The Mystery Of Stockholm Syndrome

Marriage Counseling Insights brought to you by California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.

In a recent blog post, we wrote about a particular problem that couples may face to varying degrees. It’s a pattern of behavior known as a “trauma bond.” In this kind of a relationship, a bond develops out of a repeated cycle of abuse, devaluation, and positive reinforcement. This cycle can be especially insidious because a person often wants to make excuses for their partner or immediately forgive the abuse, especially if they apologize or alternate the abuse with kindness.

Illustration of a woman feeling trapped

There is a related behavioral phenomenon known as Stockholm syndrome. Writing for the website Good Therapy, Sharie Stines, PsyD says, “Stockholm syndrome is a psychological condition that occurs when a victim of abuse identifies and attaches, or bonds, positively with their abuser. This syndrome was originally observed when hostages who were kidnapped not only bonded with their kidnappers, but also fell in love with them.”

Both trauma bonds and Stockholm syndrome speak to the complexity of human psychology. To understand this related behavior, says Stines, “Professionals have expanded the definition of Stockholm syndrome to include any relationship in which victims of abuse develop a strong, loyal attachment to the perpetrators of abuse.”

How do you recognize the signs of Stockholm syndrome? Is there a way to differentiate it from more typical rough patches in a relationship? According to Stines, look for the following:

  • Positive regard towards perpetrators of abuse.
  • Belief in the goodness of the perpetrators
  • Learned helplessness
  • Feelings of pity toward the abusers
  • Unwillingness to learn to detach from their perpetrators and heal

For tips on helping people who may have Stockholm syndrome, see the full Good Therapy article here.