Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser


Someone on Fetlife posted a link to an article entitled “Warning Signs That You’re Dating a Loser”, which is a great primer on abusive relationships.  The name is unfortunate, but t’s an excellent overview of the problem of abusive partners, how to identify them, and how to get out.

I actually found the one that follows it entitled “Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser” even more revealing, at least at the stage that I’m at in understanding why I get involved with these abusers myself – and why I stay with them even once I realize what’s going on, or why anyone does, particularly those of us who are well-educated, experienced in life, professionally successful, and have good self-esteem overall.  I’ve never heard this paradigm before, but it makes perfect sense.  The basic idea is that the bond that happens between an abuser and his victim is much the same as what happens in hostage situations and the like, where the victim begins to identify with the abuser and even to defend him.  Patty Hearst’s situation when she was kidnapped was the classic example of our times where a victim actually started to sympathize with and bond with her abuser.  This was the case that brought the Stockholm Syndrome into common awareness.  It’s a fascinating paradigm that also really explains why people who are stuck in more “run of the mill” abusive relationships stay, often no matter what.  It’s the same thing.

This model also explains why the most typical responses of family and friends only seem to drive the abused person away and more firmly into the clutches of the abuser, and what the best (and safest) way to assist us is.

Someone said: “Weird thing is these guys show up usually during period when I am feeling bit more confident about myself, I am more active, less reclusive and soon as they enter my life begin tear all that a part [sic]”.

There’s something of that for me also, but not as much any more – at least not until the breakup happens and I’m torn apart.  I’ve gotten a lot better at spotting them in advance and bailing early, for the most part, but even once I do get caught in another one, I’m far better equipped now than when I first went through this to understand what my role is and what theirs is, and to mostly refuse to get sucked into their drama of blaming me for it all.  When the doubts and the downward plunge of starting to believe them starts now, I’m much better able to bring myself back to center and reality, and to refuse to play that game – even when it’s spelled the end of the relationship.  It’s been a hard-won battle, but is what has saved my ass, and the only reason I’m not more of a wreck now than I am, and still functioning as well as I am…

But I’ve also now learned that I can’t relax my guard too much, can’t continue to rely on that belief that I’d gotten it all licked.  I thought I knew what an abuser looked like, but I’ve realized that sometimes it’s just much more subtle than what I’ve seen before, especially in the beginning.  I’ve learned a lot more about the significance of red flags in the long run.

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