"You really got a hold on me" - Smokey Robinson


Stockholm Syndrome- describes the behavior of kidnap victims who, over time, become sympathetic to their captors. The name derives from a 1973 hostage incident in Stockholm, Sweden. At the end of six days of captivity in a bank, several kidnap victims actually resisted rescue attempts, and afterwards refused to testify against their captors. 


What causes Stockholm Syndrome?

  • Captives begin to identify with their captors initially as a defense mechanism, out of fear of violence. 
  • Small acts of kindess by the captor are magnifies, since finding perspective in a hostage situation is by definition impossible.
  • Rescue attempts are also seen as a threat; since it's likely the captive would be injured during such attempts. 
  • In the 80's, domestic violence researchers noticed that victims of domestic violence essentially suffer from this syndrome. They renamed it "Trauma Bonding" as a more fitting description. 


What is Trauma Bond?

  • A bond between two or more people that finds its root in trauma
  • A trauma bond is evidenced in any relationship wherein the connection defies logic and is very hard to break.
  • The components necessary for a trauma bond to for are:
    • Power differential 
    • Intermittent good/bad treatment
    • High arousal and bonding periods.


In order to discover whether or not a trauma bond exists in your life, ask yourslef the following questions:

  • Do you obsess (think about all the time) about the person who has hurt you even though he is no longer in your life?
  • Do you try to maintain contact with people you know will eventually hurt you?
  • Do you go 'overboard' to help people who have hurt you?
  • Do you choose to stay in an argument when it would cost you nothing to walk away?
  • Do you continue to be loyal to someone who has betrayed you?
  • Do you continue to trust people even though they have proved to be unreliable?


What are the ingredients of a Traumatic Bond?

  • A biological need to form an attachment, especially during a time of stress or danger.
  • Two people with an unequal power and intermittent good-bad behavior.
  • Points of changing arousal.
  • A sense of betrayal (Trust, Love, etc.)
  • A shared traumatic experience (Emotional or Physical)
  • Culture (Patriarchy)


Children and Trauma Bonding:

  • Children are more vulnerable to this bond because of their factual dependence on those perpetrating the abuse.
  • Children who have been emotionally, physically, and/or sexually abused and defend or want to stay with their abusers are demonstrating a trauma bond, not a healthy attachment. 


There are two events that occur to create a powerful reinforcement sustaining the traumatic bond:

  • The Arousal Jag - is a chemical response that occurs in our brain when we perceive the threat of danger. It is during this moment we will choose to do one of three things: Fight, Flight, or Freeze.
  • Peace of Surrender - similar to honeymoon period of cycle of violence


A hormone that we know is present during trauma is the one that sets of contractions for childbirth: Oxytocin. Oxytocin prevents memory consolidation - this means that the part of our brain that is responsible for registering pain is disconnected from that pain. We are not likely to remember the pain of a traumatic event becuase it wasn't registering at the time of the incident. Oxytocin is also called the bonding hormone because it facilitates bonding. While this is a good idea for mothers and babies, it is a very frightening byproduct for victims of abuse: they bond to the person that has abused them and there is no clear memory of the abuse. The more frequent and severe the abuse, the stronger the bond becomes. This is different that healthy attachment. 


For more information about trauma bonding, read Patrick Carnes' book: Betrayal Bonds, Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships. (This book can be purchased from receptionist at TRC)


For more information about the clinical approach utilized at TRC to free people from trauma bonds, email info@thetrcenter.org


Resources: http://psychology.about.com/od/loveandattraction/ss/attachmentstyle_5.htm




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