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Food for Thought: Trauma bonding

| June 2, 2021 12:00 AM

The term trauma bonding refers to strong emotional ties that develop between two people when one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses or intimidates the other.

Explosive relationships can create trauma bonds-chains that link a victim to someone who is dangerous to them.

Divorce, employee relations, incest, child abuse, domestic violence, hostage negotiations, kidnapping and religious abuse are all areas of trauma bonding.

All these relationships share one thing; they are situations of incredible intensity or importance where there is an exploitation of trust or an imbalance of power.

In clinical practice, some of the most surprised and shocked individuals are those who have been involved in controlling and abusive relationships.

When the relationship ends, they offer such comments as “I know what he has done to me but I still love him” or “I don’t know why, but I want him back” and “I know it sounds crazy, but I miss her."

Also, “This doesn’t make sense he has a new girlfriend and he is abusing her too - but I am jealous!”

While the situation does not make sense from a social standpoint, does it make sense from a psychological viewpoint? The answer is YES.

The Stockholm Syndrome

This is an incident that took place in 1973 when two escaped convicts carrying machine guns entered a bank in Stockholm, Sweden. Blasting their guns, and terrifying the hostages; the two bank robbers held four hostages, three women and one man for the next 131 hours.

The hostages were strapped with dynamite and held in a bank vault until finally recused. After their rescue, the hostages exhibited a shocking attitude.

They supported their captors and actually feared the police who came to their rescue. The hostages had begun to feel the captors were actually protecting them from the police. One woman later became engaged to one of the criminals and another developed a legal trust fund to aid in the criminal defense fees.

Clearly, the hostages “bonded” emotionally with their captors. In the final analysis, emotionally bonding with the abuser is actually a survival strategy for victims of abuse and terror.

The Stockholm Syndrome reaction in hostage and/or abuse situations is now so well recognized police negotiators no longer view it as unusual. In fact, it is often encouraged in crime situations as it improves the hostages’ chances of survival.

On the down side, local law enforcement have long recognized this syndrome with battered women who fail to press charges, bail their battering husband or boyfriend out of jail, and even physically attack police officers when they arrive to rescue them from the domestic violence.

It is important to understand the components of Stockholm Syndrome as it relates to abusive ad controlling relationships.

Unfortunately one can not explain the complexities of the syndrome in one short article. However, once the syndrome is understood, it is easier to understand why victims support, love and even defend their abusers and controllers.

If you are aware of somebody or if you are in this unhealthy dangerous relationship I urge you to seek professional help. You are not crazy and there are solutions.

Dr. Leta A. Livoti Ph.D., LCSW, LCPC is a psychotherapist in Thompson Falls. She can be contacted at 827-0700.