You're in a terrible relationship.  There is emotional and/or physical abuse, but somehow you can't let go.  You're not even sure you are in-love with this person, but you feel completely dependent on him/her.  Somedays you feel like you're addicted to this person and all you want to do is be closer.

It doesn't matter what others say to convince you this person is bad for you.  You may know what they are saying makes sense, but there is some emotional barrier that prevents any of that "good sense" from disparaging your spouse's value to you. 

You often defend him/her in abusive situations and aren't able to leave despite the terrible life you are living.   Based on your spouse's behavior when you threaten to leave, he/she provokes your sympathy in addition to fear.  This can cause you to feel guilty for having such contrasting feelings. 

You continue to feel closer to this person as you isolate yourself from family and friends who have growing concerns for your well-being.  You begin to not want to spend time with anyone else and believe everything your spouse says is right despite any outside source proving otherwise.  

What's wrong with you?

If some or all of this represents your current situation, you may be experiencing Stockholm Syndrome.  It's origin refers to psychological phenomenon from 1973 where a hostage expresses feelings of bonding, sympathy and understanding for his/her captor. 

It may include the victim coming to the aid and/or defending the captor.  The term was developed by the media regarding a 1970's bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden where the hostages bonded with their abductors over the course of a 130 hour captivity.  Four hostages protected their abductors at the end of the hostage situation and asked that they not be harmed since the abductors did not harm them and "they were nice".

  • Stockholm Syndrome is a system of coping with traumatic situations and while it is not a diagnostic psychiatric diagnosis most diagnosticians would refer to it most closely as acute stress disorder or P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  PTSD is a condition where consistent emotional and mental stress develops as a result of a dangerous situation, physical injury or psychological shock.

Stockholm Syndrome is considered to be an effective strategy to emotionally bond with individuals who are in a position of control as in a hostage situation. 

However, it is not uncommon to find this syndrome in emotionally and physically abusive households where an individual refuses to leave a violent or emotionally damaging relationship.   This syndrome accounts for the unusual behavior by many victims of abuse who refuse to leave an abusive partner despite outside attempts to assist the victim by family, friends and law enforcement. The victim often fights against law professionals and refuses to press charges against the abuser.  

This is not always the case in every abusive relationship. However, Stockholm Syndrome is one of the most common developments in such relationships.

Some of the common elements when considering Stockholm Syndrome are listed below:

  • Perceived emotional or physical threat
  • Isolation to diminish outside perspective
  • Belief the abuser is being kind and concerned
  • Victim considers his/her situation inescapable 

These four elements are consistent in both domestic abuse and hostage situations. 

What should you do?

Upon recognition of such a relationship, one should seek professional therapy or counseling to further assist in the individuals ability to gain appropriate perspective in order to leave the abuser.  An exit strategy and legal assistance may be necessary before the victim attempts to end the relationship for the safety and emotional support of all members of the household that are affected by this abuser.

If you have a member of your family or friend that is suffering in a relationship of this nature, it is important to be empathetic, but direct with your loved one as to what you think is happening. 

Try to remain calm and know that aggressive actions towards the abuser can cause more problems for your loved one.  It's important to provide your friend or family member love and understanding without enabling the bad relationship.

This is a difficult journey and it is best to seek the help of a mental health professional as soon as possible to ensure the best outcome.


Counselling Resource, Love and Stockholm Syndrome, Loving an Abuser, Part 1, Dr. Joseph M. Carver, Ph.D.,



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