History: Stockholm Syndrome describes the behavior of kidnap victims who overtime become sympathetic to their captors. The name draws from a 1973 hostage incident in Stockholm Sweden – at the end of the six days of captivity several victims resisted rescue attempts and afterwards refused to testify against their captors.
What causes Stockholm Syndrome?
· Captives begin to identify with their captors initially as a defense mechanism out of fear of violence
· Small acts of kindness by the captor are magnified since finding perspective in a hostage situation is by definition impossible
· Rescue attempts are also seen as a threat since it’s likely the captive would be injured during such attempts
· In the 80’s domestic violence researchers noticed victims of domestic violence suffer from this syndrome and renamed it trauma bonding as a more fitting description
What is a trauma bond?
· A bond between two or more people that finds its root in trauma
· A trauma bond is evidenced in any relationship wherein the connection defies logic and is very hard to break
· The components necessary for a trauma bond to form are:
o power differential
o intermittent good/bad treatment
o high arousal and bonding periods
In order to discover whether or not a trauma bond exists in your life, ask yourself the following questions:
· Do you obsess about the person who has hurt you even though they are no longer in your life?
· Do you try to maintain contact with people you know will eventually hurt you?
· Do you go overboard to help people who have hurt you?
· Do you long to be understood by people who clearly do not care?
· Do you choose to stay in an argument when it would cost you nothing to walk away?
· Do you continue to be loyal to someone who has betrayed you?
· Do you continue to trust people even though they have proven to be unreliable?
What are the ingredients of a traumatic bond?
· A biological need to form an attachment especially during a time of stress or danger
· Two people with unequal power and intermittent good-bad behavior
· Points of high arousal
· A sense of betrayal (trust, love, etc.)
· A shared traumatic experience (emotional or physical)
· Culture (patriarchy)
There are two events that occur to create a powerful reinforcement sustaining the traumatic bond:
The Arousal Jag: a chemical response that occurs in our brain when we perceive the threat of danger. It is during this moment we will choose to fight, flight, freeze, faint, etc.
Peace of Surrender: similar to honeymoon period during the cycle of violence
The arousal event includes a hormone called oxytocin. It prevents memory consolidation – this means the part of the brain that is responsible for registering pain is disconnected and we are not likely to remember the pain of a traumatic event.
Oxytocin is also called the bonding hormone because it facilitates bonding; while this is good for parents and babies, it is a frightening byproduct for victims of abuse who bond to the person that has abused them because there is no clear memory of the abuse. The more frequent, the stronger the bond becomes.