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LynnS Profile
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Registered: 10-2008
Posts: 2215
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Learned Helplessness: The Girl Without Hands



Excerpt from The Girl Without Hands by The Brothers Grimm

The miller's daughter was a beautiful, pious girl,and lived through the three years in the fear of God and without sin. When therefore the time was over, and the day came when the Evil-one was to fetch her, she washed herself clean, and made a circle round herself with chalk. The devil appeared quite early, but he could not come near to her. Angrily, he said to the miller, "Take all water away from her, that she may no longer be able to wash herself, for otherwise I have no power over her." The miller was afraid, and did so. The next morning the devil came again, but she had wept on her hands, and they were quite clean. Again he could not get near her, and furiously said to the miller, "Cut her hands off, or else I cannot get the better of her."


Abusers disempower their victims in any way they can in order to gain the upper hand. This can result in what is known as Learned Helplessness, a theory Martin Seligman introduced based on research he conducted at Cornell University in 1967. From Wikipedia:

"Learned helplessness is a psychological condition in which a human being or an animal has learned to believe that it is helpless in a particular situation. It has come to believe that it has no control over its situation and that whatever it does is futile. As a result, the human being or the animal will stay passive in the face of an unpleasant, harmful or damaging situation, even when it does actually have the power to change its circumstances. Learned helplessness theory is the view that depression results from a perceived lack of control over the events in one's life, which may result from prior exposure to (actually or apparently) uncontrollable negative events."


The question of "Why Does She Stay?" has multiple answers. One of those answers may be that the woman has been conditioned to believe that she is helpless to change her circumstances. An abuser relies on his target's perception that she cannot affect change and reinforces her perception that she has no power in order to maintain control.

From The Basics of Domestic Violence by Megan Johntz


"When you look at learned helplessness in domestic violence, you see women who've been told by fathers, mothers, teachers, boyfriends, etc. that they can't do it, that others' problems are their fault, that they are not worth very much, etc. She starts to believe it, and can look very passive in abusive relationships. But there is a curious pattern when you look beneath the "passive" behavior... With battered women, she huddles up on the kitchen floor, not because she likes it, or she's stupid, but because she knows her compliance will shorten the episode, or prevent her children from being involved, or maybe he won't raise his voice and alarm the neighbors."


Excerpt from Emotional Abuse at


"Aggressive abuse can also take a more indirect form and may even be disguised as "helping." Criticizing, advising, offering solutions, analyzing, proving, and questioning another person may be a sincere attempt to help. In some instances however, these behaviors may be an attempt to belittle, control, or demean rather than help. The underlying judgmental "I know best" tone the abuser takes in these situations is inappropriate and creates unequal footing in peer relationships. This and other types of emotional abuse can lead to what is known as learned helplessness."


Learned Helplessness from


"Strube emphasizes a situation where learned helplessness traumatically effects lives. Women in abusive relationships have developed at some point in time learned helplessness. These women have low self-esteem and blame themselves when things go wrong, therefore, they feel they deserve the physical and mental abuse (similar to the young children who felt they deserved the negative criticism they received because of being "bad").

Society and family play a partial hand in this abuse by putting unnecessary pressures on the woman by making her feel it is her responsibility to make the relationship work. These pressures need to be removed and support from family needs to be increased."

Last edited by LynnS, Jan/8/2009, 10:54 am

"The best way out is always through."--Robert Frost
Oct/28/2008, 11:08 am Link to this post  

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