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|Why we stay: The psychology behind loving your abuser|
|Written by madgardener|
|09 April 2010|
This is a research paper i wrote for my psychology 101 class at college. It was very important to me to write this paper because it helped me face my abuse head on. To admit it happened and to let go of the shame. It is my hope that reading it helps at least one other person feel better about themselves.
It originally ended up to be 20 pages but i had to cut it way down to I think 5 or 6 pages, so if it seems choppy at all.... well thats why. I just got so into the research, the pages just kept flying out of me. next thing i knew i practically had a book written lol. I have a bibliography if anyone is interested in my sources on the facts. We were not requited to put in text citations referencing where it came from, so its just a list of sources. I MAY be able to remember which source a specific fact came from if you ask. After writing this paper i considered switching majors and persuing a career in academic psychology research and study. But it was the end of my last quarter and the class was just a requirement to get my AA degree in pastry and specialty baking.
Why We Stay:
The psychology behind loving your abuser.
Why do smart, capable, intelligent women love and defend so fiercely the ones that abuse them, and how do they get to this point? Let’s look at the psychology behind these disturbing attachments, and the long-term toll it has on our bodies.
My guy was sweet, bright and devastatingly handsome. It was love at first sight; he was everything I had hopped for. This was what little girls write about in small journals with heart shaped locks. He didn’t have much, but was so romantic; picked me flowers, gave me little gifts, took me on picnics, made me feel like the most special girl in the world. He was so honest, open, and trustworthy. We talked about everything, our emotions, pasts, our darkest secrets, our hopes, dreams and fears. We got a little studio apartment together and had a patio with plants and a cat. Things were imperfectly perfect; I had met my soul mate. I felt so lucky to be with him.
Five years later I was lucky to leave him; I had been trying for the past two years. I was a complete mess, felt crazy, and cried almost every day. I just wanted things to be better. I couldn’t let go of the hope that if I tried hard enough with every bit of patience, kindness and understanding I could muster, I’d somehow attain the future I saw with him the first year. If I could prove that I loved him unconditionally, then he would trust me and things would get better. No one is perfect; no relationship is perfect. He was hurt, abandoned and abused; he is scared. If we could just get past these things then everything could be fine. We could still live happily ever after. I felt these things even though he had become abusive and controlling. I walked on eggshells, monitored my every word and movement, knowing that the slightest miscalculation would result in “trouble.” My entire life began to revolve around making the relationship work and avoiding any trouble. This could never work of course, because if I didn’t create the trouble, he would. I hated myself for not being able to make it work. I knew I should want to leave; but I loved him with every inch of my being. It has now been over five years since I have had any contact with him and I still feel incredibly attached, and yes, to my embarrassment, I still love him.
In 1973, four hostages from a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden bonded with their two captors and defended them after their release, even though they had been bound with dynamite and mistreated for the six days they were held hostage. This type of bonding was given the name Stockholm syndrome (also called ‘terror bonding’ or ‘traumatic bonding’) and has been seen in a variety of hostage-like situations including cult members, prisoners of war, and domestic abuse victims/survivors. In some cases of Stockholm syndrome when the captor (abuser) is of the opposite sex, the hostage develops a sexual interest in their captor. This is likely due to the brain confusing the physiological arousal caused by fear as attraction. Attraction and fear share many of the same responses in the body such as racing heart, pupils dilate, butterflies in your stomach and a knot in your throat. There are four situational factors that lead up to Stockholm syndrome. Let’s look at these from the perspective of domestic abuse using examples from my experience.
- First, there is a perceived threat to ones physical or psychological survival along with a total belief that the captor would carry out that threat. If I wasn’t careful, something little I said or did would cause an argument. Since he would change topic mid argument (in a way that left me unapprised of the new subject) or tell me that ‘I knew what I did wrong,’ I was left in tears completely confused and disoriented. I felt incompetent for not knowing what we were talking about and told that I clearly didn’t care enough about him to pay attention. I felt like I was going crazy, but he understood and forgave me. How could I ever abandon him (like everyone else has) after all the understanding he has shown me? Who else would stand by me if I really did loose my mind?
