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What is Stockholm Syndrome and how it parallels to DV?

People know the term Stockholm Syndrome, but many don’t know precisely what it means, how it’s caused, or how it relates to domestic violence. According to Cleveland Clinic, Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological response to being held captive. People with Stockholm Syndrome formulate a psychological connection with their captors and begin sympathizing and relatability to them. Stockholm Syndrome doesn’t have to be strictly between a kidnapper and their hostage, but rather any relationship where the person being abused has a dysfunctional bond with their abuser. In Dr. Michele Finneran’s book: “Surviving Domestic Abuse:  Formal & Informal Supports and Services” she parallels the  Stockholm Syndrome to domestic violence victims because many times a person being abused develops an emotional traumatic bond with their abuser.  Paul Hokemeyer, psychotherapist, family therapist, and certified clinical trauma professional says that victims of domestic abuse can form Stockholm Syndrome as a survival tactic.

What causes Stockholm Syndrome?

While researchers don’t know why some captives develop Stockholm syndrome and others don’t. There are many theories. Cleveland Clinic says that one idea is that our ancestors passed down this learned technique. During the early days of civilization, there was always a risk of being captured or killed by another social group. Bonding with captors increased the chance of survival. Some evolutionary psychiatrists believe this ancestral technique is a natural human trait.

Another theory is that a captive or abusive situation is highly emotionally charged. People adjust their feelings and start having compassion for their abuser when they are shown some kindness over time. Also, by working with and not fighting against an abuser, victims may secure their safety. When not harmed by their abuser, a victim may feel grateful and even view their abuser as humane.

What are the symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome?

People who have Stockholm syndrome have:

  1. Positive feelings toward the captors or abusers.

  2. Sympathy for their captors’ beliefs and behaviors.

  3. Negative feelings toward police or other authority figures.

Other symptoms are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and include:

  1. Flashbacks.

  2. Feeling distrustful, irritated, jittery or anxious.

  3. Can’t relax or enjoy things that you previously enjoyed.

  4. Trouble concentrating.

It’s important to note that not all survivors who feel empathy for their abusers necessarily have Stockholm Syndrome. Only a mental health professional can assess the specific psychological conditions that arise from enduring abuse, and what long – terms effects these conditions will have on a victim/survivor

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