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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Childhood Maltreatment and Learned Helplessness


Childhood Maltreatment and Learned Helplessness

A. Smith

Some authors have argued that individuals who experienced childhood maltreatment may have internalized problems that would appear to make them more compliant to certain situations. Compliant characteristics could include instances when people are well behaved, they do as they are told, they are considered relatively quiet and generally keep to themselves. According to Dietrich (2002), individuals who have experienced maltreatment and withdrawal from associating with others could be at an increased risk of adult revictimization. Dietrich (2002) suggested that individuals displayed behavioural characteristics considered compliant because they felt they have no control over the situation and it was a form of learned helplessness.

In addition to this notion of learned helplessness, Shirk (as cited in Straus, 1988) argued that youth who experienced maltreatment tended to withdrawal from group settings and avoid social interactions. Shirk (1988) argued that abusive parents contributed to the “maladaptive interactions with peers because their children lack essential social experiences with others” (p.68). In support of this finding, Howes and Espinosa (as cited in Straus, 1988) examined the social interactions between groups of children who experienced abuse and those who did not and found that abused children were no different from non-abused children in well established social settings; however, they differed in newly formed settings. Their study also concluded that abused children were less competent in peer interaction, which increased levels of social withdrawal. Information regarding social interactions is important to consider when looking at the effects of abuse within the current study because it is important to identify those who are suffering from past abusive experience, but do not display the negative behavioural outcomes normally associated with such abuse. It is important to provide an intervention to those who have experienced previous childhood maltreatment, but have internalized the negative behaviours associated with the maltreatment and are now potentially suffering in silence.

A.Smith
*References available upon request. 

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