You're in a terrible relationship.  You've suffered emotional and/or physical abuse.  But somehow you can't let go.  You're not even sure you are in love with the person you're with anymore, but you feel the need to stay together.  Sound like you?

Confusing emotions

Year-after-year you've watched your life and relationship deteriorate.  Sometimes you just want to run away while other times you fear you're addicted to him/her and all you want to do is get closer.  Some of you may feel a need to make your spouse happy and approving of you.  Others may just fear what will happen if they leave.


You're trapped

It doesn't matter what others say to convince you this person is bad for you. Even if what they say makes sense, 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 end your relationship despite the terrible life you are living.   Your spouse provokes your sympathy, fear or anger through verbal or physical abuse anytime you threaten to leave or actually initiate it.  This may lead to feelings of guilt for 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.  Its origin refers to psychological phenomenon 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 1973 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 individual's 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.

References:

themedicalquestions.com

themerriam-webster.com

history.com/news/stockholm-syndrome

Counselling Resource, Love and Stockholm Syndrome, Loving an Abuser, Part 1, Dr. Joseph M. Carver, Ph.D., https://counsellingresource.com/therapy/self-help/stockholm/

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