My Family Has Stockholm Syndrome

Reader’s Question

At the age of 37 I am the youngest of six children in our family. Our parents are still together and recently celebrated their 50 year wedding anniversary. To outsiders we look like a normal happy family but nothing could be further from the truth. Our father has always been abusive to our Mother and all of us kids. The physical abuse stopped when he stopped drinking over 30 years ago (I only remember one physical incident), but the mental and emotional abuse has been consistent. All of us kids have grown up and moved out, so we gained a little distance and a little perspective as a result. Mom however is trapped and has become a shell of the woman I remember growing up. I read your article titled Love and Stockholm Syndrome. It fits our situation perfectly. Mom is definitely a victim and Dad is the Loser personality. However it seems to have ensnared about half of us children. Two of my brothers and one of my sisters seem to defend our parent’s relationship and view anyone who points out the abuse as a “trouble maker”.

My question to you is: Can you recommend any books that go into more detail on this subject? I only recently found your article and was amazed at how it felt like you were describing my family. I would be very interested in any more information I could get my hands on. If others have dealt with these same issues I think I may benefit from learning their stories.

Psychologist’s Reply

Many abusive family situations have a component of Stockholm Syndrome. For many adults, there is a hesitancy to take a hard look at their upbringing. Stockholm Syndrome is a survival strategy and for your three siblings, their positive support of the family history allows them to “survive” in the family and retain a positive view of both Dad and Mom. Their view also allows something else — providing a viewpoint that has no requirement for concern about their mother. As you mention, your view recognizes the emotional toll taken on your mother and how your father’s behavior remains mentally/emotionally abusive. From their standpoint, they don’t see anything they need to worry about — they’re not obligated to be concerned as they feel everything is wonderful in the family. When you mention the abusive behavior or the family history, you are causing “trouble” — not for your parents, but for your siblings. You are challenging their attitudes that keep them blissfully irresponsible. As we often find in Stockholm Syndrome, those who try to help are considered the trouble makers and threats — not the abuser. You can use some of the strategies in the SS article to deal with your family issues.

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There are many references to Stockholm Syndrome, but most relate to hostage situations. For additional reading, focus on the family dynamics that occur in abusive and/or domestic violence families. There are several books and lots of studies in that area.

There is a great source of stories about this situation. My articles on Losers and Stockholm Syndrome both have discussion groups on this website. I have plans in the future to write more on having a Loser/Abuser as a parent and how that impacts the children of that marriage.

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