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Domestic Violence Awareness Month – Stockholm syndrome: Origin of a diagnosis and its relationship to domestic abuse
Posted in Abuse, Mental Health, PTSD, Relationships, Violence - 0 Comments


Standing by a hurtful person could seem contradictory. The typical human instinct when facing a threat is running away and hiding. For some women in abusive relationships, this protective nature seems to fall by the wayside. Stockholm syndrome is one illness putting the mental and physical health of the target in danger.

Stockholm syndrome is a condition characterized by a sense of sympathy and other positive feelings by a victim toward their captor. One particularly infamous case, as reported by the BBC, is Patricia “Patty” Hearst, an American newspaper heiress kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) in 1974. Over a short period of time, the SLA managed to convince her to commit a crime in the organization’s interest.

Frank Ochberg, a psychiatrist, was intrigued by this phenomenon and defined the conditions of Stockholm syndrome.

“First … people believe they are going to die. Then they experience a type of infantilization – where, like a child, they are unable to eat, speak or go to the toilet without permission. Small acts of kindness – such as being given food – prompts a ‘primitive gratitude for the gift of life’,” Ochberg said.

In response, the victim can experience a primal positive feeling toward the captor and deny the negative aspects of the perpetrator’s character. This can create a bond, Ochberg said.

Joseph M. Carver, Ph.D., extended this occurrence to domestic abuse victims. Carver found in his studies many patients shocked to remember the things they tolerated or did during times of duress, such as considering suicide while depressed or embracing an abuser despite physical and emotional violence.

Carver defined four specific situations in Stockholm syndrome domestic abuse cases. These include:

  • The presence of a perceived occasional kindness from the abuser.
  • The deletion of all perspectives besides the criminal.
  • Difficulty for the victim to escape.
  • A threat to the victim’s physical or mental safety.

Carver provided several strategies for families wanting to help a loved one in an abusive situation without losing him or her and inflaming the wrath of the abuser. Maintaining regular contact with the victim without holding on too tightly can provide refuge while not seeming judgmental or suffocating. If the criminal is separating the target from most family and friends, those still around can pass on messages of love and support through the “grapevine.”

In the hopeful scenario, when the victim contemplates escaping the abuser, Carver recommended against loved ones “blasting the door down” and dragging him or her away. Instead, test the waters of the escape and let the victim lead the way. Sometimes these plans can take months or years to fulfill.

Sovereign Health Group of Arizona specializes in treating trauma. Our counselors can help patient’s psychological health after a long period of psychological abuse. Contact us today to learn more about our programs for behavioral and mental health.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month – Laws protecting domestic abuse victims

Written by Nicholas Ruiz, Sovereign Health Group writer

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