May 5, 2021

Victim Blaming Post #5 "Learned Helplessness"

 I'm not against everything regarding learned helplessness. Martin Seligman's study is fascinating (disgusting), though I don't feel it is entirely accurate. I'm also not against the idea of victims feeling helpless; this is a normal human emotion. I am against the term "Learned Helplessness" being applied to abused/betrayed victims. That is victim-blaming. Let me explain the history: 

Learned Helplessness is a term coined by psychologist Martin Seligman in 1967. He wanted to understand depression. In his study, he took dogs, put them in Pavlov slings, and attached electrodes to their hind legs (see pictures below). The electrodes delivered an inescapable and uncontrollable shock to half of the dogs he referred to as the "yoked group". He then took the yoked group of dogs and put them in a shuttle box with an electrified floor and a half wall in the middle and continued shocking them in hopes that the yoked group would jump over the half wall to escape, which would end the shock. Instead, 60% of the yoked dogs whimpered and yelped and eventually just laid down during the remaining 60 seconds of the shock. He concluded that the reason the yoked dogs didn't jump over the half wall to escape was because they had literally learned helplessness. (Though, Seligman did mention that at the end of a shock session, if the door to the opposite shuttle box was opened, the dog "will often come bounding across to escape from the box altogether", Seligman 1967. 

Why Seligman didn't consider that as evidence yoked dogs DO escape, I do not know. That sounds like an escape to me. 🤷

Similar studies have been replicated with humans and rats that supposedly support the learned helplessness theory. With rats, the yoked group of rats actually escaped shock and weren't helpless, unlike the dogs. So researchers decided to make escaping the shock more difficult, and then the yoked rats finally exhibited the same learned helplessness as the dogs. With humans, regarding a study by Thornton & Jacobs 1971, Seligman stated, "Following in-escapable shock, college students sat and took the shock. When asked why they did not respond appropriately, 60% of the subjects reported they had no control over shocks, so why try." (However, Thornton & Jacobs did another study in 1972. This time, college students who received inescapable shock "significantly increased their scores on a test of mental ability". Contradicting, eh? 🤔🤣). 

Regardless of what study it is, or what a professional says, the concept of learned helplessness is seen as the CAUSE of not moving, not escaping, enduring a shock, not doing a task, not doing well on a test, feeling stupid, not leaving an abusive relationship, etc. But, uh, isn't the "cause" actually created by the person who is inflicting the harm?? If I punched you in the face, would people say that your pain is caused by the nerve endings in your skin signaling to your brain? No, the cause is me punching you. Or, if you were hit by a drunk driver, would we say you got into an accident because you hit the gas pedal when the light turned green? 🤦

Learned Helplessness Is Victim Blaming 

Sadly, learned helplessness was applied to women in the 70s and 80s to explain "why abused women don't leave", and it is still largely in use (shocking, I know). Many professionals believe learned helplessness is what causes an abused woman to use unhealthy strategies of coping with the abuse, which often leads to the violence and psychological manipulation becoming more intense, vicious, and frequent. Basically, they believe the abused woman's faulty PERCEPTIONS are why they become victims, and what keeps the abuser abusing. 🙄😡 

I have not come across one abused woman who did NOTHING but lay there and whimper like the poor tortured dog in Seligman's study. Actually, it's quite the opposite. In an ongoing poll, 100% of abused/betrayed wives have tried to improve their situations in order to avoid being hurt again. We. Aren't. Helpless. Animals. Contrary to popular belief, research shows that most abused women DO eventually leave and that before leaving most abused women repeatedly DO try and get help, even more frequently than friends or family trying to help (contacting police, clergy, etc). There is nothing wrong with a woman that causes her to become abused! The blame rests solely on men who choose to abuse and the patriarchal victim-blaming culture that supports those abusers. 🙌

How Psychology Taught Us To Be Helpless

Other Articles :

Victim Blaming Post #1 Codependency

Victim Blaming Post #2: Reactive Abuse or Mutual Abuse

Victim Blaming Post #3 The Drama Triangle (Karpman Triangle)

Victim Blaming Post #4 Stockholm Syndrome

Victim Blaming Post #5 "Learned Helplessness"

Victim Blaming Post #6 Trauma Bonded

Victim Blaming Post #7 : Prodependency

Victim Blaming Post #8: Ignoring Red Flags