Douchebags; Learned Helplessness

“Nothing makes me as sad as men,” Rona said last night. “I’m not angry. I just miss when it was fun.”

Lately I have been trying to define the term “douchebag”. (It is not on In my attempt, I have not considered the word to be gender specific – men and women both commit douchebaggery. Someone told me that a douchebag knows he/she is hurting someone, but doesn’t stop it. However, after discussing this with friends I learned that the majority disagree. That statement implies the intent to hurt, which people prefer to label as an asshole. Supposedly, a douchebag does not know that he/she is a douchebag.

After further contemplation, the accepted definition stating the unawareness of douchebaggery by the douchebag causes me to believe that I have not only been a victim of this characteristic, but I have also been guilty of it. Taking that into account, I do not believe that being a douchebag is a constant state. It may be a phase, or simply dependent on the situation and how the douchebag perceives the person he/she is hurting. Although, it is likely that if someone has acted as a douchebag in the past, he/she will do it again.

It’s not that douchebags don’t have the ability to change. They are just so oblivious to their douchey tendencies that they succumb to patterns of douchebaggery. Maybe it’s like learned helplessness. For example, an elephant is tethered to a stake to limit the distance it can walk. After time, the rope is untied from the stake but left around the elephant’s ankle. Still the elephant will not walk farther than it had learned it could go when restricted. Or when a flea is placed in a closed jar. It can only jump as high as the lid. When the lid is eventually removed, the flea will never jump out of the jar because it learned this limitation.

The most famous experiments on learned helplessness were done by Martin Seligman using dogs in the 1960’s as part of his research on depression. One dog, let’s call him Fluffy, was purposely subjected to pain using electrical shocks. Fluffy could stop the shocks by pressing a lever. Another dog, Spot, was wired to Fluffy. Spot would receive the same exact electrical shocks as Fluffy, but Spot’s lever did not stop the pain. For Spot, the torment seemed to end at random; he could not escape it.

Next, Fluffy and Spot were placed in a similar experiment but not wired together.  Both dogs were able to stop their own electrical shocks by jumping over a low partition. When Spot felt the sting of the electricity, he laid down and whined. Even though Spot could have easily escaped the agony by jumping over the partition, he did not try. He had learned to be helpless.

Many people have learned to be helpless in their everyday lives. Some hate their jobs, some despise their lovers, and some have an extreme dislike for themselves. They believe they cannot change, when really they are the only ones with the power to alter any of it. Previously when I said that I wanted someone to save me, I was being foolish. Only I can save myself, and I am more than capable of restoring my own faith in humanity.

About one-third of the dogs in Seligman’s experiments did not become helpless. They managed to find a way out of the unpleasant situation despite their past experience. These animals knew that the painful situation was not ubiquitous; they knew that the ache was not permanent.

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4 Responses to “Douchebags; Learned Helplessness”

  1. Voodoo Hoodoo Cure-All Recipe | Keep My Words Says:

    [...] of substitutions made with no regard to other/another/someone else’s feelings?  Possible douchebaggery?  Or is the person remaining constant in these circles just as confused as the people that he/she [...]

  2. Syntax Without Semantics | Keep My Words Says:

    [...] Suede love funerals amplify strenuously. Instrumental alliterations crawl honestly. Tangible Helpless lies abandon gently. Passionate thighs succumb aesthetically. Addictive fingertips march blindly. [...]

  3. Justin Tiemeyer Says:

    now imagine the elephant sees a female elephant in heat just beyond the range of his tether: are you telling me he won’t hit that? i am going by the jurassic park principle. dinosaurs changed sex so they could get it on. don’t tell me a flea’s not going to jump the glass so he can, to quote tears for fears, sow the seeds of love. mmmmm.

  4. Ashleigh Says:

    So, if someone is conditioned to being helpless, tempting them with sex can break the spell? Wait, this sounds dangerous…

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