-Second, the captive perceives a small kindness from their abuser; this can be as simple as a complement. He would constantly claim I did things I did not do such as leaving the phone off the hook, putting his favorite wool sweater in the dryer or leaving the freezer door open. When I denied these things he would claim that he really didn’t care. They weren’t a big deal and even though they inconvenienced him, he forgave me. He didn’t understand why I couldn’t just admit to doing them.
-Third, the captive is isolated from views and perspectives other than those of their captors. Since I knew that they didn’t like him, I avoided my friends to not have to deal with the underlying drama. When we had problems or arguments, I didn’t talk to friends because I thought they would just tell me to leave him. I could not tell them about much of the abuse because it related to secrets he had confided in me, for instance his dissociative identity disorder, which I had promised to not share.
-Lastly, the abused person perceives the inability to escape their situation. My abuser claimed to not feel ‘safe’ without me and would hurt himself if I tried to leave. I was shown the scars on his legs where he had cut himself and told that I was forgiven for not being there for him when he needed me; however, I owed him a new pair of sheets to replace his bloody ones.
Bonding with the abuser seems to be a universal survival strategy. If you can’t see a way out, then trying to get on the good side of the abuser may provide your best bet at living through it. This tendency may be drawing from an evolutionary strategy seen in newborn babies. Babies will form an emotional attachment to their closest powerful adult. This strategy, if nothing else, increases the chances for survival of the child. In one behavioral study, animals that were given intermittent bad-then-good treatment were 230% more attached than those who had received only good treatment. An 1981 study showed a direct positive correlation between the amount of intermittent bad-then-good treatment during a power imbalanced relationship and the attachment level felt six months after the relationship was over. It works like a rubber band; as the abused pulls away it will eventually snap them back into the relationship. After time away from the abuser, the abused will tend to forget the bad things and focus on the positive treatment they received and the good things about the relationship. It is possible that from an evolutionary standpoint, our best bet for survival is to stay with the one we already have to protect us. Even after separating from abusive partners, victims frequently remain strongly attached to them.
Cognitive dissonance is also strongly implicated in why we feel the need to make our abusive relationships work. The theory of cognitive dissonance assumes that people will change their ideas or beliefs to create harmony and alleviate discomfort when faced with two competing cognitions (ideas, beliefs, attitudes, etc.). Leon Festinger created the theory after observing a cult whose members gave up jobs, houses, everything to join. This particular cult believed messages from space predicated the world would end on a specific day by flood and a space ship would come and save them. When no space ship came, they actually decided that their strong faith had averted the flood and saved the world. Instead of admitting failure and looking foolish after all that investment, they chose to change their ideas to strengthen the validity of the choices they had made. If we can come up with a good enough justification for our actions or beliefs, we will choose not to suffer the dissonance in our lives. The more a person has invested into a situation the stronger the need is to justify it. Studies also show that we tend to be more committed to things that are embarrassing, uncomfortable, or difficult; some prime examples are military boot camp, fraternity initiations and yes, abusive relationships. Maintaining an unhealthy abusive relationship takes an enormous amount of investment from both parties so the drive to justify it and make it work is quite strong. Telling a person in an abusive relationship they made a wrong choice and should leave can be like telling a new Marine after he or she has survived boot camp, they should now join the Army instead.
More than just the emotional scars, our bodies can be deeply affected by withstanding long-term abuse. Our self-defense system becomes disorganized and overwhelmed when neither escape nor resistance seems possible. When the normal responses to danger are no longer useful, each element in this system has a tendency to continue in an altered and exaggerated state for long periods, even after the danger is over. This presents a huge strain on our systems and is thought to be at least partially to blame for the increase in many medical problems after enduring an extended period of abuse. In addition, chronic stress results in a system wide suppression of immunity. This is most intense while enduring the stress but has been shown that it can have long-term effects. Anywhere from 66% to 80% of women who have endured domestic abuse suffer from Major Depressive Disorder. Other associated disorders include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, addictions, and chronic pain syndromes. In some cases this can result in considerable functional impairment. Nearing the end of my abusive situation I began to develop the chronic pain syndrome fibromyalgia. Seemingly unrelated medical conditions are shown to be statically related to abuse including gastrointestinal disorders, chronic headache and obesity. To cope with abuse survivors often self medicate with drugs and alcohol, develop eating disorders, self-mutilate, and engage in risky behavior. These activities make the health risks even higher.
