When Bailey began therapy, she had already convinced herself that she was crazy. In her early 20’s, Bailey was still living at home with her brother and mother. She failed her first semester of college, had regular panic attacks, associated herself with unhealthy people, and was barely holding onto her waitress job. Her father also repeatedly told her that she was the cause of all the drama in the house with her irresponsible behavior and that there was a likelihood that she had a mental illness. She presented in therapy as insecure, scared, hesitant, and withdrawn.
After several sessions, a different side of Bailey emerged. The more she felt believed and accepted by her therapist, the better she communicated with them. She began to act confidently at work, opening the possibility for a promotion. She removed the unhealthy friendships and engaged with new people who inspired her to achieve more. Now instead of shutting down at home, she started speaking her mind and standing up for herself.
However, just as her home life seemed to be improving, that is when things escalated. Her dad picked a fight with her and verbally belittled her, threatened to throw her out of the house if she didn’t do exactly as he requested – he even cited her past suicide attempt from 3 years ago as evidence that she was the crazy person of the family. The old person from several sessions ago reappeared in therapy as if no progress had been made. His abusive treatment this time was insignificant compared to previous abuse.
That is when an evaluation of the types of abuse began. After reviewing an extensive list (posted here…), Bailey realized that she suffered from physical, verbal, mental, emotional, financial, and spiritual abuse from her father. Eager to confront him and desperately wanting a healthy relationship with her father, she agreed to do a family session with everyone. But instead of this session sparking healing, another issue emerged: Stockholm Syndrome.
What is Stockholm Syndrome? Usually the term is reserved for hostage situations referencing a bank robbery that occurred in 1973 in Stockholm Sweden. After spending 6 days in a bank vault, the four hostages refused to testify against their captors and instead raised money for their defense. The term refers to the trauma bond developed between the captor and the hostages in which the hostages feel positive feelings such as empathy for the person that is causing them harm. This allows the captor to not feel remorse for their actions as the hostages don’t hold them responsible.
What are some other examples? One of the most famous cases of Stockholm Syndrome is the kidnapping of Patty Hearst in 1974 who denounced her family name and sided with her kidnappers in assisting them to rob banks. She was given a prison sentence that was later pardoned by President Bill Clinton. Another example is Jaycee Dugard who was kidnapped at age 11 in 1991 and held hostage for 18 years bearing 2 children by her abuser. In her book, she explains the syndrome and how she formed a bond with both of her captors over the years.
Are there fewer extreme examples? Absolutely. A person currently living in an abusive situation often has this condition. This is the reason why many people don’t leave their abuser but instead, continue to hold onto the relationship. In the case of Bailey, she wanted to believe that her father was telling the truth so much that she accepted his assessment of her mental well-being as being crazy when she was not. Her desire to have a relationship with her father meant that she was ignorant of the different types of abuse, justified his abuse in therapy as the result of his childhood abuse and minimized any impact. The result was she honestly believed that she was the problem and not him.
How do you recover? The recovery process requires identification and awareness. This is one of the few times when googling a disorder is helpful. Hearing and seeing examples of other victims brings awareness at another level. It is often easier to see the problem in someone else’s story before identifying it in yours. Once an understanding has been established, rewriting the abuse needs to occur. This is time-consuming and should be done under the guidance of a therapist. A person with Stockholm Syndrome already has a hard time perceiving things correctly and needs professional assistance until a new, more accurate perception is developed.
How do you help someone with this? It is essential to develop a bond of trust that is based on empathy and not judgment. Those looking at the scenario from the outside in are often highly judgmental and critical of the victim’s behavior. The victim is already overloaded with feelings of inadequacy, shame, and guilt that are disproportionately attributed to their actions and not the abusers. To overcome this, they need unconditional love and acceptance and a ton of patience.
After addressing the Stockholm syndrome, Bailey finally began to do better. She no longer allowed her father’s abuse to impact her. Moving out of the house helped and in a short period she was thriving. Without getting the proper help, she might have never been able to achieve this. Be sure that if you or anyone else is experiencing this syndrome or something like it they seek out professional assistance.