To understand what a trauma bond is and how it applies to addiction, we will start with a brief lesson on the Stockholm syndrome.
Stockholm syndrome is a condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity.
These feelings, resulting from a bond formed between captor and captives during intimate time spent together, are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims. Generally speaking, Stockholm syndrome consists of “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.”
Formally named in 1973 when four hostages were taken during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, Stockholm syndrome is also commonly known as ‘capture bonding’. The syndrome’s title was developed when the victims of the Stockholm bank robbery defended their captors after being released and would not agree to testify in court against them. Stockholm syndrome’s significance arises because it is based in a paradox, as captives’ sentiments for their captors are the opposite of the fear and disdain an onlooker may expect to see as a result of trauma.
There are four key components that generally lead to the development of Stockholm syndrome:
1. A hostage’s development of positive feelings towards their captor
2. No previous hostage-captor relationship
3. A refusal by hostages to cooperate with police forces and other government authorities
4. A hostage’s belief in the humanity of their captor for the reason that when a victim holds the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be perceived as a threat.
So the important part to understand here is that even though the bond between captor and hostage seems illogical, there is a very logical reason behind it: survival and the need to bond.
The unfortunate experiments done on monkeys by Harlow illustrate the need to bond to survive. Baby monkeys were taken from their mothers at birth and given wood or metal “surrogate monkeys” covered with cloth to cling to. After a while, the baby monkeys saw these mannequins as “their mothers” and preferred them to live individuals. Then later when these babies grew up and had their own young, they had no idea how to parent and even threw their offspring against their cage and sometimes killed them. Yet, the little ones kept coming back to their mothers, preferring possible death to inevitable death and starvation if they were to stay away.
The way Stockholm syndrome is treated is through psychological counseling and the understanding that it was necessary to form an unhealthy bond in order to survive the trauma of captivity. It is a gradual shift in thinking, similar to healing from brainwashing. This does not absolve the victim from accountability but helps them break their unhealthy bond and cultivate new ones.