One of the greatest or most frequent questions asked by family and friends, as well as a person who has found them selves in a situation of becoming victimized by another individual by mental, emotional or physical abuse, sexual assault, rape, incest or molestation, is the question why they felt bonded, close or even love for the person that inflicted their pain.
The misconception as a result is that the individual is then not to be taken seriously when they finally come forward, open up or provide any hint that they are having their basic rights restricted, being hurt or harmed in any way.
In the process of understanding Stockholm syndrome and cognitive dissonance or why the person being abused, controlled or sexually assaulted may help to first understand that this process generally develops involuntarily, as a strategy for survival in a threatening and/or controlling environment. (1) Realize that processing what is transpiring in their environment and being controlled, abused and/or sexually assaulted by the abuser and justifying in their mind the abuser’s reasoning, i.e. they had it bad in their past relationship, etc – when in the victims own mind they know it is wrong for the abuser to abuse them now regardless, is conflicting ideas/beliefs simultaneously. (2)
Examples of Stockholm syndrome are: in a survival and threatening situation one looks for any evidence of hope and so any small act of kindness even though it is to the abusers benefit as well, is perceived as a positive trait of the abuser. Another is the sense of “always walking on eggshells” or “always being watched.” If a partner is a controller or abuser, then the majority of the victims’ decisions will be based on the believed or perceived abuser’s potential reaction to each event and/or circumstance that may or may not bring “trouble.” (3)
In a situation where the abuse may choose to share some tad bits of their past with their victim; the victim may develop some form of sympathy and even begin to believe the abuser is a victim which then is how the abuse attains more control over the victim as the individual believes they are obligated to stay or can’t leave. The abuser temporarily implies a soft side, which is used later as a form of manipulation, persuasion and control of the victim.
Other perceived inabilities to escape with controllers/abusers may be feel like a sense of until death do you part due to mutual financial responsibilities, mutual intimate knowledge and/or legal issues.
Examples would be: a controlling partner will limit/control household funds over the other and/or increase or imply increase or lack for the inability for them to separate. A controller or abuser may threaten false accusations or exposure of private and personal information of the victim if they leave. In a relationship with a controller and/or abuser, the victim experiences a loss of psychological energy, lowered self-esteem, and self-confidence and may feel too “burned out” or depressed to leave. Abusers and/controllers create a form of dependency financially, placing vehicles, bills, housing in their name and eliminating any assets the victim may use to leave. (3)
As a family member, friend and support, the best thing you can do is be available, without pressure and judgment or criticism of your loved one. Realize that many times a controller and abuse even try to isolate the victim from family and friends; so your goal is to just be available. It may be your loved ones only opportunity to get a break from what they already know is unhealthy and may be attempting a break away plan. (3)
Sometimes the controller or abuser even seeks to gain the “understanding” of the family and friends of the victim in which they also then become the perpetrators victims – especially when the family unconsciously falls into the Stockholm syndrome and begins to believe the abuser/controller is somehow the victim and your loved one is now being labeled by you and the abuser (with the abusers manipulation of you) as crazy, mentally unstable, over reacting and/or just a problem in the family with intimacy issues. Yet, when first impression is generally correct, thus your duel belief is telling you, this person that is the abuser, whom your siding with against the loved one – is the one not in the right and has no right doing what they are doing now. That is the correct instinct to follow verses the misconception which makes you feel uncomfortable and doubt yourself.
(3) Mental Health Matters