So why do smart, capable, intelligent women love and defend so fiercely the ones that abuse them? As much as I would like to say that I left because I was strong and wise, it actually involved a great deal of flat out luck and poor timing on his part. I was lucky enough to get out, but not before it took its medical toll on my body. It might sound terrible to say but its true; what started as real honest to goodness love is the backbone of why many abused victims stay. "If someone punched you in the face and then said, 'Do you want to get some pizza?' you'd run for the hills, but abusers don't show who they are at the beginning," says Stephanie Nilva of Break the Cycle, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending teen relationship abuse. The signs are not always there at first, at least not in any way you can detect; after all, you wouldn’t be with them if they weren’t really wonderful in many ways. My relationship started out perfect and it was almost a year before things started to go downhill, by that point I was hooked and completely in love. Love alone, however, is not nearly enough to keep a person in an abusive relationship; there are other deep psychological factors at work. When you combine forces as strong as love and hope with enough drive to justify cognitive dissonance and the bonds created by the Stockholm syndrome, you create a seemingly unstoppable force.
It is stoppable, but it’s a lot easier to say than to do.
Works Cited in this paper
Armadale Family Violence Service. "The Stockholm Syndrome." Court and Tribunal Services. Gov. of Western Australia Dept. of the Attorney General. Web. 14 Aug. 2009. <http://kenoath.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/stockholm-syndrome.doc>.
Carver, Joseph M. "Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser." Make your own Business Website | Free for 7 Days. Joseph M Carver, Ph.D. Web. 13 Aug. 2009. <http://drjoecarver.makeswebsites.com/clients/49355/File/love_and_stockholm_syndrome.html>.
Coupland, N. J., K. M. Hegadoren, and G. C. Lasiuk. "Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Part III: Health Effects of Interpersonal Violence Among Women." Perspectives in Psychiatric Care 42.3 (2006): 163. Proquest. Web. 6 Aug. 2009. <http://proquest.umi.com.ez.sccd.ctc.edu:4048/pqdweb?index=16&did=1157381201&SrchMode=1&sid=6&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1250163619&clientId=79571>.
Dutton, D. G., and S. Painter. "The Battered Woman Syndrome: Effects of severity and intermittency of abuse." American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 63.4 (1993): 614-21. Print.
Grraham, D., and E. Rawlings. ""Bonding with Abusive Dating Partners: Dynamics of Stockholm Syndrome." Dating Violence. Seattle, WA: Seal, 1991. Print.
Metha, Julie. "Tainted LOVE." Current Health 2 23.5 (2006): 18-22. Proquest. Web. 7 Aug. 2009. <http://proquest.umi.com.ez.sccd.ctc.edu:4048/pqdweb?did=968511581&sid=4&Fmt=4&clientId=79571&RQT=309&VName=PQD&cfc=1>.
Segerstrom, Suzanne C., and Gregory E. Miller. "STRESS AFFECTS IMMUNITY IN WAYS RELATED TO STRESS TYPE AND DURATION, AS SHOWN BY NEARLY 300 STUDIES." APA Online. The American Psychological Association, 2009. Web. 14 Aug. 2009. <http://www.apa.org/releases/stress_immune.html>.
Suttman, Kelly, Marry Farrington, Rachel Hacker, Dee Graham, Edna Rawlings, Kim Ihms, Janet Foliano, and Diane Latimer. "A Scale for Identifying "Stockholm Syndrome" Reactions in Young Dating Women: Factor Structure, Reliability, and Validity." Violence and Victims 10.1 (1995): 3+. Proquest. Web. 12 Aug. 2009. <http://proquest.umi.com.ez.sccd.ctc.edu:4048/pqdweb?index=7&did=1469540941&SrchMode=2&sid=7&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1250166476&clientId=79571
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