A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Stockholm Syndrome: isolation, perceived acts of kindness, perceived life threat, perceived inablity to escape.

The Stockholm Syndrome explains why people stay in abusive situations, why people cannot see the evidence that it is an abusive situation, and why victims of abuse can remain irrationally loyal to the abuser.

In this article, I have loosely transcribed Meredith Miller’s explanation of the four parameters of Stockholm Syndrome and added a few clarifying words of my own. Meredith Miller begins speaking about Stockholm Syndrome at time mark 4:18:53 of this video.

1. Isolation. This could be either physical and / or psychological isolation. The person is isolated from outside perspectives; they only have the perpetrator’s perspective. The perpetrator will make sure the victim does not have access to other narratives. The perpetrator controls the victim’s perspective by means of censorship, silencing, propaganda, ‘fact checking’, shaming and smearing anybody who is providing an outside perspective.

After a period of prolonged isolation, chronically elevated stress levels begin to change a person’s neurological system, affecting their ability to form social bonds, and even causing irritability and aggression when they’re given a chance to participate in social situations. The state that’s caused after prolonged isolation is a state of disconnection. Disconnection triggers a sense of feeling unsafe. As mammals, we rely on social connection in order to feel safe at a neurological level.

2. Perceived acts of kindness. The perpetrator’s abuse cycle goes back and forth between devaluation and idealisation. The devaluation part is punishment: more restrictions. The idealisation part is easing of restrictions, and ‘acts of kindness’ by the abuser. The abuser’s kindness is always manipulative, but the victim perceives it as acts of kindness because the messages the abuser gives are shaping her perceptions. Feigned acts of kindness are dosed periodically, almost like a drug. When feigning kindness, the perpetrator discloses little bits of truth, to raise the victim’s hopes.

3. Perceived life threat. The abuser contrives a cue of life threat in the victim’s environment. When the autonomic nervous system perceives a cue of life threat in the environment, the person becomes locked into an autonomic state of collapse. This happens over a period of time of repeated bombardment. The person feels frozen, they may dissociate, they might check out, not really be present, like an automaton. Brain fog kicks in, even a metabolic shut down. This state also decreases the person’s immunity.

In this state, endogenous opioids are released in the body which cause the person to stay numb. That is helpful when a person is going through lot of pain, but then it becomes maladaptive because that numbness keeps the person lost in this state. So it’s very difficult for them to take any action because they are neurologically immobilised.

4. Perceived inability to escape. The person has learned that resistance is painful. They feel utterly powerless over their life. They become exhausted. They don’t even have the energy for the fight and flight system, so they certainly don’t have access to the higher states of consciousness like critical thinking or imagination. If a person cannot imagine that they can get out, how are they ever going to get out? They have no energy to strive for anything or try for anything. They also lose complete capability for creativity and all the beautiful things that make us human.

This state is one of debility, dependency and dread. The person is so terrorised and so debilitated and so dependent on the abuser for perceived acts of kindness that they begin to believe that their survival is dependent on the perpetrator.

As this goes on and on, the person becomes spiritually bankrupt — they lose all faith. And when all faith is lost, the only thing left is emptiness. That word ’emptiness’ does not do justice to the feeling and experience that the person has. It is the worst feeling that a human being can have because the person feels untethered and lost and floating in the universe with no connection, no support, no promise for the future. So what happens is a lot of people in this state will escape into fantasy or self-harm.

When a person is in this place, the mentality is “I can’t.” So how can they possibly wake up, how can they possibly do anything other than what the abuser tells them to do? An example is the wife who experiences marital rape. She learns over a period of time that it is futile to resist and that resistance only leads to more pain, so just let him get it over with.

The Stockholm Syndrome explains why people stay in abusive situations and why people return, why people cannot see the evidence that it is an abusive situation, and why people remain irrationally loyal to the abuser.

A little know fact about the origin of the term Stockholm Syndrome

Most people are ill-informed about the origin of the term Stockholm Syndrome.

