn "normal" coping behaviors from others who are in a healthier place than yourself.

Fourth: Practice healthy coping, problem-solving, fear-desensitizing and conflict-resolving behaviors.

Fifth: Build on your successes at being an independent, free-standing self-helper and self-healer.

Sixth: Remember that success breeds success and be sure to reinforce yourself for all of your successes , no matter how small they are.

Seventh: Accept that relapse is part of the recovery process and get back with your program of self-help if you should slip or fall back to your old mold of helplessness.

Eighth: Call upon your Higher Power to give you the courage, strength and persistence necessary to gain self-sufficiency to cope with your life.

Ninth: Give permission to your network of support to "call you" on any lapses back into helplessness.

Tenth: When you get angry about "always having to do it on your own,'' do anger workouts to ventilate these emotions, which are traps waiting to draw you back into your old attention-seeking, helpless role.

Eleventh: Parent your "inner child'' by nurturing and self-loving, and allow your "inner child'' to grow to be a healthy adult by giving it the freedom to make a mistake or fail in its attempts at self-help.

Twelfth: Accept that it takes time--sometimes an entire lifetime--to fully rid yourself of a sense of helplessness since it is often such an ingrained, automatic habit of acting, thinking and feeling.

Thirteenth: Let go of your absolute need to be "healed perfectly" since it traps you to give up if at first you don't do it exactly right.

Fourteenth: Emotionally detach from all "fixers,'' advice givers, rescuers and enablers in your life so you don't fall into their need for you to be helpless.

Fifteenth: Stop hiding behind all excuses, beliefs and cliches about why you can't possibly help yourself.

Sixteenth: Have a farewell party or wake for the "old you'' who was wrapped up in self-pity, self-doubt and self-abasement. Let go of that "old you,'' and as in any death grieve all of the lost benefits from the old role of helplessness.

Seventeenth: Embrace the "new you'' who is more self-competent, self-helping, self-healing, self-respecting, self-confident and self-enhancing and recognize all of the healthy, normal, natural, beneficial consequences of living your life in this way.

Step 1: You first need to identify in your journal the following.

A. With whom do you usually function as a "helpless'' person?

B. What are the issues involved with you and these people over which you are helpless?

C. How would you define each of these people? Who are the fixers? The rescuers? The advice givers? The enablers? The caretakers? The gurus? The professional helpers upon whom you have become emotionally dependent?

D. What irrational, unhealthy beliefs keep you in your role of helplessness with each of these people and in each of the "helpless to overcome'' issues in your life?

E. Identify why it is so difficult for you to accept personal responsibility for helping yourself to overcome each of the problems, fears, issues and conflicts over which you currently feel helpless.

F. Identify the benefits of taking personal responsibility for helping yourself on your own and under your own power and control.

G. Identify the negative effects of remaining helpless as you face your current problems, fears, conflicts and issues.

H. Identify why your efforts in the past to overcome your sense of helplessness failed. What did you lose in your life when you became more capable of helping yourself?

I. What are the benefits for you in remaining helpless in your current problems, fears, issues and conflicts?

J. Identify which of your current relationships are based on feeling helpless. How would these relationships change once you ceased acting, thinking and feeling helpless? How does the potential change in your current relationships keep you "hooked'' into remaining helpless?

Step 2: Once you have thoroughly assessed the state of your sense of helplessness, identify what you need in order to grow in the skills of self-coping, self-help and self-healing. To do this respond to the following Self-Help Skills and Behaviors Inventory:

Directions: In order to help yourself grow into a more self-sufficient, self-nurturing, self-healing and self-confident person, you need more of the following self-help skills. Rate each skill on a four point scale.

  • 0 = Don't need more of this, since you have plenty of and practice it most of the time.
  • 1 = Need a little more than you currently have since you at times practice it but could benefit from more training.
  • 2 = Need a great deal more than you currently have since you have a sketchy understanding of it and only rarely try it.
  • 3 = An overwhelming need to learn about it since you have only heard of it, know nothing about it and have never practiced it in your life.

0 1 2 3 (1) Honestly identify my feelings

0 1 2 3 (2) Identify other people's feelings

0 1 2 3 (3) Communicate openly and honestly

0 1 2 3 (4) Effectively listen to others

0 1 2 3 (5) Respond to others reflecting that I understand how they feel

0 1 2 3 (6) Problem solve with others the issues which arise in relationships

0 1 2 3 (7) Identify my thinking, which is unhealthy or irrational, and develop alternative, more healthy thinking to overcome these beliefs that block my personal growth

0 1 2 3 (8) Affirm myself for all of my personal skills, abilities, talents, competencies and other positive attributes

0 1 2 3 (9) Eliminate guilt as a major motivator for my personal behavior

0 1 2 3 (10) Maintain trust that I will be there for myself when I need to be

0 1 2 3 (11) Overcome my sense of insecurity

0 1 2 3 (12) Allow myself to become vulnerable to the hurt and pain of failure, mistakes and loss in order to grow

