Abuse Victim as Hostage: Stockholm Syndrome and Trauma Bonding

Uploaded 6/21/2011, approx. 3 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin. I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

He takes two to tango, an unequal number, to sustain a long-term abusive relationship. The abuser and the abused form a kind of a bond, a dynamic, and a dependence.

Expressions such as folie et deux and shared psychosis or even Stockholm Syndrome capture facets of this dance macabre.

And this dance often ends fatally. It is always an excruciatingly painful affair, but it can also turn dangerous at the least expected moment.

A abuser is closely correlated with alcoholism, drug consumption, intimate partner homicide, teen pregnancy, infant and child mortality, and incest, spontaneous abortion, reckless behaviors, suicide, and the onset of mental health disorders.

It doesn't help that society refuses to openly and frankly tackle this pernicious phenomenon and the guilt and shame associated with it.

People, overwhelmingly women, remain in an abusive household for a variety of reasons. Economic, parental to protective children, and psychological.

But the objective obstacles facing the battered spouse, the abused spouse, cannot be overstated. The abuser treats his spouse as an object, an extension of himself, devoid of a separate existence and denuded of distinct needs, preferences, wishes, and priorities.

Thus, typically, the couple's assets are all on the abuser's name, from real estate to medical insurance policies. The victim has no family or friends because her abusive partner or husband frowns on her initial independence and regards it as a threat.

By intimidating, controlling, charming, and making false promises, the abuser isolates his prey from the rest of society, and thus makes her dependent on him totally. The victim is often also denied the option to study and acquire marketable skills or augment them.

Abandoning the abusive spouse frequently leads to a prolonged period of destitution and peregrination. Custody is usually denied to parents without a permanent address, a job, income security, and therefore stability.

Thus, many victims tend to lose not only their mates and their nests, but also their offspring.

There is the added menace of violent retribution by the abuser or his proxies, coupled with emphatic contrition on his part and a protracted and irresistible charm offensive.

Gradually, many victims are convinced to put up with their spouse's cruelty in order to avoid this harrowing predicament.

But there is more to an abusive diet than mere pecuniary convenience.

The abuser, stealthily but unfailingly, exploits the vulnerabilities in the psychological make-up of his victim, the chinks in her armor.

The abuse party may have low surface team, a fluctuating sense of self-worth, primitive defense mechanisms, phobias, mental health problems, a disability, bodily law, psychological, a history of failure, or a tendency to blame herself or to feel inadequate, what we call autoplastic neurosis.

She may have come from an abusive family or environment herself, which conditions her to expect abuse as inevitable and normal.

Abuse becomes her comfort zone.

In extreme and rare cases, the victim is a masochist, possessed of an urge to seek ill-treatment and pain, and to revel in them.

The abuser may be functional or dysfunctional, a pillar of society or a parapathetic con artist, rich or poor, young or old.

There are many types of abusers. There is no universally applicable profile of the typical abuser.

Yet abusive behavior often indicates serious underlying psychopathologies.

With absent empathy, the abuser perceives the abused spouse only dimly and partly as one would an inanimate source of frustration.

The abuser in his mind interacts only with himself and with what we call introjects, representations of outside objects, such as the victim's.

It is a monologue, never a dialogue.

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Bullying as Art, Abuse as Craftsmanship

Abuse is about control and is often a primitive and immature reaction to life's circumstances. The abuser's primary colors include unpredictability, disproportionality of reaction, dehumanization, objectification, and abuse by proxy. The abuser engineers situations in which he is solely needed and generates his own indispensability in the victim's life. The abuser fosters an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, instability, unpredictability, and irritation, which erodes the victim's sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

Body Language of Narcissistic and Psychopathic Abuser

Abusers emit subtle signals in their body language that can be observed and discerned. They adopt a posture of superiority and entitlement, and they idealize or devalue their interlocutors. Abusers are shallow and prefer show-off to substance, and they are serious about themselves. They lack empathy, are sadistic, and have inappropriate affect. They are adept at casting a veil of secrecy over their dysfunction and misbehavior, and they succeed in deceiving the entire world.

