Trauma Bonds (Stockholm syndrome)

Trauma Bonds (Stockholm syndrome)

As difficult as it may be for some to accept the consequences of abuse, sometimes victims become attached to their abuser; this is known as a trauma bond.

This phrase was initially known as Stockholm syndrome, originating from an incident in Sweden where a group of bank robbers held bank employees hostage and, although traumatic, the captive individuals became sympathetic towards their captors. They had been held hostage for days and the captors allowed them to eat and drink, therefore showing some kindness in a dark situation.

Trauma bonds are created when a victim feels threatened or that their life is in danger.  Their need to survive means the victim shows gratitude towards any kindness, which in turn overrides the feelings of hatred towards the abuser. The abuser creates dependency by using intimidation or threats of violence and insults, ensuring the victim loses all sense of self-worth and is grateful for any small act of kindness. This causes the victim to see any one in authority as a threat to this relationship. Even if a victim discloses their abuse, the trauma bond means that the victim may feel they need to receive comfort and aid from the person that abused them and so the cycle continues.

For a trauma bond to develop, the victim must receive harsh negative physical, sexual or emotional treatment intertwined with small acts of kindness and must believe that there is real danger to themselves or other they care for. The abuser will ultimately strip the resources from the victim leaving them to feel isolated and that they have no other choices but this situation.

The symptoms of trauma bonds are that of feeling sorry for the abuser and making excuses for their behaviour, often blaming themselves. They have negative feelings for anyone who tries to protect or help them and feel discouraged in trying to release the grasps the abuser has on them.

When people see victims wanting to be with, or return to, the abuser or even defend them, they find it hard to have empathy for the victim, often blaming them thus pushing them further into the grips of the abuser. However, when we are faced with threat and fear we do not react from the logical part of our brain but from the part of our brain that is responsible for survival. Where individuals are abused over a period of time their survival brain is triggered making them freeze at the time of the abuse and go through the motions in order to survive. This becomes an automatic response.

Trauma bonds can be broken however it does take time. Having healthy loving relationships with those who can show empathy ultimately helps the victim to feels safe and able to experience relationships with out negative attachments.

Get in touch via isva@idas.org.uk or ring our helpline on 03000 110 110.
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