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:
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.
Some people teach that when an abuse victim is rebuking the abuser, the victim must do so in a way that shows evident love and respect for the abuser. Is that teaching in the Bible, or is it a doctrine which people have invented?
Let me show you an example of that teaching. I adapted it from this article by Ps D Scott Meadows, Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed), Exeter, New Hampshire.
Here is the example (trigger warning):
“When I address my husband about his responsibility for faith and duty as a man, a husband and a father, I must speak the truth in love, with evident love and respect for him as my husband.”
I can see two problems with this.
Who judges whether I have spoken the truth? Me? Or my husband? Or the pastor who has been buddy-talked and manipulated by my husband so that he takes my husband’s side and accuses me of being untruthful?
A second problem is the word ‘evident’. Who judges whether my love and respect is ‘evident’? Who sits in the seat of the Almighty and declares whether or not I am evincing ‘love and respect towards my husband’ in sufficient measure?
The word ‘evident’ imposes a standard that is not in the marriage verses of the NT. The key verse which talks about a wife respecting her husband is Ephesians 5:33: “Let. . . the wife see that she respect her husband.”
Note well: the wife is the one to see that she does this. It doesn’t say, “Let the husband see that his wife respects him.” Nor does it say, “The husband must see evidence that his wife is respecting him.” Even less does it say, “The pastor must see evidence that the wife is sufficiently respecting her husband.”
Ephesians 5:33 says it is up to the wife to evaluate and be satisfied in her own conscience that she respects her husband.
In the case of abuse, her respect may look different — be expressed in different behaviours and words — than how it would look when a husband is not an abuser.
An abused wife’s respect for her abusive husband may entail her:
- standing firmly against his evil ways
- leaving him
- deciding to divorce him
- having a ‘low-contact’ or ‘no-contact’ policy towards him
- doing her best (in the face of his persistent attempts to abuse and stalk her) to try to show him that she respects him so much that she will do her very best to prevent him indulging his sinful habits at her and the kids’ expense.
Rebuking a corrupt institution
A similar principle applies when the abuse is being perpetrated by a denominational hierarchy, or by national governments and international organisations. Again, the victims are urged to rebuke the abusive institution and not partake in the sins of that organisation. Look at these translations of Leviticus 19:17-18:
You must not harbor hatred against your brother. Rebuke your neighbor directly, and you will not incur guilt because of him. Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself (HCSB)
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself (ESV)
You must not hate your brother in your heart. You must surely reprove your fellow citizen so that you do not incur sin on account of him. You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself. (NET)
Never hate another Israelite. Be sure to correct your neighbor so that you will not be guilty of sinning along with him. Never get revenge. Never hold a grudge against any of your people. Instead, love your neighbor as you love yourself. (God’s Word)
Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. (NIV)
We are to reprove and rebuke frankly and directly. It is not frank or direct rebuke if we pretend to revere directives that are life-destroying.
If a denomination or government or international organisation is oppressing people, the organisation will likely have brainwashed or coerced a lot of its members to comply with its oppressive dictates. Those who are awake to that oppression can strive to speak the truth in love to the brainwashed members.
Stiff rebuke for oppressive leaders. Gentler rebuke and correction for the brainwashed and coerced.
Jesus, John the Baptist, and the apostles spoke frank and fearless rebuke to the officials of the Roman Empire who were treating people unlawfully. They were even more fierce in rebuking the religious elite — the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees who were treating the Jews unjustly. At the same time, they corrected the common people who had been mis-taught, brainwashed and coerced by the religious leaders. When rebuking oppressive leaders, their tone was fierce: they set their faces like flint to denounce the evildoing of the oppressors. When correcting the ordinary people, they took a somewhat more gentle, more educational tone.
I’ll leave you to think about how you might want to apply these principles in your current situation.
What a week! The automatic spam filter used by WordPress suspended this blog for about 24 hours. I contacted WordPress to ask them why they had suspended the blog. Many hours later they emailed me saying it was an accident and they reinstated the blog.
