Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon used to describe a deep bond which forms between a victim and their abuser. The victim develops a sense of loyalty and sympathy towards their hostage taker with a soft heart despite knowing the fact that the bond is damaging to them. Emotionally the captive believes that their protection depends entirely at the hands of their captor. While unconsciously they submit to their demands giving complete control of themselves to the aggressor.
Researchers across the world have started to associate this syndrome with the area of domestic abuse and study of trauma, especially in womankind who are in an abusive relationship. The victim associates it with a “survival brain” strategy and develops subordination as a survival tactic to justify themselves to undergo psychological and physical abuse under a controlling partner. Often for the sake of their children, marriage or their social existence.
Domestic violence, which is at its alarming high in present times of COVID-19 lockdown (National Commission for Women says 31,477 complaints registered by women in between 25 March and 31 May in India), has made the situation worse for such victims. Substance abuse of the male partner incites such behaviour who under unemployment and alcohol withdrawal symptoms partakes violent acts. The lockdown isolation in their house with a submissive partner gives them an outlet of power dominance through threats followed by the erratic behaviour of kindness which is part of their manipulation tactics.
Michel Foucault, a French Philosopher, has described this role of domination in his Social Power Theory. Where a human being, despite knowing the truth, willfully submits to appease their subconscious self’s desire, behind a veil of love and affection for their aggressor. The subconscious desire, in this case, being marital stability and existence of a male partner in the eyes of society. While for the aggressor, it is the knowledge that they can dominate without consequences to their stature.
The National Family Health Survey 2015–16 states that 86% of the women who experience violence in domestic abuse never look for help, while 77% of the victims don’t mention the incident to anyone. Of the 14.3% victims who called for help only 7% reached out to authorities like police, doctors, lawyers or social workers.
A cry for help in such a case is seen as a potential collapse of the marital home, forcing victims to accept the dilemma as part of their fate, making them hostages under the hands of their abusive partner. Organisations involved in tackling domestic abuse for this exact reason face hardship for the victims to come out in the open. Any form of punitive action is weighed against a cost-benefit analysis of potential divorce, which is not always the outcome. Most of the time, the violent act of the partner is associated with mental health issues which can be treated through therapy and counselling.
The solution to this Stockholm Syndrome-Domestic Abuse conundrum is to break the trauma bond and isolate the victim from the abuser for some time. This gives them time to psychologically heal and see things from a perspective beyond the chains of victimhood. Such distancing also forces the abuser to question their actions. Bringing in a positive change in behaviour with the threat of losing the compliant partner who was their emotional colleague, as their primary motivator.