stockholm syndrome

Why Healing From Stockholm Syndrome Is Part of Your Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

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In 1974, the well-known media heiress, Patricia Hearst, was kidnapped. Later, she went on to help her abusers rob a bank, citing empathy and support for their mission. In 1998, the ten-year-old child, Natascha Kampusch, was abducted on her way to school. After her abuser committed suicide several years later, Kampusch showed evident distress for the loss. She wept for his death and continued carrying a picture of him for many years. 

These high-profile cases suggest Stockholm syndrome, a phenomenon where victims connect and bond to their perpetrators. But Stockholm syndrome doesn’t just happen in the media- it’s a typical response to an abusive relationship.

For most people, healing from Stockholm syndrome is necessary for their abuse recovery. Once you stop aligning with your abuser, you have the complete freedom to move on in your life. 

Understanding Stockholm Syndrome

What makes some people stay in brainwashing cults? Why do some partners stay in terrible relationships, even when they have all the resources to leave? How do we collectively find empathy for people who commit some of the most heinous acts known to mankind? 

To answer these questions, you need first to understand Stockholm syndrome and how it intensifies over time. 

In many ways, Stockholm syndrome represents the foundation of trauma bonding. It happens when victims experience positive feelings towards their abusers. These feelings may include anything from compassion to empathy to genuine feelings of love. They can compound as the relationship progresses, making it harder for people to leave toxic or life-threatening situations. 

When it comes to Stockholm syndrome and narcissism, many loved ones experience these conflicting emotions. For example, you may start over-identifying with the narcissist. You might feel like you are the only one who understands them. Furthermore, you may believe that you two are still supposed to be together, despite all the harm and abuse.

As you can see, Stockholm syndrome is a trauma response. Your mind and body are trying to protect you by convincing you that an unsafe situation isn’t actually unsafe.

Unfortunately, narcissists work hard to reinforce this narrative. They want you to believe that everything is okay. And if everything isn’t okay, they want to ensure that you assume it’s your fault and not theirs.

Related Video:

Common Signs of Stockholm Syndrome 

Stockholm syndrome can vary from person to person, but most victims experience some common undertones. In narcissistic abuse cases, here’s what you can expect.

Positive Thoughts and Feelings About the Narcissist 

He’s so misunderstood by everyone!

She’s just trying her best, and she works so hard.

He loves me, and that’s why he’s so protective over me.

Do any of these scripts sound familiar? If so, you might be justifying the narcissist’s actions more than you realize. This isn’t your fault. As you likely know, narcissists rely on strategic gaslighting to make other people doubt themselves. In addition, they manipulate nearly every situation to make themselves look like good people.

Hostility Towards People Against the Narcissist 

Do you find yourself rushing to defend your partner (even when you know they’re in the wrong?) Do you get upset when someone points out their flaws? Do you feel like it’s you and the narcissist against the world?

If so, this is another common sign of Stockholm syndrome. You feel so much compassion and empathy towards the narcissist that you alienate yourself from others. You essentially block out any negative noise because confronting that truth feels too painful.

Excusing or Defending Their Behavior 

He takes care of me and provides me with a good life.

It’s my fault she gets so upset sometimes.

He doesn’t have anyone else who cares about him like I do.

This is one of the most dangerous signs that you’re in the thick of narcissistic abuse. When you’re at this crossroads, it’s hard to recognize the danger for what it is. Instead, you start mimicking the narcissist’s language and internalizing their beliefs about you and the world.

Does Everyone in Narcissistic Relationships Experience Stockholm Syndrome?

No, but it’s common. While Stockholm syndrome isn’t an official diagnosis, many people in abusive relationships experience signs of it.

Narcissistic relationships are so damaging because narcissists engage in several tactics to maintain power and control. For example, they might:

  • Love-bomb you to keep you feeling special and important. 
  • Work hard to convince you that nobody else understands them.
  • Isolate you from other relationships or passions to avoid outside influence. 
  • Threaten to harm you or your reputation if you leave the relationship.
  • Occasionally offer empathy and kindness (tricking you into believing everything is okay).

This pattern makes it easy to fall prey to Stockholm syndrome. Even if you know something isn’t right, even if you question the relationship’s integrity, the narcissist will double down on their efforts to keep you feeling confused.

Worse, they will work as hard as possible to convince you they’re a really good person. After all, from their point of view, everyone else has the problem. Everyone else makes things difficult. 

Unfortunately, children are particularly vulnerable to Stockholm syndrome. Children often confuse the narcissist’s abusive action as loving or protective. And even if they feel angry towards their narcissistic parent, they also know they rely on them for security and safety. 

Healing From Stockholm Syndrome 

If you identify with parts of Stockholm syndrome, you may feel overwhelmed. What do you do next? How can you move forward? Here are some tips.

1 – Practice More Self-Compassion

Stop blaming yourself for your thoughts or feelings. Narcissistic relationships are complicated and devastating. You didn’t ask to lose yourself in the crossfire, and anyone can become vulnerable to a narcissist’s charm.

Beating yourself will only exacerbate shame and insecurity. Instead, remind yourself that you are only human and that you can recover.

2 – Stay Objective

He hit me three times last night. He threatened to tell my best friend I cheated on him. He forced me into having sex. 

Emotions can complicate facts, so it may be helpful to act as if you are a journalist reporting an unbiased story. This method can reduce the cognitive dissonance you experience towards your abuser. It may be helpful to write down all of these “parts of the story” as a point of reference for documenting what really happened.

