Now for anyone who has not been in an abusive relationship be it a lover, spouse, family member or even an outsider, they will never understand how the victim bonds with the abuser. But it does, and it is very common.
I know you are here because you have been in a toxic relationship, and having a hard time healing, but if we sort of put this syndrome in different forms other than a relationship it might be easier for you to understand.
Stockholm Syndrome is common in hostage situations and with children of abusive parents. Let’s take the hostage first. One you are in fear, you have no idea what this person is going to do to you, what you will witness or what the outcome with be. Your life, and your emotional state will all depend on this one person. You become totally dependent on their actions. Every breath you take, every move you make is all surrounded by this person, to please them, to listen, to obey, it is all survival. Even though you witnessed abuse, a killing, evil, you’re tied up, hunger, or you are in complete danger, every nice thing they do you will see as an act of kindness, building trust, they talk to you and you see it as a form of acceptance or bond. Even though you may be tied up, have wet your pants, have hunger or have been beaten, they will try to make you feel you caused it in some form or manner. They then allow you to go to the bathroom, give you a sip of water you see it as trust or care. In short, 12 hours of abuse goes out your emotional mind, when given just a sip of water because the fear and conditions are so bad (small gift of kindness). The longer you are in a hostage situation the greater the bond will become. At this point the hostage has totally forgotten that this is the person that caused this, this is the person that has put me through living hell, instead they inflate the kindness in their brain by of a piece of food, loosen the ropes or tape that hold you, give you a bit more freedom because you are obeying. Those few moments of nurturing over rides your hours, days or months of torture. This is not to say there is much mental abuse and manipulating because the abuser is sick and sees the world in sick ways. Once they start to build that trust, they start to feed ideas in the victim’s head, such as, the police are the evil ones etc.
As in a child with an abusive parent, excluding “the mommy dearest” syndrome, meaning a child will try to win the parents attention and love, so they hold on tighter and take more abuse trying to win their love they need so badly. This child is in the same position as the hostage, they need care, they need to be feed, they have many needs they are not ready to do on their own. The only person that can do this for them is the parent, which is the same parent that is abusing them. It is a form of survival. They can be isolated, told things, or they make them fear their well being cannot happen without them. A normal child is depended on the parent even in healthy upbringing. In this case though the parent is actually an abuser. The other issue is, especially for children, they are mirroring the adult in what is right or wrong, they are learning this is normal and have no idea of anything different.
Now I am sure after reading this, in many cases you are agreeing and can see how this can happen. But still, you cannot see this in your own relationship. Of course not, you are the brainwashed victim, but are we really a victim? We have all learned, young and old, many things in life what is right and what is wrong by experience first hand. Such as, when a child, even when told a number of times, we have to get burned by the fire to really understand what can happen and to not touch it again. It seems not to be so easy when it comes to the mental and emotional abuse. “studies show that emotional abuse intermixed with small acts of kindness can bond some victims to their abusers even more than consistent good treatment can”. This is what we called in our past blogs as ‘tossing us crumbs’ to keep us glued to them or second doubt ourselves. One nice act by an abuser can stick in your emotional brain at top of the list, over 2 years of abuse.
Now does this mean we are not totally at some sort of fault for this behavior? We are, but there are more people prone to going back to the abuser more than others. There are many factors. There are the ones who feel they have to prove themselves, others with low esteem, they could be co-dependents themselves, or just the fact they cannot not get past the reality they were never loved, or there is no love. It was a one sided love affair. They go back to try to prove there had to be love. Many cannot face that fact they were used and only a project of the abuser. Also, there are people who cannot take the fact of rejection, almost like the ‘mommy dearest syndrome” as I mentioned before, where we fight to win their attention no matter what it is doing them and destroying their lives. Some stay glued to the abuser due to the few acts of kindness feeling they have the ability to be fixed or change them. But for a N/psychopath that will never happen, it will only endanger the victim longer and create more Stockholm Syndrome, holding on to a hope that will never happen, with no future.
This is an interesting write up by, Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness ~ When You Love Your Abuser: Stockholm Syndrome and Trauma Bonds.
“This unhealthy bonding solidifies when the abuser alternates between the carrot and the stick conditioning, as we’ve seen in the case of Drew and Stacy Peterson. He interlaces the abuse–the lying, the cheating, the implicit or explicit threats and insults, and even physical assault–with acts of “small kindness,” such as gifts, romantic cards, taking her out on a date to a nice restaurant, apologies and occasional compliments. Needless to say, in any rational person’s mind, a cute card or a nice compliment couldn’t erase years of abusive behavior. Yet for a woman whose independent judgment and autonomy have been severely impaired by extended intimate contact with a psychopath, it can and often does. Such a woman takes each gift, hollow promise and act of kindness as a positive sign. She mistakenly believes that her abusive partner is committed to changing his ways. She hopes that he has learned to love and appreciate her as she deserves. She wants to believe him even when the pattern of abuse is repeated over and over again, no matter how many times she forgives him. This is what trauma bonding is all about.
A victim of Stockholm Syndrome irrationally clings to the notion that if only she tries hard enough and loves him unconditionally, the abuser will eventually see the light. He, in turn, encourages her false hope for as long as he desires to string her along. Seeing that he can sometimes behave well, the victim blames herself for the times when he mistreats her. Because her life has been reduced to one goal and one dimension which subsumes everything else–she dresses, works, cooks and makes love in ways that please the psychopath–her self-esteem becomes exclusively dependent upon his approval and hypersensitive to his disapproval.
As we know, however, psychopaths and narcissists can’t be pleased. Relationships with them are always about control, never about mutual love. Consequently, the more psychopaths get from their partners, the more they demand from them. Any woman who makes it her life objective to satisfy a psychopathic partner is therefore bound to eventually suffer from a lowered self-esteem. After years of mistreatment, she may feel too discouraged and depressed to leave her abuser. The psychopath may have damaged her self-esteem to the point where she feels that she wouldn’t be attractive to any other man. Carver calls this distorted perception of reality a “cognitive dissonance,” which psychopaths commonly inculcate in their victims. He elaborates:
“The combination of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and ‘cognitive dissonance’ produces a victim who firmly believes the relationship is not only acceptable, but also desperately needed for their survival. The victim feels they would mentally collapse if the relationship ended. In long-term relationships, the victims have invested everything and ‘placed all their eggs in one basket.’ The relationship now decides their level of self-esteem, self-worth, and emotional health.” (drjoecarver.com)
I stated earlier that the only way to escape this dangerous dependency upon a psychopath is to remove yourself permanently from his influence.”