Tag Archives: domestic violence

Stockholm Syndrome At Home

Read the hand.

The term “Stockholm syndrome” – meaning an emotional attachment to a captor, formed by a hostage as a result of continuous stress, dependence, and a need to cooperate in order to guarantee the hostage’s survival – was coined in 1978. This followed five years of psychologists arguing what could possibly be the reason for such an attachment. In 1973, in the course of a violent robbery of a bank in Stockholm, Sweden, four bank employees were held hostage in a bank vault for nearly a week. They had no idea whether they would survive. During that time, the four hostages developed unforeseen emotional attachments to their kidnapper – whom they had not known prior to the robbery – and a concomitant fear of rescuers. Because such attachments seemed inexplicable, experts as well as the public discussed what could bring about what seemed a reversal of expectations.

There is an interesting connection between Stockholm syndrome and the attachment of people to abusive spouses. Let’s take a look at the language.

“An emotional attachment to a captor . . ..” Current newspapers are filled each week with stories of spouses – usually wives – who escape a marriage based on abuse and humiliation. Sometimes torture. Likewise, the murder-suicides instigated increasingly by husbands. These are the end-point of a struggling marriage, often where the wife has indicated plans to leave or has sometimes only mentioned that she is considering it. In these marriages, there is a controlling captor – to whom other family members, even adults, have an emotional attachment.

“… formed by a hostage . . ..” It could be argued that where people come and go, there is no hostage-taking. On the other hand, do those people feel free to leave at their own convenience? Must they account for their movements? Are they allowed access to money, passports, resources? If they return late, are they fearful of consequences? Are they afraid that other people – perhaps children – might be punished for failure to conform to the captor’s demands?

“… as a result of continuous stress, dependence, and a need to cooperate . . ..” It’s easy to count the stress in the life of someone whose spouse or family member is abusive. Stress is constant. It’s like living in a concentration camp where the rules can change in an instant at the whim of those who hold power. Such hostages have to calculate every move, and their attention to detail engenders stress. Dependence is often enforced on them. With little power, little money, often isolated from friends and family members who might support their leaving, those who are in thrall to their captors lead lives of quiet desperation and fear. The need to cooperate is paramount. Rebellion is cruelly quashed, after which the captor takes revenge. Against the adults, against children, sometimes against animals. The message is clear: this is what happens when you disobey.

“… in order to guarantee the hostage’s survival.” Life or death. That is what hostages feel is on the line. It’s unimportant, really, what their captors say (“I was kidding!” “It’s a game we play!” “She’s crazy!”), because the bottom line is whatever the person threatened perceives it is. In the past, police officers took the word of the captors. These days, they’re learning. Captors will lie, and lie bigtime. What matters is the story of those being held. Unfortunately, their survival is too often not guaranteed.

The New York Times recently ran a piece that examined how multiple killers, mass murderers, often “practice” on their wives and girlfriends. Domestic violence, intimate partner violence, should thus be seen as the tip of a warped and fatal iceberg. If we stop terrorism at home, we are more likely to prevent even greater tragedies.

Activists have been trying for years to get police and municipalities to understand that they should drop the requirement of a complaint from the injured party. If it’s a Rolex watch taken, an iPad stolen, the police need no special input from the aggrieved party. Robbery is robbery, and the sooner it’s stopped the better. If a domestic hostage is so immersed in Stockholm syndrome that she fears pressing charges, then police must go ahead anyway. They’ve got demonstrable injuries, often with witnesses from within the household. Usually, there are neighborhood witnesses as well, people who can testify as to noise, yelling, the sounds of battle.

We have to punish the perpetrators of violence wherever it is. Not only does it hurt people, affect children’s development and often lead to death, it can also be a dry-run for the massacre of strangers.

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All Breakdowns Cost . . . Not Just Marital Ones


A Telegraph story quotes UK Welfare Minister Lord Freud about couples cohabiting without being married: “Those couples are four times more likely to split when their child is under three than if they are married.” He promises to support marriage (by which he really means heterosexual unions, as being more likely to produce children who need looking after) and reduce payments to single parents – most often, of course, female parents.


It’s awfully nice that Lord Freud cares so deeply about children. Would that the rest of the Conservative Party did. If only they had not removed the benefits that married couples received, years ago. If only, too, they acknowledged that marriage, even heterosexual marriage, in undergoing a revolution. It will never again be the 1950s-style union the Tory Party would like to recall, even those Tories who have no memory of the 1950s because they were born after that era.


Caring for children, giving them loving guidance, is an essential task of society. So why do the UK and US make it so difficult?


The BBC reports here that many parents are paying more for childcare than they are for their average mortgage. Another report here points out that London parents, in particular mothers, cannot afford annual childcare costs of approximately $18,000, so they are leaving work – at a time when many politicians blame non-working parents. Whether there are two parents or one paying hardly matters, when the issue is the high price of quality childcare. Is Lord Freud addressing that? Hardly.


In Sweden, many parents are unmarried and stay that way. It is not marriage that keeps them in the home and caring for their children – it is the sense of family, of responsibility and partnership, which are supported by Swedish national policies.


When bad marriages create pain, why keep them intact? It is not just spouses that suffer from the evil actions of the adult they’ve married. Children suffer, too.


As a child, Sir Patrick Stewart witnessed his father repetitively beat his mother. He has never forgotten. “As a child, I heard in my home doctors and ambulance men say, ‘Mrs. Stewart, you must have done something to provoke him. Mrs. Stewart, it takes two to make an argument.’ Wrong. Wrong! My mother did NOTHING to provoke that — and even if she had, violence is NEVER, ever a choice that a man should make. Ever.”


Now that he is, as he says, “an old white man” who will be listened to, he has been speaking out against domestic violence because that kind of breakdown costs. His work for Refuge, a nonprofit that helps women whose husbands and partners mauled them, is proud and essential work. Yes, Sir Patrick survived. He has done well. How many others have not? How many former children never got over the trauma of their parents’ treachery? How many perpetrated violence themselves?


That, Lord Freud, is a family breakdown.


There are married parents who stay in the home and abuse and rape children, either hiding it from the other parent or threatening the spouse with murder, mayhem, deportation if word leaks out.


That is a breakdown of the family.


What about the parents – heterosexual, married – who subject their daughters to the horrors and continuing pain of FGM? Who beat their children for talking to a friend of a different religion or caste? Who arrange marriages of underage children to people they have never even met, often much older than they? Who perpetrate or condone dishonorable killings of their own children?


Lord Freud, what more horrible evidence of family breakdown is there?


You think this does not cost???


In terror, in mental illness, increased violence, suicide, intergenerational conflict, arrests, lawsuits, trials, convictions, prison time? In fear, blame, shame, in children wondering where help lies, whom can they trust, dare they tell a teacher?


We understand. For you, money is the only counter, and your party does not want to pay for other people’s children. We get it, you think it essential that both biological parents care for all their children within the context of a legal marriage.


But seriously, Lord Freud, the lack of marriage is not the problem here. It’s the lack of structure. The lack of hope. It’s a society that has turned its back on loving guidance – both of those words equally stressed. It’s condoning violence within the home, financial shenanigans that remove jobs, unlimited immigration (and in the UK, giving immigrants benefits no other society allows, simply for arriving) that pits very different cultures against each other. It’s the lack of respect for schools and teachers coupled with an economy so shaky that no one knows when they might be downsized or sacked, where entrepreneurship is sometimes the only logical answer.


It’s not the lack of marriage alone. If it were, Sweden – with its thousands of unmarried yet diligent parents – would bubble with unrest.



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