I’ve known for a long time that WordPress’s spam filter sometimes sends a comment to spam when it is not spam. If a comment has more than two links in it, it will be automatically sent to spam, but sometimes the filter can send comments to spam when they have no links in them. My assistant, Reaching Out, looks at the spam folder every day, retrieves what has been incorrectly sent to spam, and deletes all the spam. It’s a tedious but vital job for any blogger, and I’m so glad Reaching Out does it for me.
But suspension of the entire blog was something we had never experienced before. It was scary!
The suspension happened shortly after Sister’s long comment was published. Reaching Out, Sister and I were all wondering whether Sister’s comment had led to the suspension. I also speculated about other things that might have got us suspended — things like Meredith Miller’s interview which I featured last month. It was a relief when WordPress told me that the suspension was accidental and was caused by their software not behaving rightly.
A few hours before the blog got suspended, a tree branch fell on my car while I was driving, smashing the windscreen and damaging two panels. Fortunately I am not injured, only the car is damaged.
You may have wondered why I haven’t written many posts recently. Since I moved to rural Victoria I’ve been putting time into getting to know people in the community, getting my house organised and refurbished, establishing a veggie garden, joining a ladies Bible study group (KYB – Know Your Bible) and running a summer Bible study group myself over the summer break. I’m resisting the jab and am being discriminated against in various places, but I knew that would happen when I decided to not be Covid-jabbed. I am connecting with other folks here who are resisting the jab. We are supporting each other as best we can.
I’ve been feeling somewhat afraid of what to write in forthcoming posts. Society has become so polarised. Many people are judgemental of those who hold different views on Covid to the government narrative. Some of my readers at this blog might shun or despise me for my position. I still want to write in a way that supports, educates and empowers those who have suffered domestic abuse. But I’m also keenly aware that systemic abuse has escalated and intensified around the world. The dynamics of abuse are similar whether it’s at the micro level or the systemic level (macro level). So there is still lots to write about. But people are very different in how much they are willing to receive a love of the truth. Waking up to the lies is painful. Facing the reality and prevalence of abuse is not easy! It’s disturbing. And we are all at different places in either receiving or refusing a love of the truth. God is working in each and every human being on this earth, that’s apparent. Life and changes seems to be happening at breakneck speed.
How to obey conscience, how to handle and express my emotions and my empathy with so much trauma coming to the surface in me and in others, so many evils being exposed, so much suffering and fear and confusion… I’m struggling to navigate all this as a writer and as an ordinary human being who has needs and flaws and weaknesses and loves the Lord Jesus Christ.
That’s all I can write for now.
Meredith Miller is a trauma coach. She teaches the mindsets, skills and actions to help people recover after relational trauma.
In this video she talks about cognitive dissonance, emotional short-circuiting, trauma-based mind control, and awakening to the fact that you are being abused.
She describes how having power over others is addictive. The abuser wants to repeat the thrill of wielding power and control over others. In order to get the same thrill, the abuser will become more and more abusive over time. He cannot stop his slide into deeper wickedness. It is inevitable.
She discusses the similarities between inter-personal abuse at the micro level (one person abusing another) and systemic abuse right up to the macro level… families, social groups, cults, society at large.
For victims, she recommends the relentless facing of reality (writing a ‘sobriety list’). But the person has to want to know the truth. You cannot make a victim wake up. Awakening is always spontaneous — it’s a visceral experience.
Trigger warning. What Meredith says may trigger memories of abuse, or it may challenge some of your ideas about what is going on in the world.
I’m keen to hear your responses to Meredith’s presentation. I’m open to all your thoughts and responses. Please be kind to me and to other readers. We can have different opinions and perspectives but still be respectful to each other.
Meredith Miller is interviewed by Viviane Fischer and Reiner Fuellmich, Nov 12, 2021. (Meredith’s name is mis-spelled on the screen.)
I’ll end this post with two scriptures that came to mind as I was watching the video.
There is a spirit of addiction to delusion in the wilderness. (Jeremiah 4:11 ABP)
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed on him, If you continue in my words, then you are my very disciples, and shall know the truth; and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32 NMB)
I Think I’m In An Abusive Relationship – With the Government! — by Ashton Warhurst, The Daily Sceptic