We’ve all heard of Stockholm Syndrome, the psychological phenomenon where a victim is bonded to his or her captor. What makes this bond so strong and last for so long? Is it ever possible to successfully break away?
I sat down with one of my friends today to try and wrap my head around the psychological manipulation that I see in the stories of so many of the women and girls we work with. My friend said, “I was 5 years into ‘the life’ the first time I fell in love. I was 19-years-old and had never before felt anything emotionally for a man. He came into my life at a time when I was exceptionally vulnerable. I didn’t have anyone or anything. I was dropped off at his house by another guy who assured me that he would come back for me. He didn’t. It was four days later when “J” told me I could stay.”
“It was his eyes that drew me to him,” she said. “He was tall, dark and had deep, blue eyes. I will never forget his eyes. It was the 4th of July. He made me feel good about myself and really took the time to make sure I felt cared for. He took me to get my nails and hair done and made sure I had nice clothes to wear. He made me feel appreciated. He even took me to get first ID, never before had I had anything to identify myself with. He told me his story and we really connected.”
She continued, “For the first year, everything was great. It wasn’t until the beginning of year two that everything began to switch. He started to hit me when I made him mad or frustrated. It started out once every month or two and after another two years, it was becoming much more frequent. It seems everything I did irritated him. He left bruises on my face, my arms, and all over my body. He told me that bruises heal. He also assured me that it would never happen again as he helped clean off the blood. I believed him.”
“I stayed with him despite the abuse for another 3 years,” my friend said. “We were together for a total of seven years. Even after I left, I continued to stay in contact with him, sneaking away to meet him. Even then, the abuse continued. I can confidently say now that we are finished. That I am no longer in love with him, but boy it has been a tough journey.”
Stockholm syndrome affects a wide range of people. It has been seen in kidnapping and hostage cases, prisoners of war and in those that have been trafficked. It is one of the many contributors to why victims don’t run away or why they are often too afraid to speak up. Together we can be their voice. This week, let’s continue to educate ourselves on the many psychological influences that keep victims quiet.