Abuse By Proxy

Abusers often use third parties to control, coerce, threaten, stalk, tempt, seduce, harass, communicate, or manipulate their targets. They use the same mechanisms and devices to control these unaware instruments as they plan to control their ultimate prey. The abuser perverts the system, and therapists, marriage counselors, mediators, court-appointed guardians, police officers, and judges end up upholding the abuser's version and helping him further abuse his victims. The victim's children are the abuser's greatest source of leverage over his abused spouse or mate.

Gaslighting and Ambient Abuse

Ambient abuse, also known as gaslighting, is a subtle and insidious form of abuse that is difficult to identify. It is the fostering of an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, instability, unpredictability, and irritation. There are five categories of ambient abuse: inducing disorientation, incapacitating, shared psychosis, abuse or misuse of information, and control by proxy. The abuser uses these tactics to manipulate and control their victim, often leaving them with low self-esteem and a sense of isolation.

Good People Ignore Abuse and Torture: Why?

Good people often overlook abuse and neglect because it is difficult to tell the abuser and victim apart. The word abuse is ill-defined and open to interpretation, leading to a lack of clear definition. People also tend to avoid unpleasant situations and institutions that deal with anomalies, pain, death, and illness. Abuse is a coping strategy employed by the abuser to reassert control over their life and regain self-confidence. Abuse is a catharsis, and even good people channel their negative emotions onto the victim.

System Re-victimizes, Pathologizes Victim, Sides with Offender, Abuser

The system, including academic institutions, law enforcement agencies, and the courts, often fails to take victims of abuse seriously and instead pathologizes and diminishes them. This is due to a lack of education and awareness about abuse and domestic violence. Abusers are often possessive, jealous, dependent, and narcissistic, while victims may blame themselves or have a history of abuse. Mental health professionals may also be biased towards the abuser and pathologize the victim, making it difficult for victims to receive proper help. Victims may need to stage a well-calibrated performance to convince therapists that they are victims and not be re-victimized by the system.

Intimacy and Abuse

Abuse often occurs in intimate relationships, despite it being easier to abuse a stranger. Abusers often believe that their abusive behavior fosters intimacy and equate violence with enhanced intimacy. Many abusers were raised in environments where abuse was condoned, and they perceive intimacy as a license to abuse. Abusers are often scared of real intimacy and use abuse as a way to fend it off.

Domestic Family Violence and Battering: Up or Down?

Domestic violence has declined in the last decade, but the number of fatal incidents has not. Rates of domestic violence and intimate partner abuse vary widely across societies and cultures. Mental problems of some offenders play a part in domestic violence, but cultural, social, and historical factors are the decisive determinants. Women are most likely to experience domestic violence and abuse, especially those who are young, poor, minorities, divorced, separated, or single.

The Abuser's Mind

Abusers suffer from dissociation, a mild form of multiple personality, and often have a dichotomy between their behavior at home and in public. They view their victims as two-dimensional representations, devoid of emotions and needs, and convert them into their own worldview. Abusers are often narcissists with low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence, and abuse is bred by fear of being mocked or betrayed. There are various forms of manipulation that constitute verbal and emotional abuse, including withholding, countering, discounting, blocking, blaming, and accusing.

The Shock of Abuse

Abusers are skilled at hiding their abusive behavior from the rest of the world, often with the help of their victims. A study of 30 women who survived attempted homicide by their intimate partners found that half of them were completely surprised by the attack, despite having been victims of previous episodes of abuse. Victims often rationalize the abuser's behavior and feel guilty, believing they are to blame for the misconduct. Classic risk factors for attempted homicide by an intimate partner include escalating episodes of violence, threats with or use of weapons, alcohol or drug use, and violence to children.

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