The helplessness experienced when not being able to stop the traumatic events, is –according to Finkelhor- one of the biggest reasons why the survivors live with a feeling of helplessness, forthe rest of their lives.
Whatever you do, the situation does not change. Children who have suffered child sexual abuse tell how they have tried everything: hiding under the bed, covering the sheet, turning around and looking the other way, pretending to be asleep, protesting, whining, kicking, resisting Physics ... All useless attempts ... In his childish world, they are efforts that they believed to be effective, but to his despair, they have proven not to be. Finally, the victim in a survival effort surrenders all his resistance and allows anything to be done to him. Even if he could run away, he won't anymore.
The following story helps us understand what learned helplessness is:
«When I was little I loved circuses, and what I liked most about them were animals, especially my favorite was the elephant.
During the performance, the huge beast impressed everyone with its weight, size and above all, with its enormous strength ... but, after its performance and even a while before returning to the stage, one could find the elephant behind the stage. main tent, tied, by a chain that imprisoned one of its legs to a small stake nailed to the ground.
The stake was just a tiny piece of wood, barely buried a few inches in the ground. And although the chain was thick and powerful, it seemed obvious to me that this animal capable of plucking a "rennet tree" could easily pluck the stake and flee. The mystery is evident: Why does the elephant not flee, tearing the small stake, with the same effort that I would need to break a match? What mysterious force keeps it tied, preventing it from fleeing?
I was about seven or eight years old, and still trusted the wisdom of great people. I then asked my parents, teachers and uncles, looking for answers to that mystery. I did not get a coherent answer, age is not an impediment to perceive the coherence or lack of it in what people tell us. Someone explained to me that the elephant did not escape because it was trained. So I asked the obvious question if it is true that he is trained, then why do they chain him? I do not recall receiving any response that satisfied me.
Over time, I forgot about the mystery of the elephant and the stake ... and only remembered it when I met people who gave me inconsistent answers, to get out of trouble and a few times, with other people who had also made the same question. Until a few days ago, I found a person, wise enough, who gave me an answer that finally satisfied me: "The circus elephant does not escape because he has been tied to a stake all his life, since he was very young."
I closed my eyes and imagined the little elephant with only a few days old, subject to the stake. I am sure that at that moment the little animal pushed, pulled, shook and sweated trying to get free. And despite all his effort, he was unable to free himself.
The stake was certainly very strong for him. He could have sworn that the first day he fell asleep exhausted by the unsuccessful effort, and that the next day he tried again, and also the other and the one who followed resigned himself to his destiny. The elephant stopped struggling to free itself. This huge and powerful elephant does not escape because he believes he cannot. The memory of his then useless efforts is engraved in his mind, and now he has stopped fighting, he is not free, because he has stopped trying to be. Never again did he try to test his strength.
So never try again. His memory, not the chain, holds him. Of course, every once in a while an elephant discovers that it can break the chain, and from that moment, its trainer has serious difficulties in controlling it. ”
(Tales for Demian, 1994, Jorge Bucay).
The girl or boy, not knowing how to react to the situation of abuse, and having little control over himself and what happens to him, learns to behave passively, with the feeling of not being able to do anything. Learn helplessness. Whatever he does, even if he fights with all his might, in the end he achieves nothing. When he's older, he will feel helpless, incapable, or blocked in difficult circumstances. All because, inside, he still sees him or herself as that impotent boy or girl.
Now, in the present time, it is time to discover that you have grown, that you are stronger and bigger. It is time to learn not to live in the past and discover your strength and how amazing you are.
Joel de Bruine