Stockholm Syndrome and Custody Fights

Reader’s Question

Thank you for all the great information on Stockholm Syndrome — it’s been very eye opening to me. I’m separated for almost 2 years from my husband of 19 years — last month I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. I’ve also been working with a family peace center that has weekly meetings with women who’ve been involved in domestic violence (DV) situations. I relate with these women but also felt that my experience with DV was much more on a psychological and emotional level instead of physical. When I read your article — especially on “trouble” and #3, Aunt Gladys and the four hour lecture — I thought you were writing about my life. I’ve had all day lectures where I basically got to use the restroom and eat a little here and there — he would even follow me into the bathroom and would wake me up if I was falling asleep as late night approached and it would end when he couldn’t stay awake any longer or drank himself to sleep. Now, at the age of 40 I’m back home with my parents and happy to be away from the day to day eggshell walking.

Still, I’m faced with a terrible ordeal. While still influenced by his ‘control’ but in the process of finally leaving him — he made the ‘rule’ “I’ll take the boy (my now 13-year-old son) and you’ll take the girl (2-year-old).” I of course didn’t want this, but my son said he wanted to stay at the school he was at and thought it wasn’t a big deal and that I may come home later on (I’ve left and returned 4 previous times). I now have no desire to ever return as my eyes see the light clearer and clearer. Now I’m afraid for my son. I see his growing sense of responsibility to take care of the needs of his father. I’ve witnessed numerous things — he doesn’t want me to visit him in secret (father at work) anymore because he’s afraid his dad will find out and he doesn’t want to lie to him. He didn’t want me to clean his room for him because his dad would know I did it (trouble). He’s apologized to me about his dad when a crisis caused by his father occurred. The last time I took him for an hour for ice cream after school his dad called him 3 times, and my son was distant from me the whole time like he was mentally somewhere else. Worried about him after dropping him off at home, I called him; he was crying; I asked what was wrong, he says he’s sad that his father didn’t get to see the baby (his little sister)! Nothing about him or his feelings or sadness — he’s lost himself, his state and only focuses on his father.

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I’m getting stronger now from my PTSD and I’m finally getting the fighting spirit in me — I’m starting to look for a lawyer. I didn’t at first because I felt like my son didn’t want me, this devastated me since we were always so close — but now I definitely feel that Stockholm Syndrome is what my dear son is experiencing. I would like to know if there’s any other situation like mine that you know of. If there’s any professional help I can find to help my son (13 years old). I’d like to know if there’s anyone here (location confidential) that you would recommend to me. And lastly if you know of any legal cases where a parent fought for custody claiming Stockholm Syndrome in the child as a major factor for being awarded custody.

Psychologist’s Reply

Your experience is common and in fact occurs frequently in divorce and custody situations. Some thoughts and opinions:

  • Your son is doing something kids often do, making custody decisions based on their personal life (their school, friends, neighborhood, where the video game is located, etc.). As you’ve seen, he’s likely to regret it as time goes on and will later need to petition the court for a return to your custody.
  • Don’t take your son’s behavior personally. He’s not moving away from you but toward what he at-first thinks is a better deal.
  • You son living with your DV-oriented husband probably won’t last long. Your ex will be holding your son as an emotional hostage, hoping to bring you back by keeping your son with him. This is a common ploy in divorce. Once he realizes that didn’t work…and that he now has full responsibility for a 13-year-old — his “fatherly” instincts may have a change of heart. Your son may be coming back in your direction, especially if the ex can’t use him as a ticket to torment and abuse you.
  • Follow your son’s lead and do what you need to do to make him feel safe with his father. Like you over the years, your son is now trying his best to avoid “trouble”. Help him avoid trouble.
  • As your son becomes more upset, he’ll be more responsibility than your ex is willing to handle. Again, he’ll be coming back in your direction. If your son is very upset, you might suggest sending him to a therapist/counselor, although your ex is likely to use this as a “maybe we should get back together instead” manipulation.
  • All child custody courts recognize the Stockholm Syndrome, brainwashing, parental coaching, etc. present in custody issues. There’s so much of this that to address it in each case would overwhelm the court system. As these situations are often resolved over time, often by the children, the courts typically don’t accept cases of this type.
  • I’d continue to heal yourself. A battle with an emotional abuser can be exhausting. You might want to consider therapy for yourself. I’d also recommend reading the user discussion on Stockholm Syndrome and Identifying Losers on this website. Many folks have written in with similar stories.

Hope this helps. Look for a Lawyer.

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