Stockholm syndrome
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Why are partners of narcissists susceptible to Stockholm syndrome?

The allure of a narcissist can be as captivating as it is dangerous. Initially swept off their feet by charm and adoration, unsuspecting partners soon find themselves trapped in a whirlwind of emotional abuse, manipulation, and control. But amidst the pain and confusion, a phenomenon often surfaces: Stockholm syndrome.

For the uninitiated, Stockholm syndrome describes a psychological response where a victim develops empathy and even affection for their captor. Though originally coined in the context of hostage situations, its tendrils reach far beyond, ensnaring victims of various forms of prolonged abuse. And in the labyrinthine world of narcissistic relationships, it finds fertile ground to take root.

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Defining Stockholm syndrome?

Before we proceed, we must first define Stockholm syndrome.

Here are some possible indicators of Stockholm syndrome, but remember they may not all apply, and their presence doesn’t automatically confirm SS:

Positive feelings towards the abuser

  • Feeling empathy, gratitude, or even love for the abuser despite their harmful actions.
  • Trying to understand or excuse their behaviour, minimising the abuse or taking the blame.
  • Feeling protective of the abuser, defending them to others.

Negative feelings towards potential rescuers

  • Distrusting or becoming hostile towards authorities, family, or friends trying to help.
  • Fearing escape or freedom due to perceived dangers or uncertainties outside the abusive situation.
  • Feeling isolated and dependent on the abuser for survival or safety.

Other possible signs:

  • Feeling numb or dissociated from the trauma and emotions.
  • Experiencing anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
  • Having difficulty forming healthy relationships in the future.

In this current context, abuser refers to a narcissistic partner.

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The perfect storm for attachment

Narcissistic relationships unfold like a cruel dance, each step orchestrated to ensnare and break down the partner’s sense of self. Here’s how this insidious cycle fuels Stockholm syndrome:

1. Idealisation and the golden trap

The narcissist showers their partner with intense love and admiration, creating a powerful bond and setting a high bar for affection. This “golden phase” fosters an intense emotional dependence, making the inevitable shift all the more devastating.

2. Devaluation and the shattered illusion

As the narcissist’s mask slips, the idealisation crumbles. Criticism, gaslighting, and emotional manipulation become the norm, eroding the partner’s self-esteem and sense of reality. This creates a stark contrast to the initial phase, leaving the partner desperate to recapture the lost “golden” love.

3. Isolation and the walls that bind

To maintain control, narcissists often isolate their partners, severing ties with friends and family. This creates a closed loop of dependence, forcing the partner to seek validation and support solely from the narcissist, even from within the heart of the abuse.

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4. Intermittent reinforcement and the flickering hope

Narcissists often employ unpredictable cycles of abuse and periods of “kindness”. This intermittent reinforcement, like a gambler’s near win, reinforces the hope of returning to the idealised phase. It fuels the belief that the partner “must be doing something wrong” and keeps them locked in the cycle, desperately attempting to appease the unpredictable storm of the narcissist’s emotions.

Beyond the label: Healing and hope

Stockholm syndrome in narcissistic relationships is more than just a label; it’s a complex manifestation of trauma. Recognising its signs is crucial for seeking help and breaking free. If you see yourself in these words, remember:

  • You are not alone: Seeking professional support from therapists experienced in narcissistic abuse and trauma is critical.
  • Break the cycle of isolation: Reconnect with trusted friends and family. Their support can be a lifeline.
  • Remember your worth: The narcissist’s devaluation does not define you. Reconnect with your passions and rebuild your inner strength.
  • Healing takes time: Be patient with yourself. The road to recovery is a journey, not a destination.

Stockholm syndrome may be a grim consequence of narcissistic abuse, but it does not have to be a life sentence. With awareness, support, and unwavering self-compassion, even the most intricate knots can be untied, paving the way for a future built on genuine love and respect.

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Characteristics of narcissistic relationships

Narcissistic relationships are often characterised by:

  • Idealisation: The narcissist initially showers their partner with love and attention, making them feel special and unique. This creates a strong emotional bond.
  • Devaluation: Once the narcissist feels secure in the relationship, they begin to devalue their partner, criticising them, putting them down, and making them feel insignificant. This creates a cycle of abuse where the partner is constantly seeking the narcissist’s approval and trying to win back their affection.
  • Isolation: Narcissists often isolate their partners from friends and family, making them dependent on the narcissist for emotional support and validation. This further strengthens the power imbalance and makes it difficult for the partner to escape the relationship.

