Stockholm Syndrome and domestic abuse
The Stockholm Syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.
There are four conditions of the Stockholm Syndrome which fit what many victims of domestic abuse experience:
- presence of a perceived threat to your survival and the belief that the abuser would carry out the threat
- presence of a perceived small kindness from the abuser to the victim
- isolation from perspectives other than those other of the abuser
- the perceived inability to escape the situation
Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser is an article by Dr Joseph M Carver which explains this very well. We strongly encourage you to read it if you haven’t already.
Carver’s article can also be found on the web in four separate parts, of which Part 2 is the most relevant to victims of domestic abuse, and Part 4 most relevant to friends and family of the victim. Unfortunately there are many adverts on that site, but you might find it easier to read than the full (advert free) article which I linked to in the previous paragraph.
There is a short article about the Stockholm Syndrome at RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, USA).
We have a guest post about trauma bonding: Chains that bind us to betrayal and the key to being set free.
Ps Jeff Crippen refers to Carver’s article in his article Cognitive dissonance hinders pastors from giving justice.
We also have a tag on this blog for Stockholm Syndrome.
* * *
UPDATE: Dr Allan Wade, a man I have learned a lot from because of his work on Response Based Practice, is presenting a paper in 2015 at a New Zealand conference on The Myth of “Stockholm Syndrome” and other Concepts Invented to Discredit Women Victims of Violence.
Here is the abstract of his paper (link)—
“Stockholm Syndrome” was invented in 1973 after a hostage taking at a bank in central Stockholm, Sweden. One of the hostages, Kristin Enmark, criticized police and government responses as dangerous and disorganized and aligned tactically with the hostage takers. After the hostage taking, Kristin became the first person said to have “Stockholm Syndrome”, a new label invented just for the occasion.
Since then, “Stockholm Syndrome” has become a received truth, a concept that both reflects and upholds the habit of finding pathologies in the minds of victims of violence, particularly women. Oddly, the psychiatrist who coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome” never spoke with Kristin Enmark. Neither have present day experts who present misinformation and perpetuate the myth.
In this presentation, Dr. Wade will discuss his recent conversations with Kristin Enmark and present original source material to develop a quite different and contextual view of the hostage-taking and the notion of “Stockholm Syndrome”. He will show how Kristin prudently and courageously resisted the violence of the hostage takers, protected and kept solidarity with other hostages, worked through a disorganized response from authorities, preserved and reasserted her basic human dignity, and carefully managed a highly fluid situation.
From this analysis, Dr. Wade will show how “Stockholm Syndrome” and related ideas such as “traumatic bonding”, “learned helplessness”, “battered women’s syndrome”, “internalized oppression”, and “identification with the aggressor/oppressor” shift the focus away from actual events in context to invented pathologies in the minds of victims, particularly women. “Stockholm syndrome” can be seen as one of many concepts used to silence individuals who, as victims, speak publicly about negative social (i.e., institutional) responses.