3 – Keep Educating Yourself

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to understanding and healing from Stockholm syndrome. Dedicate the time to learn about narcissism and how it works. Read up on trauma symptoms and how they might affect your physical and mental health.

Keep in mind all this insight may seem overwhelming at first. Indeed, there is something to be said about the comfort of ignorance. But if you want to heal from your pain, you have to be able to accurately identify the abuse you endured.

4 – Seek Professional Support

Stockholm syndrome often coincides with PTSD. Talking to a mental health professional can provide you with invaluable support and resources throughout your healing journey. 

But before diving into this work, make sure potential candidates have substantial experience treating trauma. You want to meet with someone who thoroughly understands trauma symptoms and their impact on someone’s emotional well-being.

5 – Anticipate Triggers and Lapses 

Healing from Stockholm syndrome isn’t a linear process. You may experience setbacks along the way, especially if you have devoted significant time and energy to your relationship.

For example, you might find yourself grieving the “good times” that you two shared. Or, you may worry that the narcissist will be forever alone without you- causing you to feel guilty and afraid.

Don’t label these vulnerable moments as a sign that you aren’t recovering. Rebuilding yourself takes time, and it’s typical for people to second-guess themselves as they move through this process.

Remember that the narcissist is banking on you to have these triggers and lapses. Therefore, they don’t want you to change, grow as a person, or even question the relationship. That’s why the following suggestion is so critical. 

6 – Eliminate (Or Severely Restrict) Contact

It is essentially impossible to heal from Stockholm syndrome when you are in an active, engaged relationship with an abuser. Even if you hate the narcissist, staying connected to them invariably means staying connected to their lies, manipulation, and chaos.

If they have a way to “work” you, they will exploit that opportunity every chance they get. And if you don’t separate yourself from the situation, you remain vulnerable to their predatory tactics. 

As much as possible, you need to restrict contact. But if you can, eliminate it altogether. Ending the relationship and cutting off all communication allows you to focus on moving forward without any of their influence. 

7 – Join the Essential Break Free Bootcamp

Dramatically increase your chances of breaking free; discover the key to overcoming the addiction to the narcissist and their unending drama; connect with the real reasons why you break No Contact and begin healing them.

Learning the warning signs of Stockholm Syndrome inside relationships with narcissists is critical. Empowering yourself to see the warning signs listed above can encourage you to overcome your fear of falling victim again.

If you’re ready to go deeper and change your life right now, I offer a wide range of effective resources and techniques to protect against toxic people – in my bestselling program, The Essential Break Free Bootcamp.

I’m excited to share with you the psychological tools I and thousands of others have used to heal from narcissistic abuse.

Explore techniques derived from behavioral therapy (vetted by the psychological and neuro-psychological communities) to finally heal your life.

Learn more here!

Final Thoughts

Healing from Stockholm syndrome takes time. Be patient with yourself during this vulnerable process. Your symptoms are not your fault, and it’s normal to feel confused about the abuse you experienced. 

That said, you don’t owe the narcissist your compassion, forgiveness, or love. Likewise, you don’t owe them another minute of your time! 

References

Nierenberg, C. (2019, June 27). What is Stockholm Syndrome? LiveScience. Retrieved January 30, 2022, from https://www.livescience.com/65817-stockholm-syndrome.html

Roberts, L. W. (2006, April 1). Coercive persuasion (brainwashing), religious cults, and deprogramming. American Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved January 30, 2022, from https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/ajp.136.3.279?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub++0pubmed

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4 comments
Claudine Cassar says April 20, 2022

Hi Kim, This was a very interesting post. I have often thought about the bond between the narcissist and the enabler as a form of co-dependency, but you have a point. There could also be some other psychological elements at play. After all life with a narcissist is by no means easy, so it must take lots of different threads to keep the victim attached to their abuser. So thanks for the food for thought, Carla

Reply
Karen says February 12, 2022

Yes thank you Kim what she states another tick box. I had this as well. The narc and I agree we had a bad up bringing. This said I know I did but I can only take the word of the narc because we do not know her family she cut them off so we have only her word!. Trust is a big issue. There could be something in we do not know this given what little I have to go on. There are small bits of evidence is immaturity and plenty. Her father collects Nazi memorabilia odd dear me that we do know and was an alcoholic but that is her word. She has been on anti depressants most her life. You feel sorry for her but then you see the full selfish childish stroppy teen having sulky tantrums out rage tantrums no boundary and you cannot help her. I just am not responsible for her. This sounds harsh but they make their mistakes and blame you call you selfish because you mentally have had enough. You walk away and get a rage of abuse and vile comments. No diplomacy no understanding even when you explain why you had enough. They are in a rage but frankly even when they calm down you think they understand but that seed of irritability and their victim hood starts to irrupt. I and you are not responsible for an adults decision they are responsible for themselves. They are infantile and will never grow up you will have nurse them for the rest of your life and put up with this. There is nothing wrong with wanting your own life you deserve it you are not selfish. If you have tried to help and nothing works walk away you will loose you mind if not.

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Michelle hurley says January 31, 2022

I love this so much Kim. I am do thankful for all you do. I am still tortured by the fact that I stayed for 25 years before waking up and getting help. Many blessings. ❤️

Reply
    Kim Saeed says March 9, 2022

    I am so glad my article resonated with you, Michelle. Sending hugs and best wishes for your highest recovery. Xo

    Kim

    Reply
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