Stockholm syndrome in partners of narcissists

How does Stockholm syndrome manifest in partners of narcissists?

  • Minimising the abuse: The partner may downplay or excuse the narcissist’s behaviour, believing that it is not as bad as it seems or that the narcissist has a good reason for acting the way they do.
  • Taking the blame: The partner may blame themselves for the narcissist’s anger or outbursts, believing that they have done something wrong to trigger the narcissist’s behaviour.
  • Defending the narcissist: The partner may defend the narcissist to others, even if they are being hurt by the narcissist.
  • Feeling isolated and dependent: The partner may feel isolated from friends and family and may feel like they cannot leave the relationship because they are dependent on the narcissist for emotional or financial support.
  • Fear of leaving: The partner may be afraid of what the narcissist will do if they leave, or they may believe that they cannot survive without the narcissist.
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Stockholm syndrome a coping mechanism

It is important to remember that Stockholm syndrome is a coping mechanism, not a sign of weakness. It is a way for the partner to survive in a difficult and abusive situation.

If you are a partner of a narcissist and you are experiencing any of the symptoms of Stockholm syndrome, it is important to seek professional help. A therapist can help you understand the dynamics of your relationship and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

If you’re concerned that you or someone you know might be experiencing Stockholm syndrome, here are some recommended steps:

  • Seek professional help: Contact a therapist or counsellor experienced in trauma and abuse. They can provide proper diagnosis, support, and guidance through therapy and potentially other resources.
  • Connect with a support network: Build trust and share your experiences with people you feel safe with, like family, friends, or support groups for survivors of abuse.
  • Stay informed and educate yourself: Learn more about Stockholm syndrome and its effects to understand the situation better and manage your feelings.
  • Remember, you’re not alone: Abuse and Stockholm syndrome are serious issues, but healing and support are available. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

Please remember:

  • This information is intended for general awareness and not a substitute for professional help.
  • If you feel unsafe or at immediate risk, call emergency services or seek refuge at a safe shelter.
  • Healing from Stockholm syndrome takes time and support. Be patient and kind to yourself during the process.
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Abuse hotlines

Abuse hotlines in Trinidad and Tobago:

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, it’s important to know that you’re not alone and help is available. Here are some hotlines and resources in Trinidad and Tobago that offer support and assistance:

General abuse hotlines:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1 (868) 800-SAVE (7283) (24/7)
  • Childline: 996 or 1 (868) 800-2014 (24/7)
  • Victim and Witness Support Unit: 1 (868) 624-8853 (24/7)
  • Lifeline (suicide prevention): 1 (868) 623-TEEN (8336) (24/7)

Specific abuse hotlines:

Rape Crisis Society of Trinidad and Tobago:

  • North office: (868) 627-7273 (24/7)
  • South office: (868) 657-5355 (24/7)

Additional resources:

  • Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Against Domestic Violence: Provides information and support for victims of domestic violence. (868) 624-0402 (North office) or (868) 657-5355 (South office)
  • Trinidad Shelter (A Safe House For Victims Of Domestic Violence): Offers emergency shelter and support services for victims of domestic violence. (868) 623-7253
  • RN Vincent & Associates: Offers 24/7, free and confidential support and information for victims of abuse. (868) 689-2598
  • Find A Helpline – Trinidad and Tobago: Provides a comprehensive directory of helplines for various topics in Trinidad and Tobago, including abuse. https://findahelpline.com/countries/tt
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Remember: It’s important to reach out for help if you are experiencing abuse. These hotlines and resources are confidential and can provide you with the support and assistance you need. You are not alone, and there is help available.

Additional tips:

  • If you are in immediate danger, call 999 for the police.
  • Create a safety plan if you are in danger of further abuse.
  • Talk to someone you trust about what you are going through.
  • Document the abuse if you can, such as keeping a journal or taking pictures of injuries.

Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful:

  • The Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT): Offers individual and group therapy for individuals experiencing relationship issues, including abuse. They have branches across the country. (868) 627-4158 or visit their website: http://www.ttfpa.org/
  • The National Family Services Division (NFSD): Provides counselling and other services to families facing challenges, including domestic violence. They have offices in various locations. (868) 624-2276 or visit their website: https://social.gov.tt/
  • The Trinidad and Tobago Psychological Association (TTPA): Offers a directory of licensed psychologists who can provide individual therapy for relationship issues and trauma. (868) 622-6772 or visit their website: https://psychologytt.org/
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
  • The National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE
  • The National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI): 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

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