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Learned Helplessness in Domestic Violence Survivors
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the previous section, we discussed specific interventions to assist your battered
client in unraveling her feelings of guilt.
Now let's take a look at how your
battered client's learned helplessness creates failure expectancy. I have
found, most probably like you, that the social-learning theory model of learned
helplessness helps to explain the process of battered women victimization. Do
Maryann, a 37-year-old house wife stated, "My husband nearly beat
me to death in my own living room." Here is a brief review of the framework
of Maryann's thoughts. Think of ways in which the following three components of
Maryann's learned helplessness applies to your Maryann.
3 Components of Learned Helplessness Attachment
♦ Component #1: Stimulus, Response, Outcome Connections
As you are aware,
according to the principle of "reinforcement," battered women change
or adapt the way they respond to the batterer. They adapt as each violent episode
increases in intensity. Their adaptation is an attempt to try to change the outcome.
Thus, Maryann would script a predetermined response in order to change the outcome
of Matt's battering. Her predetermined response provided her with a sense of self-control.
If Maryann feared that a situation would result in a certain outcome, she would
change her response, thus thinking she would produce a different outcome. For
example, Maryann believed that her husband, Matt, was especially violent when
first getting home from work.
She stated, "In the beginning, I would
be sitting on the couch watching TV when Matt first came home from work. He would
yell and throw things at me, saying I was lazy and living off of his working himself
to death in the factory. So I thought that if I was up on my feet and making dinner
or cleaning the house when he came home that maybe he would actually smile and
kiss me." Once Maryann made the stimulus, response, connection, she hoped
her response would change the outcome. How is your Maryann making this connection?
♦ Component #2: Realization of Loss of Control
Over time, once
Maryann's sense of self-control was shattered, she became devastated, despondent
and had suicidal ideations. Eventually Maryann began to realize that no matter
what she did or didn't do, sooner or later, Matt would get angry, explode, and
strike out at her.
After making the stimulus response outcome connection just
mentioned, Maryann experienced a realization of her loss of control. Maryann began
to further distance herself from family and friends. She didn't want them to know how out
of control her life was. She felt guilty for not being, as she put it, "the
wife Matt wanted her to be." Maryann knew her family would encourage her
to leave. She stated, "I just cut myself off. I didn't feel that I deserved
their pity about how I have totally lost control of my life."
♦ Component #3: Learning to be Helpless Attachment
attachment leads to living a helpless life. Have you found, like I, that there are different
levels of learned helplessness that women, in general, learn from their interactions
as a traditional female? How do these learned helplessness role stereotypical
behaviors enter into the thinking of a current battered client you are treating?
I have found that once a battered woman believes she is helpless that belief becomes
her reality. She does indeed become passive, submissive and helpless. Maryann
stated, "All of the things I did around the house didn't matter to Matt.
He would still slap or sock me in the arm whenever he felt like it. But, I figured
I deserved it; I can't do anything right!"
After making the stimulus
response outcome connection, and realizing her loss of control, Maryann reached
the third component of learning to be helpless, and the Powerhouse Three of helplessness
took over. What are the Powerhouse Three that occur once learned helplessness
is firmly entrenched? They are Acquiring, Thinking, and Behaving, and will be
discussed in the next section.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
River, L. M., Borelli, J. L., Vazquez, L. C., & Smiley, P. A. (2018). Learning helplessness in the family: Maternal agency and the intergenerational transmission of depressive symptoms. Journal of Family Psychology, 32(8), 1109–1119.
Salcioglu, E., Urhan, S., Pirinccioglu, T., & Aydin, S. (2017). Anticipatory fear and helplessness predict PTSD and depression in domestic violence survivors. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9(1), 117–125.
Smagur, K. E., Bogat, G. A., & Levendosky, A. A. (2018). Attachment insecurity mediates the effects of intimate partner violence and childhood maltreatment on depressive symptoms in adult women. Psychology of Violence, 8(4), 460–469.
What are three components of Learned Helplessness a battered woman
may experience? To select and enter your answer go to .