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  • Writer's pictureMary Devine

Stockholm Syndrome: What It Means for Domestic Violence

I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked why I stayed with my abuser. Everyone I spoke to had a simple answer: just leave. Why didn’t you just leave? Well, duh. Of course, I thought of that every time things got heated. But when he got physical, everything changed. I felt compelled to stay.

Ever heard of Stockholm Syndrome? It's when kidnapping victims' bond with their captors. You’re probably thinking, that’s great, but I’m never going to be kidnapped. Well, guess what? A similar thing can happen in domestic violence situations. In this newsletter, we're diving into the connection between Stockholm Syndrome and domestic violence.


So, picture this: You're held hostage, and somehow, you start feeling empathy and loyalty toward your captor. That's Stockholm Syndrome in a nutshell. It's a psychological response where victims form emotional bonds with their abusers as a way to survive. And surprisingly, it can pop up in domestic violence too. Victims, caught up in fear, manipulation, and occasional kindness from their abuser, have mixed emotions of attachment and dependency.

Yes, I did it, too. I hugged my husband right after he carried me into the hospital after an assault.


Domestic violence is already a complicated mess, but throw in Stockholm Syndrome, and it gets even more tangled. Abusers play mind games by switching between moments of being nice and downright cruel. It's like riding an emotional rollercoaster. With all the confusion and psychological manipulation, some victims report feeling empathy toward the abuser, seeing them as a source of safety and stability, even though they're getting hurt.


Several factors contribute to this phenomenon. The constant fear and control tactics from the abuser, like isolation and messing with their emotions, break down their sense of self and freedom. And here's the tricky part: Abusers can also be charming and show kindness in between moments of abuse, creating what some call a "honeymoon phase." That's when he makes you feel like a queen, and you become more attached emotionally. But don't forget the fear factor. Leaving can lead to worse consequences, so for that reason, they may stick around, reinforcing that bond.


Escaping domestic violence situations is no walk in the park. It takes support and empowerment. Let’s break it down.

·       Step one: recognize the abuse and remember it's not your fault.

·       Step Two: Building a solid support system of trusted folks and seeking professional help can make a big difference.

·       Step three: Safety planning and counseling are also vital. Healing involves rediscovering self-worth, setting boundaries, and becoming resilient.


When it comes to survivors, empathy is key, so let's drop the judgment. Acknowledge the twisted psychological dynamics and create a safe space for open conversations. By providing support, validation, and resources, we can help survivors reclaim their lives and break free from their abuser’s grip. Understanding how victims bond with their abusers helps us approach survivors with empathy, support, and the right resources. Together, let's stamp out the stigma, break the abuse cycle, and empower everyone to heal and reclaim their lives.

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