Sanctuary for the Abused
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Traumatic Bonding & Stockholm Syndrome
"Why Do You Stay/ Go Back?" Traumatic Bonding And
The Development Of The Stockholm Syndrome
in Abused Women (and Men)
- by Debra Dixon
We hear the question, "Why do you stay?" ask of battered women over and over. Most of society tired long ago of the answer, "Because I love him." When a battered woman says "because I love him" she is describing the Stockholm Syndrome in the best way that she can. She knows that she has very strong feelings for him and can only attribute those feelings to love because of a lack of information. These victims do not have the information they need to accurately describe the dynamics involved in the bonding process that occurs with abuse and trauma and therefore attribute their intense feelings the best way that they can - love.
Theories on why battered women stay have ranged from "learned helplessness" to masochism to feminist theory regarding status and resources. While some of these issues (learned helplessness and a lack of resources) can be contributing factors it is time we look at the bond created by severe, prolonged trauma.
Traumatic bonding was first recognized and acknowledged during a hostage incident in Stockholm, Sweden. Authorities were amazed that the hostages refused to cooperate with them and actually saw law enforcement as the villains. What they were witnessing was the hostage's identification with the hostage taker. Authorities were even more shocked when the hostages refused to testify against their captors and one of the women later married him. While hostages may bond after a matter of hours batterers usually have many years with the victims without any interference or intervention.
This bond occurs because the well being of a child, a hostage or a battered woman depends upon the hostage taker or the batterer. If a batterer has total control over her money, safety, peace and happiness then it is in her best interest to keep him happy. This bond is not only in the best interest of the perpetrator but is, at times, in the best interest of the victim and is frequently necessary for her survival. If a hostage, or battered woman, is argumentative and provocative they are more likely to be injured. If a batterer or hostage taker dislikes the victim their likelihood of injury increases.
We often berate the victim for staying in these relationships and can't understand how it happened. A violent, controlling man does not take a woman out and beat her on the first date. We all put on our best face when we initially meet people and batterers are no different. If he took the woman out and beat her on the first date there would be no second date. She has no history or investment in the relationship and wouldn't tolerate it. His taking control of her is a gradual process.
Battered women, hostages and prisoner's of war will share some of the same experiences. Some of these shared experiences are that they are degraded, debilitated, they experience the constant threat of violence, the violence is intermittent, their are occasional indulgences, the captor demonstrates omnipotence, isolation etc...
The dynamics involved in domestic violence can be demonstrated by what's called The Power And Control Wheel by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP). It's interesting because when we compare Bidermans Chart of Coercion by Amnesty International with the Power and Control Wheel they are almost identical. (Bidermans Chart of Coercion is how Amnesty International documented the techniques of the Communist Chinese, KGB, etc. )
There are many types of service providers coming in contact with battered women who are still unaware of why these women stay. These service providers are unable to address the bigger picture due to a lack of information. The inability to address this issue creates many problems. Law enforcement, and much of society, still blames the women for defending their attackers, unaware of the fact that not only is defending the attacker in her best interest but the bond itself reduces her injury. The victims are not given the information they need to deal with the bond they feel and therefore attribute their perplexing feelings to "love." Allowing them, and their children, to continue in traumatic relationships.
While we advise against confrontational behavior we ask that battered women cooperate with law enforcement who can frequently only guarantee her safety for a matter of hours. I am not saying that battered women should not cooperate. I am asking that we rethink our approach to domestic violence based on the fact that a traumatic bond is occurring and that the bond itself must be taken into consideration and dealt with.
For more information contact VJC Inc for a copy of the book Traumatic Bonding and the Development of the Stockholm Syndrome in Battered Women.
Why Do They Stay? Traumatic Bonding
Traumatic bonding may be defined as the development of strong emotional ties between two persons, with one person intermittently harassing, beating, abusing, or intimidating the other.
There are two common features in the structure of trauma bonded relationships:
1. The existence of a power imbalance, wherin the maltreated person perceives him/herself to be dominated by the other person.
2. The intermittent nature of the abuse.
Social psychologists have found that unequal power relationships can become increasingly unbalanced over time. As the power imbalance magnifies, the victim feels more negative in her self-appraisal, more incapable of fending for herself, and more dependent on the abuser. This cycle of dependency and lowered self-esteem repeats itself over and over and eventually creates a strong effective (emotional) bond to the abuser.
At the same time, the abuser will develop an overgeneralized sense of his own power which masks the extent to which he is dependent on the victim to maintain his self-image. This sense of power rests on his ability to maintain absolute control in the relationship. If the roles that maintain this sense of power are disturbed, the masked dependency of the abuser on the victim is suddenly made obvious.
One example of this sudden reversal of power is the desperate control attempts made by the abandoned battering husband to bring his wife back into the relationship through threats and/or intimidation.
When physical abuse is administered at intermittent intervals (random times) and when it is intersperced with permissive and friendly contact, the phenomenon of traumatic bonding seems most powerful.
The three phases involved in the cycle of violence (tension building, battering and "honeymoon") provide a prime example of intermittent reinforcement. The unpredictable duration and severity of each phase serve to keep the victim off balance and in hopes of change. The "honeymoon" phase is an integral part of traumatic bonding. It is this phase that allows the victim to experience calm and loving feelings from the abuser and therefore strengthens her emotional attachment.
STOCKHOLM SYNDROME THEORY
Stockholm Syndrome primarily develops under the following conditions:
Victim perceives the abuser as a threat to her survival, physically or psychologically.
Victim perceives the abuser as showing her some kindness, however small.
Victim is kept isolated from others.
Victim does not perceive a way to escape from the abuser.
Victim focuses on the abuser's needs.
Victim sees world from abuser's perspective.
Victim perceives those trying to help her as the "bad guys" and the abuser as the "good guys."
Victim finds it difficult to leave the abuser even when it is OK to do so.
Victim fears the abuser will come back to get her, even if he is dead or in prison.
Victim shows signs of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) including depression, low self-esteem, anxiety reactions, paranoia and feelings of helplessness, and recurring nightmares and flashbacks.