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Stockholm Syndrome: Why Some People Bond With Abusive Partner

Updated: Apr 15

We were asked to shed some light on the surroundings around domestic abuse, which has long dominated the debate over reform of the family justice system. Here we share some key findings through simple applications of published statistics. What possible reason could there be to not record the data correctly, then publish it transparently which would aid decision making and to be in the genuine best interest of children and families rather than false narrative and vested interests...

TTI cite from the reference named below and in 2019 alone, Police recorded 1.3m domestic abuse related incidents and crimes. Of these, 746,219 were recorded as actual crimes in the report rather than an incident; the distinction here is whether the incident being reported meets the threshold of a crime having been committed, i.e. a report of physical violence, sexual assault or stalking, versus an incident where a couple may have had a heated disagreement that resulted in a call being made to the police by a concerned neighbour, or just a neighbour annoyed by the amount of noise they are making.

According to the ONS National Crime Survey for England & Wales, 2.4m adults experienced Domestic Abuse (DA). That number equates to 5.7% of the 39.75m adult population aged 16 to 74.

By now you are probably asking yourself what is a Stockholm syndrome?


Swedish psychiatrist Nils Bejerot coined the term in 1973 after observing how four hostages of a bank robbery apparently bonded with their captors after being held hostage for six days in Stockholm. After being rescued, the hostages refused to testify against their captors and even raised money for their defence. Bejerot found it bizarre that hostages could display such strong sympathetic behaviour toward their captors despite being subjected to extreme trauma; he called the phenomenon "Stockholm syndrome."

In later research, Namnyak and colleagues (2008) noted that Stockholm syndrome has six distinct symptoms:

  1. Feeling affection for and developing an emotional attachment to the abuser.

  2. Acting out, distrusting or feeling negative towards others trying to help them leave the abuser.

  3. Showing sympathy for or voluntarily helping/protecting the abuser.

  4. Rationalizing the abuse.

  5. Perceiving basic decency as exceptional kindness.

  6. Feeling powerless to leave

For Stockholm syndrome to occur, a rare mix of special circumstances needs to be present:

  1. A real threat to safety or physical survival.

  2. The belief that the abuser will act on this threat.

  3. The perceived presence of small benevolent, kind-hearted gestures by the abuser amid the abuse.

  4. The victim is isolated from the views or perspectives of those other than that of the abuser.

  5. There is a perceived inability to escape from the situation.

While this all seems counterintuitive, it does make psychological sense. When our survival is threatened, our primal drive is to do whatever it takes to stay alive—even if that means bonding with our abusers. We may therefore analyse our abuser’s behaviour for any small acts of kindness and use this as a sign of hope that they won’t kill us.

A brief moment of eye contact, a supportive smile, a bathroom break, or a glass of water could all become “proof” that the abusers have compassion and that they aren’t monsters. This can then lay the groundwork for traumatic attachment.


Dylan was in an abusive relationship—belittled, controlled and cut off from his long term friends and family for many years. Yet he refused to leave, defending his abusive partner's actions and blaming himself for everything. When Maria got arrested for domestic abuse, he paid her bail and refused to press charges. Dylan was convinced she'd change; she had, after all, gotten “better” over the last couple of months. You will recall elastic band theory from our previous blog.

Why Abuse Victims Bond with Their Abuser?

This process, sometimes known as "trauma bonding" and begins when abusers occasionally mix in small acts of kindness with their abuse or threats. These small acts of kindness may bring great relief and lead the victim to express feelings of gratitude. This, combined with fear, may make the victim more reluctant to show negative feelings toward the abuser and become hyper-focused on pleasing them, to keep getting these small acts of kindness and avoid further angering them.

The victim becomes hypersensitive and attuned to the abuser’s behaviours and emotions. They may start to ignore their own needs in favour of those of the abuser. They develop strategies to get their abuser to like them and may even adopt their perspectives or views as survival strategies. If these strategies work and the abuser lets them live or momentarily stops the abuse, the victim may come to see them as omnipotent heroes, downplaying their cruelty and focusing on the little “mercies” they show in not abusing or killing them. Their affection and sympathy move to their abuser, who they may come to see as a good person forced into violence by circumstances.

Why People Stay in Abusive Relationships?

Men and women alike, escaping abusive relationships, have expressed difficulties with their emotional status. Some of them unsure how to deal with life away from the narcissistic psychopath:

“I know what she has done to me, but I still love her.”
“I don’t know why but, I want him back.”
“I know it sounds crazy, but I miss her.”

As strange as these statements sound, we have heard them time and again in Narcissistic Recovery groups. Knowing how abusive situations lead to emotional bonding for a victim will help clarify why these individuals struggle to find themselves after abusive situations.

A version of this bond is common in abusive relationships. Domestic violence victims often stay in part because they’ve developed an unhealthy attachment to their abuser. The intermittent abuse mixed with little gestures of kindness can create powerful emotional bonds over time. Even if the victim escapes or leaves the relationship, they may feel they “need” their abuser and may even regret leaving.

In line with the tenets of Stockholm syndrome, some abuse victims report that they stay in these relationships because:

  1. They have strong emotional attachments with the abuser due to being together for a long time.

  2. They sympathise with their abuser and believe they are generally “good and kind-hearted people” who are just victims of difficult circumstances.

  3. They rationalise the abuse by seeking the cause for the violence in themselves.

  4. They were isolated from their friends/family by the abuser and fear being judged or embarrassed.

  5. They believe they can “fix” their abuser by providing support and attending to their needs.

  6. They fear they might not be able to survive financially without their abuser.

  7. They share finances, property, or even have children together.

When so much time and emotional energy is invested in a relationship, leaving an abuser becomes extremely difficult—even if the relationship is unhealthy or dangerous.


Jameson, C. (2013). The" short step" from love to hypnosis: A reconsideration of the Stockholm syndrome. In Hope and Feminist Theory (pp. 25-43). Routledge.

Logan, M. H. (2018). Stockholm syndrome: Held hostage by the one you love. Violence and gender, 5(2), 67-69.

Namnyak, M., Tufton, N., Szekely, R., Toal, M., Worboys, S., & Sampson, E. L. (2008). ‘Stockholm syndrome’: psychiatric diagnosis or urban myth?. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 117(1), 4-11 government/statistics/police- recorded-crime-open-data-tables

The Family Court Domestic Abuse Scandal Exposed in Numbers by Brian Hudson 27th July 2020.

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