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.
Indirectly, the abuser/controller offers subtle threats that you will never leave them or have another partner, reminding you that people in the past have paid dearly for not following their wishes. Hints are often offered such as “I know people who can make others disappear”. Indirect threats also come from the stories told by the abuser or controller – how they obtained revenge on those who have crossed them in the past. These stories of revenge are told to remind the victim that revenge is possible if they leave.
You may be the victim of a controlling and abusive partner, seeking an understanding of your feelings and attitudes. You may have a son, daughter, or friend currently involved with a controlling and abusive partner, looking for ways to understand and help.
If a loved one is involved with a Loser, a controlling and abusing partner, the long-term outcome is difficult to determine due to the many factors involved. If their relationship is in the “dating” phase, they may end the relationship on their own. If the relationship has continued for over a year, they may require support and an exit plan before ending the relationship. Marriage and children further complicates their ability to leave the situation. When the victim decides to end the unhappy relationship, it’s important that they view loved ones as supportive, loving, and understanding – not a source of pressure, guilt, or aggression.
This article is an attempt to understand the complex feelings and attitudes that are as puzzling to the victim as they are to family and friends. I’ve outlined recommendations for detaching from a Loser or controlling/abusive individual (www.drjoecarver.com) but clearly, there are more victims in this situation. It is hoped this article is helpful to family and friends who worry, cry, and have difficulty understanding the situation of their loved one. It has been said that knowledge is power. Hopefully this knowledge will prove helpful and powerful to victims and their loved ones.
Joseph M. Carver, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist
Missing Persons Awareness and Support Network