Stockholm Sydrome - A Psychological Defense To Cope With Oppression?

I've been thinking about the concept of the refused suffering from something similar to Stockholm Syndrome (a survival mechanism). I've been feeling very oppressed, and look forward with nervous anticipation to the day when I can break free from my refuser/captor.

Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. See following definition of codependency.

Codependency is defined as a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition; and in broader terms, it refers to the dependence on the needs of or control of another. It also often involves placing a lower priority on one's own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. Codependency can occur in any type of relationship, including family, work, friendship, and also romantic, peer or community relationships. Codependency may also be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance, or control patterns. Narcissists are considered to be natural magnets for the codependent. - Wikipedia

I told my friend the other day that I was thinking of leaving my husband. During our conversation, I commented that I didn't get how this happened to me. I have always been an optimistic person, patient, happy, easy-going, and loyal. Then it occurred to me that I just described my faults. I was too optimistic, too patient, and loyal to a fault (faithful to an exceptional degree, even though the dysfunctional relationship is unhealthy and damaging). Maybe these are common characteristics the refused share. I have been told by my therapist, my mom, and my friends (before they even knew of the SM), that I always put myself last and have to start taking care of myself.

I read an article recently which stated that anyone could virtually acquire Stockholm Syndrome, provided the following conditions existed:
1) Perceived threat to survival and the belief that one's captor is willing to act on that threat
2) The captive's perception of small kindnesses from the captor within a context of terror
3) Isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor
4) Perceived inability to escape

Although repeatedly rejected and neglected by our emotionally cut off refusers, we are sustained only by the crumbs they throw us, which might come in the form of a weak compliments or empty promises. We put up with more of the same, because they did after all give us flowers for our anniversary, or prepare the meals for the week.

The refused may isolate themselves, due to the fact that they often become depressed. We believe the refusers' lies that they are trying to improve things for us and we want to believe them and have faith in the marriage, despite their inability to follow through, and their ready arsenal of rehearsed excuses.

I'd like to suggest that the refused does have a perceived inability to escape. Often times they are dependent on their spouse financially, and their self esteem is at an all time low, feeding their belief that they would never be able to make it in the world alone. They are complacent, because in their current relationship they know what to expect (not expect as it were), and the fear of the unknown is exaggerated due to their lack of confidence.

In an article from the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Stockholm syndrome is said to be "a paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein a positive bond between hostage (refuser) and captor (refused) occurs that appears irrational in light of the frightening ordeal endured by the victims. In essence, eventually, the hostage views the perpetrator as giving life by simply not taking it." This is where the refused defend their refuser, saying "but they are a good person, they pay the bills and help with the housework." The refused also protects their refuser (for example: keeping the SM secret), which enables them to continue their neglect.

The article continued with an explanation, "Some experts say that the hostage regresses to, perhaps, a state of infancy; the captive must cry for food (in ILIASM case - sex/affection), remain silent, and exist in an extreme state of dependence. In contrast, the perpetrator serves as a mother figure protecting her child from a threatening outside world, including law enforcement’s deadly weapons (or in the the refused spouses' case: reinforcing our doubts regarding money, the kid's health, finding new home etc.). The victim then begins a struggle for survival, both relying on and identifying with the captor. Possibly, hostages’ motivation to live outweighs their impulse to hate the person who created their dilemma."

Thanks for indulging my thoughts. I found the concept interesting, and just thought looking at the situation from yet another perspective might provide some clarity. It is definitely food for thought.

God bless.

Unjusted Unjusted
41-45, F
12 Responses Nov 8, 2012

Interesting application of the definition. It makes a lot of sense - Stockholm Syndrome has been vaguely on my mind a lot lately. Possibly by all the activity here in ILIASM lately.

RIP TheVerticalMan <3

I found this post interesting because many of the refusers seem to have narcissistic personality disorder (my ex included). I've done a lot of reading on NPD and apparently when you are dealing with narcissistic abuse (verbal abuse, put downs, manipulation, etc.) the victim often develops Stockholm Syndrome and somehow seems to identify or even feel bad for the perpetrator. I've definitely experienced this and I can't even explain it.

Rated up, Unjusted! Very insightful and thought provoking. This describes exactly how I feel. Yes, VS, I have been a people pleaser my whole life. Like PP, I have not mentioned the SM to anyone until recently. I have been so embarrassed and ashamed. I did recently tell my aunt,whom I have always been close to. She was very supportive of me. I haven't worked the courage up to tell anyone else in my daily life yet. Just not quite ready.
Thank you for sharing!

I just experienced some of what you said. I kept my SM silent for 4 years. Didn't tell anyone since I thought "we don't talk about those things", or maybe it was fear of being ridiculed. Now I am telling friends and parents about the upcoming divorce, so I fessed up about the real reason. The overwhelming response was "what took you so long to get out?"

If you're anything like me you may have also experience feeling ashamed, embarrassed, and afraid of being judged.
As you found out by sharing your truths with your friends and family, most people will be very sympathetic and astounded by our ILIASM stories.
We expect to be ridiculed, because that's how we've been treated by our own spouses - mocked and dismissed.


Thanks for the recommendation to read this... It is both thought provoking and helpful. There are definitely some conditions / attributes that exist in my marriage. Now... what to do about it is the next question. I will be giving this some thought. Thanks!


wow. great correlation.

I did feel like I was chained to my wife...chains of guilt and and weakness...she had me convinced I could not make it without her.

Interesting! As I was on my way to arguing ur statement as the social rules themselves imply a dependence model, I now figure out that what makes codependence wrong is the psychopathology of "the captor".
No matter how equal we pretend we are, equality is an utopy. Simply because some of us cannot/ do not want to assume leadership in a relationship all the time. To exemplify what I understood of ur theory I would give 2 personal experiences. Please correct me if I misunderstood the principle here.

