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Kidnapping victim's guilt a sign of Stockholm syndrome: experts - Article

Posted Aug 28 2009 5:51pm

Kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard has told her family she is plagued with guilt over bonding with her captor - a sign, say experts, she may be suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

On Friday, psychiatrists and psychologists described the complex relationship that would have developed as Ms. Dugard went from a frightened 11-year-old girl snatched off the street to someone forced to depend on her kidnapper, as well as being the mother of his two children.

Ms. Dugard likely used dissociation as a survival mechanism throughout her captivity, splitting her thoughts and experiences and creating a barrier between herself and her ordeal, said Catherine Classen, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

"On the one hand, she knows that he's an evil man, and on the other hand she needs to maintain attachment for her survival," said Prof. Classen.

Dr Claudia Herbert, a clinical psychologist at the Oxford Stress and Trauma Centre, said Ms. Dugard might have developed Stockholm syndrome - where victims develop a "positive bond" with their kidnapper - because of what is known as a "double bind."

"She absolutely depended on him for her survival but on the other hand he did horrible things to her. She will have very ambivalent attitudes towards him.

"On the one hand sympathy, sorrow, pity and even misplaced love, on the other anger. This will have caused complex trauma and her whole personality will have been affected. She will need long-term trauma therapy but we can help people like her."

Ms. Dugard's stepfather, Carl Probyn, has said his stepdaughter feels guilty for developing a relationship with her suspected abductor and captor. "[My wife] told me that Jaycee feels really guilty for bonding with this guy. She has a real guilt trip."

But Dr. Marshall Korenblum, chief psychiatrist at the Hincks-Delcrest Centre for Children in Toronto, said those feelings of guilt are positive prognostic signs for her recovery, particularly given how long she was held.

"Sometimes when a person is in captivity this long, it's like being in a cult, when you're brainwashed. When you come out of it, you wouldn't have guilt, you'd have anger at being taken out of the cult," he said. "She has been able to keep a part of herself separate from the captor. The alliance she had with the captor obviously isn't so strong now that she's free."

Dr. Korenblum added that there is no doubt Ms. Dugard will experience post-traumatic stress disorder, and will experience flashbacks and nightmares. Her recovery, he said, depends on how strong a personality she developed at the tender age of 11.

"If she was a healthy, strong person before, the prognosis is going to be much better," he said.

Elizabeth Saewyc, professor in UBC's school of nursing whose research focuses on youth health, said the emotional manipulation Ms. Dugard would have encountered, and the bonding that inevitably resulted, will make it hard for her to let go of her feelings for Mr. Garrido.

"It's important to remember that for many people who sexually abuse teens and children, it's not like they're perpetually holding a knife to someone's head. They use emotional manipuation as part of the process. Kind of slowly but surely making people feel like not only they deserve what's happened to them and this is some sort of sign of affection, but they're painting the society outside as a scary place and undermining their competence," she said. "An 11-year-old is not going to have the emotional sophistication at that age to be able to respond to that."

Extended periods of captivity might also lead to "learned helplessness" in which individuals come to believe that no matter what they do to improve their circumstances, nothing is effective.

"Initially kidnap victims are stunned, numbed and fearful," said Prof David Alexander, from the Aberdeen Centre for Trauma Research at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.

"You take a while to come to terms with the initial abduction but then survival mechanisms kick in. Your first thought is how to stay alive, not necessarily how to hit back or escape. When you are isolated and only have one person to rely on, you begin to identify with them. You start to do what you are told."

Prof. Classen said she is also concerned about the well-being of Ms. Dugard's two daughters, aged 11 and 15, and the mother-daughter relationship they will have.

"I've been thinking of how complex that would be," she said. "They are the product of this brutal, horrific relationship and yet they're a part of her, and they're innocent and vulnerable."

Ms. Dugard's case bears similarities to other high-profile cases, including last September's case where Josef Fritzl was discovered holding his daughter captive in a windowless cellar for 24 years and forcing her to bear him seven children. Elisabeth Fritzl later said she always thought her father's threats were real, and desperately tried to make her life as normal as possible for her children

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