COVID Re-entry Syndrome: Learned Helplessness

We are living in two types of toxic stress simultaneously: 1) the traumatic stress of a second pandemic of the unvaccinated and 2) chronic levels of high stress. The consequences of this can result in a pattern of learned helplessness, a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. Acknowledging that many of us are suffering from this condition is critical to recovery.

I developed the 6Rs of Creative Intelligence (CI) Training ( that can help overcome learned helplessness.  CI activates our brain’s built-in creativity for reimagining reality and triggering motivation to explore new possibilities in our attitudes and behaviors.

VED: Validation, Empathy, and Declaration

In my practice of Family Psychiatry, I train couples, parents, and families to master the normal relationship stresses that are amplified by the pandemic. Critical to this method is creating a safe environment for expressing negative emotions. A safe format is created by using the VED technique: Validation, Empathy, and a Declaration of willingness to help each other. Regular meetings that allow negative emotions to be shared without blame foster trust and secure bonds. Expressing one’s fear, anger, confusion, the emotions of stress, can recruit empathy and mitigate adversity.

The Hostage Relationship: Resentment, Self-Pity, and Resignation

Toxic stress in relationships kindles learned helplessness, the feelings of powerlessness and fear. When these patterns emerge in family relationships, everyone feels unsafe. Avoidance patterns become habits. Irritability sets in. Tempers flare over minimal stress. Arguments erupt between “my way” and “your way.” The struggle for control drives the relationship further out of control. Contempt for each other hijacks love and trust. Self-sabotaging behaviors increase. Self-numbing behaviors and overt hostility contaminate the emotional bonds. Family systems fall apart.

The Creative Intelligence Script: Reconnecting the Mind-Body Link

The Creative Intelligence Script provides a guide for mindful practice beyond the relaxation-reconnection of mind-body found in meditation or yoga practice. It provides a step-by-step path out of the “hostage script” of learned helplessness. Mindfulness practice to attain a state of awareness, acceptance, and self-compassion are critical to empowering the CI script.

  • Acceptance of the relationship stress as it is.
  • Acknowledge the emotions of stress and the feelings of anger, fear, and confusion.
  • Gratitude for having a creative brain with mindful abilities.
  • Reframe the feelings of powerlessness.
  • Declare to yourself, “I’m not a victim.”
  • Actively comfort your body as if it is a child, and your Mind is the parent.
  • Refocus your mind-body toward changing your self-sabotaging Reactive attitudes and behaviors.
  • Reimagine how you can proactively change the relationship.

Recovering the We-Team: A Wellness Practice

Episodic relationship stress is a normal pattern in attachments, and it can increase trust and love when it is resolved. When the conflict resolution between My way and Your way succeeds, it is possible to evolve deeper understanding and empathy. Positive emotional memories must be created consciously to mitigate the negative emotional memories that accrue during times of toxic stress. Taking time to “simply be” together, to daydream, to play, to observe the world, to enjoy everyday activities contributes to detoxifying the stress load. By sharing your mental, and creative experiences, you create powerful memories of WE. The We-team provides a sense of kinship and intimacy that emerges with repetition over time and can empower resilience to the stresses that are beyond our control.