Abusive relationships don’t always fit the stereotype

One of the most pesky things about relationships is that there isn’t a template or an easy definitive way to say what is healthy or what isn’t. These are very subjective things but there are documented psychological conditions that can explain some kinds of behavior. Check out this interesting look into Stockholm Syndrome and how certain relationships can take on aspects of this psychological condition.

People are often amazed at
their own psychological conditions and reactions. Those with depression are
stunned when they remember they’ve thought of killing themselves. Patients
recovering from severe psychiatric disturbances are often shocked as they
remember their symptoms and behavior during the episode. A patient with Bipolar
Disorder recently told me “I can’t believe I thought I could change the weather
through mental telepathy!” A common reaction is “I can’t believe I did that!”


In clinical practice, some of
the most surprised and shocked individuals are those who have been involved in
controlling and abusive relationships. When the relationship ends, they offer
comments such as “I know what he’s done to me, but I still love him”, “I don’t
know why, but I want him back”, or “I know it sounds crazy, but I miss her”.
Recently I’ve heard “This doesn’t make sense. He’s got a new girlfriend and he’s
abusing her too.but I’m jealous!” Friends and relatives are even more amazed and
shocked when they hear these comments or witness their loved one returning to an
abusive relationship. While the situation doesn’t make sense from a social
standpoint, does it make sense from a psychological viewpoint? The answer
is  – Yes!


On August 23rd, 1973
two machine-gun carrying criminals entered a bank in Stockholm, Sweden. Blasting
their guns, one prison escapee named Jan-Erik Olsson announced to the terrified
bank employees “The party has just begun!” The two bank robbers held four
hostages, three women and one man, for the next 131 hours. The hostages were
strapped with dynamite and held in a bank vault until finally rescued on August


After their rescue, the
hostages exhibited a shocking attitude considering they were threatened, abused,
and feared for their lives for over five days. In their media interviews, it was
clear that they supported their captors and actually feared law enforcement
personnel who came to their rescue. The hostages had begun to feel the captors
were actually protecting them from the police. One woman later became engaged to
one of the criminals and another developed a legal defense fund to aid in their
criminal defense fees. Clearly, the hostages had “bonded” emotionally with their


While the psychological
condition in hostage situations became known as “Stockholm Syndrome” due to the
publicity – the emotional “bonding” with captors was a familiar story in
psychology. It had been recognized many years before and was found in studies of
other hostage, prisoner, or abusive situations such as:


  • Abused Children
  • Battered/Abused Women
  • Prisoners of War
  • Cult Members
  • Incest Victims
  • Criminal Hostage Situations
  • Concentration Camp Prisoners
  • Controlling/Intimidating


In the final analysis,
emotionally bonding with an abuser is actually a strategy for survival for
victims of abuse and intimidation. The “Stockholm Syndrome” reaction in hostage
and/or abuse situations is so well recognized at this time that police hostage
negotiators no longer view it as unusual. In fact, it is often encouraged in
crime situations as it improves the chances for survival of the hostages. On the
down side, it also assures that the hostages experiencing “Stockholm Syndrome”
will not be very cooperative during rescue or criminal prosecution. Local law
enforcement personnel have long recognized this syndrome with battered women who
fail to press charges, bail their battering husband/boyfriend out of jail, and
even physically attack police officers when they arrive to rescue them from a
violent assault.


Stockholm Syndrome (SS) can
also be found in family, romantic, and interpersonal relationships. The abuser
may be a husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, father or mother, or any
other role in which the abuser is in a position of control or authority.


It’s important to understand
the components of Stockholm Syndrome as they relate to abusive and controlling
relationships. Once the syndrome is understood, it’s easier to understand why
victims support, love, and even defend their abusers and

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