The term “Stockholm Syndrome” was invented in 1973 by a psychiatrist after a botched robbery and hostage-taking which took place at a bank in Stockholm, Sweden. One of the hostages, Kristin Enmark, criticized police and government responses as dangerous and disorganized. Each time the police intervened directly, Kristen and the other hostages became less safe. Consequently, to protect herself and the other hostages, Kristin was forced to align tactically with one of the hostage takers. She tried to negotiate an end to the stand-off directly with Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme, but was unsuccessful.

Nils Bejerot was the Swedish psychiatrist and criminologist who was in charge of the police response during the hostage-taking. After the hostage-taking ended, he dismissed Kristin’s criticisms by saying she had “Stockholm Syndrome” — a new label he invented just for the occasion. Since then, “Stockholm Syndrome” has become a received truth, a concept that reflects and upholds the practice of imputing pathologies in the minds of victims of violence, particularly women.

Oddly, Nils Bejerot never spoke with Kristin Enmark about the details of the hostage-taking. More about this here:

The Myth of “Stockholm Syndrome” and how it was invented to silence an indignant young woman

The Myth of Stockholm Syndrome and other labels which are used to discredit and pathologize victims of abuse

Stockholm Syndrome, codependency, and other labels used to pathologize, blame and discredit victims

I’ll end with some chilling parallels that show how untrustworthy our institutions are.

Many victims of abuse report that each time the church intervened directly, the victim became less safe. Each time the legal system intervened directly, the victim became less safe. Each time the government intervened directly, the victim became less safe.

***

Further reading and viewing

Watch Meredith Miller’s testimony, Day 4 of Grand Jury Investigation into Crimes Against Humanity. — She begins speaking about Stockholm Syndrome at time mark 4:18:53 of the video.

Meredith Miller on abuse dynamics — from the micro to the macro level

8 Comments

  1. Auriel

    This was very hard to read Barbara. I had to take a few hours to reflect before commenting. The surfacing of terrible memories as I read, triggered the feelings of despair. My higher self reminded me as I read, I overcame it all. I got out, I survived, my spirit and life was healed by God. He was my rescuer. My Saviour. When you’re in that situation, the shame is overwhelming. So grateful for Meredith’s forensic insight. It’s a gift to read such a clear description of a time that was so painful and confusing. Thank you for this Barbara 💖

    • Dear Auriel, I was so moved by your comment that I didn’t know how to answer and I still don’t, except to say that I believe you and my heart goes out to you.

  2. Aussie

    Thanks for posting the video and your comments which are excellent. Shows the importance of recognising and resisting abuse as soon as it becomes apparent, regardless of the source (a relative or the government for example).

    That concept became on my radar many years ago when I read Not Without My Daughter. The American author was trapped in Iran with her Iranian husband and got to know other women who became as Meredith describes because of the hopelessness of their situation. This drove the author to try to escape as a matter of urgency before she, too, succumbed.

  3. Sarah

    The reason that church. legal, and counseling interventions make it worse is not because they intervene but because they intervene in unhealthy and unhelpful ways. Instead of surrounding the victim, they surround the couple, they demand and expect normal exchanges between two humans. But in reality the exchange is a very toxic and highly manipulative person vs a worn out beat up victim.

    • Spot on, Sarah!

      • james

        I second that Sarah. Well said.

        From the time we start school, if not before, we are taught that –
        It takes two to fight.
        There is blame on both sides.
        The Truth lies in the middle.

        These paradigms are rarely if ever true.
        There is always an attacker and a victim.
        Someone has to start it, after all.

        Any situation seen through that paradigm will reveal the truth very quickly and very clearly.

  4. james

    Barb, I should add that your post makes for an excellent summary of an excellent interview!

    I’m so glad you added the info on “Stockholm Syndrome”. While the condition is real, how the naming of the effect came about was an absolute disgrace.

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