0 1 2 3 (13) Take risks in life

0 1 2 3 (14) Nurture my "inner child'' in healthy ways

0 1 2 3 (15) Desensitize and overcome my fears

0 1 2 3 (16) Overcome my fear of failure

0 1 2 3 (17) Overcome my fear of success

0 1 2 3 (18) Reduce or eliminate my perfectionism

0 1 2 3 (19) Overcome my human pride by accepting that there is nothing I can't accomplish as long as I have my Higher Power with me as my partner in life

0 1 2 3 (20) Practice patience by accepting that recovery is a life-long process

0 1 2 3 (21) Grow in a deepening and maturing spirituality with an emerging personal relationship with my Higher Power

0 1 2 3 (22) Continuously accept personal responsibility for my own thoughts, feelings and actions and not put the blame on others

0 1 2 3 (23) Handle the stress and anxiety in my life through relaxation and self-healing activities

0 1 2 3 (24) Take care of my own physical health through proper nutrition, sleep, exercise and other basic habits

0 1 2 3 (25) Avoid procrastination and utilize healthy time management techniques

0 1 2 3 (26) Take the steps to prevent burnout in my life

0 1 2 3 (27) Have a place, time and people in my life with whom to have fun and enjoy myself

0 1 2 3 (28) Resolve conflicts, disagreements and fights with others in a "win-win'' resolution

0 1 2 3 (29) Overcome my fear of rejection

0 1 2 3 (30) Reduce my need for approval from others

0 1 2 3 (31) Practice healthy, assertive behaviors in all of my relationships

0 1 2 3 (32) Eliminate the need to play "sick,'' "victim'' or "martyr'' roles in my life

0 1 2 3 (33) Reduce competition in my interpersonal relationships

0 1 2 3 (34) Have healthy intimacy with others

0 1 2 3 (35) Set goals with the others with whom I have relationships

0 1 2 3 (36) Recognize when my relationships are based on reality rather than on fantasy or a dream of the way it could be

0 1 2 3 (37) Use forgiveness and forgetting in overcoming hurts in relationships

0 1 2 3 (38) Establish a healing environment with others when needed

0 1 2 3 (39) Help others recognize when they need help

0 1 2 3 (40) Recognize and accept the reality of losses in my life

0 1 2 3 (41) Reduce denial mechanisms from blocking my need to change

0 1 2 3 (42) Cease bargaining in my need to change

0 1 2 3 (43) Let go of the past and get on with the present

0 1 2 3 (44) Face and accept death as a reality of life

0 1 2 3 (45) Work anger out in a healthy way

0 1 2 3 (46) Overcome depression

0 1 2 3 (47) Rid myself of hostility, sarcasm and cynicism

0 1 2 3 (48) Overcome pessimism and negativity

0 1 2 3 (49) Work out my resentment

0 1 2 3 (50) Stop jumping to negative assumptions

0 1 2 3 (51) Avoid stuffing anger in silent withdrawal

0 1 2 3 (52) Eliminate revenge as an unhealthy motivator

0 1 2 3 (53) Eliminate any rageful behaviors

0 1 2 3 (54) Reduce or stop self-destructive behaviors

0 1 2 3 (55) Overcome any irritations

0 1 2 3 (56) Eliminate passive aggressiveness

0 1 2 3 (57) Handle angry confrontations in a healthy way

0 1 2 3 (58) Emotionally detach from the toxic relationships in my life

0 1 2 3 (59) Eliminate manipulation of others to do for me what I can do for myself

0 1 2 3 (60) Give and accept healthy emotional support in my efforts at personal growth



  • 0 - 60 Good self-helper. You have enough skills and behaviors to assist you to overcome the sense of helplessness in your life.
  • 61 - 120 Fair self-helper. You have a need to learn more about normal self-help skills and behaviors if you are to successfully overcome the sense of helplessness.
  • 121 or higher Poor self-helper. You are in great need of training in the Tools for Coping, which will assist you to know, feel and act in a more normal way and grow in self-esteem and gain self-confidence, self-respect and self-healing so as to overcome the sense of helplessness in your life.

Step 3: Once you have determined the degree to which you are a self-helper, you need to work at acquiring or increasing the self-help skills in which you are currently deficient. This can be done by utilizing all the Tools for Coping Series books written by James J. Messina, Ph.D., available at and through participation in the Self-Esteem Seekers Anonymous Program (The SEA's Program) or some other form of support group or group therapy conducted by a counselor or therapist.

Step 4: As you grow in self-help skills, redefine yourself as a person in recovery from low self-esteem and a sense of helplessness. Utilize all of the tips to overcoming helplessness contained in this chapter.

Step 5: If, after an exhaustive effort at self-growth and self-healing, you still feel helpless, return to this guide, reread it and begin Step 1 over again.