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Mad versus Bad, Stockholm Syndrome and Defending HIM

Posted Jan 09 2010 3:14pm

The phenomenon of Stockholm Syndrome has been bandied about a lot in the media recently, in the wake of the Jaycee Lee Dugard abduction and, to a lesser extent, in discussion of the Fritzl case (though I am not sure to what extent Elisabeth Fritzl was affected by it).  There is a particularly good article, by trauma therapist Kathy Broady, on the condition here.

For those of you not familiar with the issue but who don’t have time to follow the links, Ms Broady puts Stockholm Syndrome thus:

It is when victims form positive, caring attachments with their violent perpetrators.  The more victims have to depend on their perpetrators for their very survival, the more likely the victim will form an attachment to their perpetrator…

[Victims] knew that their life and basic survival needs were completely dependent upon keeping the perpetrator happy.  They learned to base their own survival on effectively meeting the needs of the perpetrator, and the perpetrator had the power to decide if they would live or die.  To survive, they became loyal to the perpetrator.

Perpetrators purposefully create this kind of dependence in their victims.

As far as I am aware, and it fairly logically follows given the above set of circumstances, Stockholm Syndrome is most frequently seen in cases of long-term abuse (and is thus not particularly applicable to me).

During a recent documentary on the Dugard case, my mother sat aghast as the narrator described how Kaycee and her two daughters wept as their abuser (and father of the two younger girls) was arrested.  She admitted that, had they randomly told their story without proof, that she would have thought them to be either unforgivable liars or seriously afflicted by folie a trois.  How, she argued, could you care so deeply about a person who had so horribly and systematically abused you?

I spoke to her at length about Stockholm Syndrome, but to little avail.  She understood the concept in theory, I think, but was nevertheless unable to grasp how it could actually be.  The whole idea is so alien to her that she cannot conceive of it being a very real condition, borne – initially at least – out of necessity.

A similar, though distinct, query arose with her when the Fritzl story broke last year.  “But how is it possible for her father to have done this to his daughter?” she despaired.  As with the Dugard case, had the story not been there in black and white, I don’t think she would have believed it.

“He must be mad,” she concluded.

Quite possibly.  Indeed, quite probably.  But at what juncture do we allow abdication from Fritzl’s personal responsibility (not to mention his duty of care to his daughter, morally if not legally at her age), due to the fact he clearly had a twisted and sick brain?  When does bad become mad, and/or vice versa?

Anyway, the point of this post is not to write a psychocriminological masterpiece on Stockholm Syndrome.  I’m only here to say that, although I do not believe for one second that I have it or anything approaching it, I do understand it.

I suspect some of my readers – those few in my real life, in particular – will dislike the latter part of the title of this entry.  “ Defending HIM ” – ‘Him’ being MMcF’s husband, perhaps unsurprisingly.  I am going to defend him… but, and it is a very BIG ‘but’, that does not mean that I am defending his erstwhile actions towards me.

I mentioned in the last post that I’d explain why I had become less concerned for MW’s welfare so let me clarify that point.  I have been exposed to Paedo in large doses twice recently and have found myself to feel nothing other than overwhelming pity for the man.

In some ways, I have done for many years, but he was so much a shadow of his former self of late that the sense of sorriness felt all the more palpable.  I think I have alluded to the fact before that he is mental too, suffering from some unspecified psychotic disorder.  He, like me, takes Olanzapine to counteract it, and it has been effective in its indicated usage.  But he is now incredibly depressed regardless.

So what, SI?  (a) Doesn’t he deserve to be and (b) depression is treatable, so why are you decreasingly concerned for MW?

(a) Well, yes, maybe he deserves to be.  But the man has had no life.  His life, for as far back as I can remember, has been nothing more than a pathetic existence.  He was forced to marry MMcF when they were both very young, as she was up the stick (a reviled state of affairs in the ’50s), and he has been under her tenacious grip ever since.

