Confronting the Abuser: Learned Helplessness

N2413865024_6209 I just saw the last comment by ….. to the first post of confronting the abuser. You wonder why you weren't able to stop the other kids to hurt you because you were the same age. Let me explain the concept of learned helplessness. Its a hideous dynamic that leads to a sense of helplessness and giving up.

It has all to do with knowing that you have control over the outcome. They've done heaps of research with humans and animals whereby the research subject has been given electro shocks independently from what they did, whether they completed a task successfully or not. The subjects learned that whatever they did or didn't do, nothing would prevent them from being hurt. They had no way of controlling whatever happened to them. As a result they gave up, became passive, and did not make any attempt to protect themselves. They have learned no matter what they did, they wouldn't be able to affect the outcome.

The other group of subjects has also been given electro shocks, but they were in control when they would receive the shock. Although the pain inflicted on both groups was similar or the same even, the second group of subjects became animated, took initiatives, and looked for ways to keep themselves safe. They had learned that they are in control of their lives. Although they received pain as well, they could determine when. They've learned that their actions influenced the outcome, even if the outcome was pain.

The child that is unable to protect itself from other children's hostility and abuse will most likely have learned already that whatever he/she is doing has no impact on the end-result. This happens often in families where abuse happens, a parent is mentally ill, or where alcohol/drug abuse is very prominent. The family becomes unpredictable and will not meet the child's needs. So the child is giving up, becomes passive, and will not protect itself because …. it doesn't change the outcome!

Does that make sense to you? I hope it did.

4 thoughts on “Confronting the Abuser: Learned Helplessness

  1. Austin of Sundrip says:

    I wonder why my response to the abuse was so different and how it is that I actually feel angry at my sister for being passive and “weak”. Why didn’t she fight more? Why? The learned helplessness makes sense on an intellectual level only but since I wasn’t always passive I can’t relate. I understand but I can’t relate.

  2. David Rochester says:

    That’s fascinating, and answers a lot of questions I have about my own ineffectual behavior in the face of continual peer persecution during my entire childhood and adolescence.

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