Do You Suffer From CLH? (Consumer Learned Helplessness)

Did you know that you can learn to be helpless? These days, a lot of people are showing signs of a new disease called CLH, or Consumer Learned Helplessness. Here’s how it works.

An experiment by Martin Seligman and Steve Maier showed that if you shock puppies over and over and they can’t stop it in any way, they will show signs of clinical depression afterward. What do you think happens if you take these same dogs and put them in a cage only one half of the floor is electrified? If you place them in the electrified part, they will just lay down and whimper, getting shocked over and over again. They have given up. They have stopped trying. Selignman and Maier termed this “learned helplessness.” But it’s not just for dogs.

After getting shocked from every angle for so long, with credit cards’ shrinking due dates, flagrant violations of our privacy, rebate scams as acceptable business models, and “it’s company policy” as the magic wand to excuse it any time a company screws us, that we just lie down and accept it.


Symptoms of this dangerous affliction include:

  • Sweating (when you see a fee on your bill you don’t understand and you figure you’ll never get it taken off)
  • Nausea (at the thought of having to call customer service)
  • Volume Control Problems when you call customer service (either speaking as quietly and meekly as a mouse, or finding yourself saying things like IM NOT YELLING WHY ARE YOU SAYING THAT I AM YELLING)
  • Sore arms (from carrying all the added-on accessories and upgrades the salesman talked you into buying)
  • Vomiting (after swallowing too many hyped advertising claims)
  • Stuttering (if anyone asks you what your credit score is)
  • Malaise: (when you think about reporting corporate malfeasance)
  • Lightheadedness (because when you go to pay your bills you’re looking for them all over the floor and under the couch)
  • Cramps (of your bank account because you never pay your credit card off in full and just keep amassing finance charges)
  • Dizziness (when you try to think about budgeting past two months from now…or two days from now)
  • Blurry Vision (when you try to read a contract’s terms, so you just stop)


CLH is a disease, but it is curable. Anything that can be learned can be unlearned.

Stage 1: Immediately read our Success Stories section. It’s filled with stories of readers who have fought back and won.

Stage 2: Read our post on rocking executive customer service. With this information, you’ll be able to treat customer service dysfunctions that don’t respond to normal customer service channels.

Stage 3: Read The Ultimate Consumerist Guide to fighting back. The tips, tactics and techniques it reveals should cure you of CLH for life.

If treatment falters at any step of the way, email your story to Our trained team of professionals are on call every day.

The door to the cage is open, you just need to walk through it.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.