How can it be that many abused women forgive their abuser over and over again? This question has multiple answers, most of which have already been studied in psychology, sociology and other disciplines.

Why is deeply linked to the education received from women throughout history, the secondary role imposed by society over the years and the shadow of this behaviour “marked in the cultural DNA”. But there are also some reasons closely linked to behavioural learning, which have a clear and evident cognitive explanation.

Battered Women Who Forgive: Learned Defenselessness

Today, in order to better understand why certain behaviors are carried out by women who are victims of male violence , we are going to explain one of the multiple reasons why a woman may not respond to a situation of violence, as most of us think we would. We talked about learned helplessness.

The defenselessness learned in a mistreated woman is nothing more than an alteration in the cognitive function of the woman that generates a passive behavior before a series of events that she perceives as uncontrollable .

This makes it very difficult for a battered woman to find optimal ways to end a violent relationship, mainly because her cognitive function of attention is focused on staying alive.

A person learns not to defend himself when he believes that fighting against this abusive situation will not stop the aggressions of the other person. Therefore, the woman stops trying to stop that situation and unconsciously creates coping strategies to live “safely” within that abusive situation.

When a woman suffers from learned helplessness, her behavior is based on diminishing the pain, but not stopping the aggressions , because she feels that the cause of the events are totally external to her control, and since she cannot do anything to stop that situation, she simply waits for it to happen.

The role of attribution style

One of the risk factors for learned helplessness is attributional styles. These determine the way in which we tend to explain the different things that happen around us. Generally people with a positive attributional style tend to appreciate the environment as predictable or controllable. This sense of control keeps us in control of our self-esteem.

However, people with learned helplessness, as we have mentioned, have a negative attributional style , perceiving as unpredictable and uncontrollable the situations around them, thus seeing their self-esteem underestimated.

People in this situation underestimate the degree of control they actually possess.

The emotional impact

On the other hand, the consequences of learned helplessness, among others, are negative emotional states that are characterized by high levels of anxiety, depression , frustration, lack of confidence in their abilities, lack of initiative, demotivation, negativity, social isolation, etc.

A woman (and a man) never and under no circumstances likes to be subjected to a situation of abuse . This premise is evident and has to prevail over any value judgment we may make, however much the situation may seem incomprehensible to us. There is always a reason why we live in this type of toxic relationship.