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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Stockholm Syndrome - The Newfoundland & Labrador Experience

Bonding to one's captor (abuser) is a recognized victim survival strategy that has been observed in a variety of situations over the years. This strategy, known as the Stockholm Syndrome, was so named after a hostage situation that developed during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973 and has since been seen in several well publicized incidents including the kidnapping of U.S. newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst.

During the Stockholm event, three women and a man were held hostage for six days. Over that time the four hostages and their captors bonded bi-directionally. The hostages even came to see their captors as protectors rather than abusers. This bonding sparked great interest at the time and led to much study. Today the effect is no longer considered unusual by professionals who negotiate during hostage situations. In fact, it is often encouraged, as it is believed to improve the hostage’s chances of survival.

In some circles it is believed that bonding with an abuser may actually be a universal survival strategy for victims of abuse.

Precursors to Stockholm Syndrome:

1. Perceived threat to one's survival.
2. Perceived small kindness from the captor to the captive.
3. Isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor.
4. Perceived inability to escape.

Psychodynamics' Underlying Stockholm Syndrome:

The scenario generally plays itself out in a familiar pattern where by an abuser traumatizes a victim (who doesn’t believe they can escape) with a threat to the victim's survival. The traumatized victim, who perceives isolation from outsiders, who might provide nurturance and protection, must look to the abuser to meet those needs. If the abuser shows the victim some small kindness, the victim then often bonds to the perceived positive side of the abuser, denying (or dissociating) the side of the abuser that produced the terror.

The victim begins to see the world from the abuser's perspective in order to discover what keeps the abuser happy, thus helping to ensure their own survival. The victim comes to see the world from the perspective of the abuser, losing touch with their own personal perspectives and needs, which are deemed unimportant or even counter-productive to survival. As a result, over time, it becomes progressively harder to recognize the abuser for what he is and more difficult to separate from the abuser due to the fear of losing the only relationship identity that remains.

Institutionalized Transmission Mechanisms:

There appear to be a number of different avenues for transmitting an institutionalized form of Stockholm Syndrome. While the setting for each varies, what all have in common is the introduction of the notion that the governing state is all-powerful and indispensable, and that it has done great things for the people.

Government schools have proven to be an important contributor to the epidemic as have pre-indoctrinated authority figures such as parents, teachers, local leaders, etc. Needless to say, political parties and personalities have contributed greatly as well. Major media also plays a critical role in reminding the public (the victims) of the power of the state and by acting as a role model for being subservient to it. While this list is by no means exhaustive, the methods of transmission identified appear to be the most significant and common place in this context.

Regardless of the setting, there are a couple of key transmission mechanisms involved. The act of invoking a form of wide spread Stockholm Syndrome is an ongoing and never ending task that governments undertake on a regular basis, either consciously or not, however during times of specific unrest or when major issues arise there is generally a marked increase in activity by the aggressors. This often includes the use of vague and confusing language or messages intended to induce a form of blind loyalty. Typical campaigns include terms such as:

• Working for social justice
• Fighting to make the world safe for democracy
• A new deal for our people
• Support the troops
• Government of the people, by the people and for the people
• The people’s government

Alongside these words and phrases is the teaching of a view of history which, while paying lip service to occasional government mistakes, will on the whole transmit the message that the ruling state has a glorious history and that things have gotten steadily better over the course of that history. The determination of what actually represents “improvement” or “betterment” is made of course by the controlling power and is itself open to debate. In the case of Newfoundland and Labrador for example, what is best for the majority of Canadians (namely the populations of Ontario and Quebec) is not necessarily in the best interest of the province itself.

Finally, there is the actual or threatened ostracism invoked when an individual says something that may call into question his loyalty to the Country or to a specific government agenda. The individual then discovers that he or she is "Un-Canadian," an "Isolationist," a "Social Darwinist," a "Separatist," or any one of many characterizations, depending upon the nature of his or her position and the people reacting to it.

When all else fails and when intimidation or shame is not enough to silence a so called “zealot” or “anarchist”, new and drastic measures are often introduced by the governing body. These often range from covert attempts to destroy an individual’s reputation, livelihood or family life, to the broad based cancellation of services and avenues of redress such as advocacy funding, legal funding for government court challenges and so on. They may even, under extreme circumstances, lead a government to enact legislation such as “security tickets” thus allowing for the incarceration of individuals without charge or explanation by claiming that the individual poses a “potential threat” to the nation.

Management of Stockholm Syndrome:

1. Isolation is a major factor - Help identify and organize sources of supportive intervention; Self-help groups or group therapy (group needs to be homogeneous to needs), also hot lines, crisis centers, etc.

2. Denial - Victims are often in denial and it may be necessary to ask directly about the different types of abusive behavior they’ve witnessed. Journal keeping, autobiographical writing, reading of first hand accounts or seeing films that deal with the abuse may be helpful.

3. Perceived Kindness - Encourage the victim to look past the “small favors” provided by their abusers and to look for alternative sources of nurturance and caring.

4. Validating both the good and bad - Help the victim integrate both disassociated sides of the abuser and to see the reality of their existence. This will assist them in gaining freedom from the syndrome.

This article contains personal observations, commentaries and summarized material from various sources including the author and articles by Graham, D, Ph.D. and Rawlings, E. Ph.D.


atlanticaparty said...

A hello from from the newest provincial party in Atlantic Canada.

Would be interested in your thoughts on our policies.


Jonathan Dean

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding me?? You call that a serious article?? What is wrong with your head man?

Not only are you inviting problems that do not exist, you are missing the glaring irony here.

Mainly that anyone who speaks out against NL (or the Willimas gov't) are the ones who are considered "unpatriotic". Where have you been lately??

Put something intelligent on your blog or don't bother at all.

Anonymous said...

The response above should have read was "inventing" problems not "inviting".

Mike Kehoe said...

Well said Myles.

I don't necessarily agree with all in this posting but I sure admire your willingness to offer the position.

This type of article usually disturbs the comfort level of those firmly holding on to their quizzling status.

Good job. It's nice to see differing views.

Pedestrian said...

Weren't you the bum that ran NDP a few moons ago?

Anonymous said...

WOW,It take's a person that knows his people to be a "Judas" in his Time ,and a "Jesus" to it's Future!!!