As I have stated on the page about the people in my life, at face value MMcF is a lovely woman.  The reality, however, is that she is domineering, manipulative, cruel and overwhelmingly demanding.  I consider it no coincidence that the two of her children that still live with her – S and K – both have no lives.  In their 40s now, they will never leave that house.  I also consider it no coincidence that S had very severe social phobia and still has depression (she claims she has bipolar disorder, but none of us have ever witnessed anything approaching even hypomania, and she only takes Venlafaxine, no mood stabilisers.  But what do I know) and indeed that Paedo is severely delusional.  The two other sons eventually escaped, but are nevertheless intrinsically linked to every brick of the house’s build, as are their children.  S’s daughter seemingly escaped but her, her husband and little MW might as well move in because they are always there.

The hold is enforced by MMcF.  Frankly I am scared of her.

Now, re: Paedo.  Well, given his entrapment, I actually can understand a willingness on his part to stray.  Could he separate from her, divorce her?  He could – or could have, more accurately – but even if he had, she would have manipulated him back.  I guarantee it.

So, yes, I feel sorry for him, and long since have.  MMcF does nothing but criticise him, and yet he serves her and complies with her selfish desires without complaint, and endlessly worries about her health and welfare (neither of which are great).

It does not, however, condone child molestation, because quite clearly nothing does.  No matter how shite his life may be, may long since have been, I did not deserve to be raped by him (nor, of course, by anyone else).

All I am saying is that the person is distinct from the act, no matter how heinous or twisted that act is, so I have the ability to feel pity for this man, who did this most horrid of things to me.  I don’t like him, and I most certainly do not love him, but I feel regret that he’s had such a waste of a life, and if I can feel that, then I can completely understand how in more serious cases of abuse that that could progress to compliance, submission, friendship and even love.

(b) Yes, depression is treatable, and Paedo may well be able to be treated for same.  Still, it is very chronic, and with the aforementioned shitty life, will be all the more difficult to shift.  We have a saying in Ireland: if a person is perceived to be on their last legs or just otherwise haggard and decrepit, it is often said that they are “done”.  Well, Paedo is thoroughly and utterly done.  Quite honestly, death would be a mercy to the man.

So on the balance of probability now, I am fairly sure that he simply isn’t either physically or mentally capable of posing a threat to MW, MW’s impending sibling, or any other member of that (or any other) generation.  He is beyond it.

Of course, I am not, and cannot be, 100% certain of this – who is ever 100% of anything?  As such, I will remain vigilant and will tune my awareness to any changes in MW’s behaviour as finely as possible.  If I think for a second that the child is under threat, I will act.  I will break Paedo’s neck myself if needs be.  However, I do genuinely not perceive this as likely at the present time.

To address my mother’s points vis a vis the sad Dugard and Fritzl cases.

If you, mother, find it so hard to accept Kaycee and her children’s attachment to their abuser, consider proportionally the defence your daughter has just given of hers.  Does it seem so alien now?

Furthermore, as stated Stockholm Syndrome develops of necessity – in the case of most long-term trauma victims, because they cannot escape the situation, so it is better to ‘embrace’ (for want of a better word) what the abuser wants, in order to make life somewhat more tolerable.  In my case, evidently a less serious one, I would also say that some of my reaction to Paedo has developed of necessity.

I have basically accepted him, and I have kept the story to myself, to save an entire extended family.  Others could have been abused, I know, and I will never stop wondering if I could have prevented that – but I would have had to go to the police, alone, as a traumatised child, and with a total lack of evidence, what would have happened anyway?  So, with the best will in the world, I could hardly have prevented harm to that generation, and so I did all I could in the circumstances – I tried to keep the family my mother loves together.  And now I am looking out for the next generation’s welfare, which is the best I can do now.  I cannot ruin a family over an incident 16 years ago for which I have no evidence.

So no, abused individuals do not automatically hate and reject their abusers, for a multitude of reasons.

Finally, why is it really so impossible to believe that close relatives can and do abuse those close to them?  Many readers will be aware that most acts of sexual violence are perpetrated by someone known to the victim.*  Well, I can’t say the rape and the overt sexual behaviour were particularly systematic in my case but still – he was my uncle, I was his niece, so there you go.

* Child Sexual Abuse Fact Sheet, National Child Traumatic Stress Network – http://www.nctsnet.org/nctsn_assets/pdfs/caring/ChildSexualAbuseFactSheet.pdf

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