Not all dogs (and goals) were created equal: an existential perspective on helplessness

Mario Mikulincer, Uri Lifshin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Building on the framework of learned helplessness, and applying a behavioural perspective, Boddez et al. theorise that consecutive failures in various life domains might be generalised and cause a general sense of helplessness, which leads to, and can be conceptualised as, human suffering. We argue that this perspective fails to address the complexities of human suffering and the motivational sources of feelings of helplessness. We provide an existential-social psychological perspective on helplessness, highlighting the need for psychological protection and the mechanisms by which it is achieved. We draw upon attachment, terror management, and motivated helplessness theories in order to demonstrate the anxiety-buffering function of goal attainment in major life domains (e.g. self-esteem and close relationships) and its influence on helplessness and suffering.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1049-1053
Number of pages5
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

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  • Anxiety-buffer
  • attachment
  • existential psychology
  • helplessness
  • terror management


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