So, I have an employer who gives me 40% of what I "produce" (it's not selling any product, but "selling" my knowledge, experience). The rest is spent on other personnel, cleaning, electricity and so on, investing in new machines and he supports and encourages my professional growth. It's a codependency relationship: he needs me to bring "clients", more money, he depends on my professionalism and I depend on him to support my professional growth and manage the bureaucracy behind my work. Though I could argue about the small percentage I am satisfied as I feel secure and appreciated.

On the other hand I have a H for whom I gave up way better financial perspectives so that he would have the best environment for his business to grow and make more money to provide for us. This lead to my being the one who does all the house chores, pays bills, takes care of the kid, and we are dwelling as a family in one of my parents'apartments while he continues building his own house. He offers me "the benefit" of having a family for the outside world and someone with whom to spend my hollidays. At the time I said yes I knew he was selfcentered so I consciously assumed it, defending him in front of my parents and friends. I remember it clearly that I made only one condition to this union: never let me without an active sexlife! (I am no nympho, but I get depressed after long no sex periods... as I am right now). As this is lacking it starts annoying me that he does not help me at all in the household (doesnt even change a lightbulb), he makes deposits without my knowledge, that he builds his own house, that he protects all his assets from me.

Bottomline, I have described 2 totally different dependency situations. As I see it now the problem is not the dependency in itself but the terms of the relationships and broken promises which led to my acknowledging the faulty nature of one of these.

Thank you!

This is a great post...Rated Up and one that requires reading more than once.

There is a typical manipulation the refuser perpetrates on the refused. That manipulation is to blame the refused for the lack of intimacy. There is no question, we refused are co-dependent with a capital "C". Your identification of yourself as someone who is giving and thoughtful and loving is not problematic except when it includes the inability to set boundaries and attend to your own needs.

For years I thought I was being selfish for wanting intimacy - and my H convinced me of this. I was working full time, taking care of the kids, making dinner every night, handling all the house chores - doing everything I thought I was supposed to do, everything I thought would ensure my "lovability". But it didn't work because I wasn't being true to myself. I wasn't expecting my needs to be met. I allowed what happend to me to happen.

The term captor is one that really strikes me. When I was beginning to deal with my SM, I used to dream that I was trapped in a well and couldn't get out. As time went on, I was no longer in the well but standing in the light on solid ground. I felt as if I was trapped in a world that was not what I wanted. It took years of unwinding my own limited thinking to help me see that the only person who can ensure that my needs are met, is me.

The search for truth day, it will be time to pull the ripcord and parachute safely into a new life.

This is such a cogent argument!

<p>This is a very interesting concept and one that seems to "fit" sexless marriage in many ways. I think the fact that so many of us are so willing - even keen - to excuse the behaviour of our refuser spouses DOES lie in ourselves. </P><br />
<p>Because when we look ob<x>jectively at the stories of others here on ILIASM we can easily identify good reasons for the refused to leave the marriage. In fact we wonder what on earth makes the person stay! Yet when it comes to ourselves, we find all sorts of reasons to excuse, ignore, down play or under estimate the negative behaviour we experience.</P><br />
<p>I suspect that being co-dependent is more common than Stockholm syndrome - simply because Stockholm Syndrome implies a level of coersion and victimisation that I think is only present in a few marriages, (At least I hope it is only a few!)</P><br />
<p>A variation of this can be seen in abused children. Where one parent is abusive and the other is not, you would assume the child would prefer the non-abusive parent. Yet time and again, children will identify with or choose the abusive parent over the non-abusive one . . . It seems that this occurs for the reason you describe . . . "motivation to live outweighs their impulse to hate the person who created their dilemma."</P><br />
<p>So perhaps it is not so unusual that we, even as adults, seek to cooperate with, pacify and generally placate the person who is essentially abusing us. . . </P><br />
<p>As you say, a very interesting topic and one that provokes much thought.</P>

I keep saying that dysfunctional marriages **** with your head, get you thinking weird ****, and get you making uninformed choices (thus perpetrating the dynamic).

Just about every initial story seen here demonstrates this. It is very rare for them not to.

"What" it might be called I have no clue, but I have seen it (hell, I,ve BEEN it) in dysfunctional marriages, I've seen it in people sticking in dead end jobs. Seen it in the armed services.

It is indeed an interesting subject as you say Sister U. And, as it is a "why" that we - the refused - own, it is worthy of a diligent search within ourselves.

Tread your own path.

I just reread my first story, and all of the following stories I wrote in 2012.

My description of my situation was definitely effed up, as was my recollection that my H and I \'couldn\'t keep our hands off each other\' while we were dating and that we were sexually active \'4 times a week.\'

You observations are dead on... \"I keep saying that dysfunctional marriages **** with your head, get you thinking weird ****, and get you making uninformed choices (thus perpetrating the dynamic).

Just about every initial story seen here demonstrates this. It is very rare for them not to.\"

I was delusional... for sure! My sense of the truth about our SM was definitely polluted by his control over me, and my unrealistic hope that he would change.

I\'m glad I wrote about my experiences, because looking back at things now (with the knowledge and counsel that I have received here) I can see the holes in my story. I have a clearer perspective of our relationship, and it wasn\'t/isn\'t \'great bar the sex\' - it never was.
The fog has lifted and I\'m seeing my H for what he really is... A manipulative, selfish, negative man.

I had lost my momentum, because the toxic environment I\'m immersed in had me rethinking and almost believing that my situation was caused by something I did or didn\'t do, and had me wasting time wondering (again) what I could have done differently, or what I could now do to fix it.

Note to self:
Repeat after me...
I\'ve done everything I possibly could,
He\'s not going to change,
I can\'t live like this anymore!