Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Trauma Bonding with a Narcissistic Mother


© by Gail Meyers
Are you suffering from Stockholm Syndrome as a result of childhood abuse at the hands of a narcissistic personality disordered mother?  Stockholm Syndrome, or trauma bonding, is an effective survival technique used to endure childhood abuse.

However, these symptoms can continue well into adulthood. As recovering adults in pursuit of healthier lives, recognizing the symptoms, behaviors and thought processes associated with Stockholm Syndrome is helpful.

 

What is Stockholm Syndrome?

On 23 August 1973 Jan-Erik “Janne” Olsson walked into Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg, central Stockholm, to rob the bank. Police were called in immediately, but Olsson opened fire, injuring one policeman and taking four hostages.

He demanded his friend, Clark Olofsson, be brought to the bank along with a car. Negotiators gave permission for Olofsson to be brought in. Olsson and Olofsson then barricaded the inner main vault in which they kept the hostages.

Negotiators agreed that they could have a car to escape, but would not allow them to take hostages with them if they tried to leave. So Olsson called the Prime Minister, Olof Palme, and said he would kill the hostages, backing up his threat by grabbing one in a stranglehold. She was heard screaming as he hung up.

The next day, Palme received another call. This time, it was hostage, Kristin Enmark. She said she was very displeased with his attitude, asking him to let the robbers and the hostages leave.

Olsson fired his weapon and threatened to kill the hostages if any gas attack was attempted. On August 28, the gas was indeed used. Thirty minutes later Olsson and Olofsson surrendered. None of the hostages sustained permanent injuries.

However, the hostages displayed a shocking attitude. They had been threatened, abused and feared for their lives during the ordeal lasting more than five days. Yet, they supported their captors. Allegedly, one woman became engaged to one of the robbers, while another established a legal defense fund for them.1

While this is where the term “Stockholm Syndrome” originated, trauma bonding was previously recognized by psychology for many years. It had previously been found in studies of prisoners, hostages and abusive situations, such as:


What Causes Stockholm Syndrome?

Stockholm Syndrome does not develop in every hostage or abusive situation. In a Law Enforcement Bulletin, the FBI claims 73% of abduction victims show no compassion or affection for their captors.3


However, when Stockholm Syndrome does develop, it has been found that four situations or conditions are present that serve as a foundation for the development. These four situations can be found in hostage situations, severe abuse, and abusive relationships:


  • The presence of a perceived threat to one’s physical or psychological survival and the belief that the abuser will carry out the threat.
  • The presence of a perceived small kindness from the abuser to the victim
  • Isolation from perspectives other than those of the abuser
  • The perceived inability to escape the situation4


Symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome

While Stockholm Syndrome may not make much sense socially, it does make sense psychologically. Emotionally bonding to the abductor or abuser is a survival technique. A consistent list of symptoms has not conclusively been established due to debate within the profession, but several of the following elements are present:
  • The abused has positive feelings toward the abuser or controller.
  • The abused has negative feelings toward family, friends or authorities trying to rescue, help or support them.
  • Support of the abuser’s reasons and behaviors.
  • The abuser has positive feelings toward the abused.
  • The abused displays supportive behaviors toward the abuser.
  • The abused displays an inability to engage in behaviors that may assist in their release or detachment.5

Cognitive Dissonance




First proposed in the 1950′s by psychologist Leon Festinger, cognitive dissonance is a psychological term used to describe the uncomfortable tension resulting from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time or behaving in a way that is inconsistent with prior beliefs, values or feelings.

The existence of dissonance or inconsistency, causes psychological discomfort. This discomfort will motivate the person to attempt to reduce the dissonance in an effort to achieve consonance or consistency. The person will also actively avoid situations and information which are likely to increase the dissonance and discomfort.6

 

Trauma Bonding with Narcissist Mother

Adult children of narcissistic personality disordered mothers have usually dealt with abuse for many years without any positive intervention. Worse yet, adult survivors dealt with the abuse as children. The legendary Alice Miller called it being a “prisoner of childhood.”

Children are very much dependent upon their parents for survival. So psychologically it can be very much like being a hostage in an unsafe war zone for many years. Survival can be, and usually is, a very real concern.  Growing up under the constant threat of physical, emotional, sexual, psychological, mental, spiritual abuse mingled in with the occasional kindness provides the intermittent behavior required to develop Stockholm Syndrome or trauma bonding.

The child of a narcissistic personality disordered mother perceives there is no safety and no escape. As a result, the child goes into survival mode, resorting to cognitive dissonance in order to survive the abuse. The cognitive dissonance reduces anxiety which allows for bonding with the narcissist abuser (Stockholm Syndrome), even to the point of defending her.

The result is a massive, draining inner conflict. The cognitive dissonance is a symptom of holding these two conflicting ideas at the same time. This is when a child of a narcissist may become defensive and steeped in denial.  There is no longer a “fight or flight” response because the son or daughter perceives there is no escape. Just the constant fear and anxiety of an unpredictable environment. In this survival mode, the child begins to focus on the needs of the narcissistic mother in hopes of some comfort and safety. Thus, begins to fit right in to the narcissistic parent’s inverted parenting.

Stockholm Syndrome and Recovery

It is important to realize Stockholm Syndrome is an effective survival technique. I think many sons and daughters of narcissistic personality disordered mothers, myself included, carried or are carrying this well into adulthood.  However, as recovering adults in pursuit of healthier lives, we need to realize we may still be operating under the mindset of a captive, so we can break these destructive behaviors and thought processes. While this may have helped a dependent child survive an abusive environment, it is unhealthy as adults.

One of the things that really stands out to me about Stockholm Syndrome is the element that sometimes the abuser is nice. I have observed this in my relationship with my narcissistic mother, battered wives and other adult children of narcissists.  It causes great confusion because you have some happy memories with the abuser. I think this is especially true combined with the gaslighting a narcissistic personality disordered mother often inflicts on her children. We need to be very clear with the fact that occasional nice gestures do not counter chronic manipulation and abuse.

Summary

Even though the child may have escaped the physical clutches of a narcissistic personality disordered mother, as an adult the child may still behave as if they do not have control over their life. We do have control over our own lives regardless of what it feels like.  As adult we make a focused effort to break the psychological control narcissistic mother instilled when the child was indeed her captive.

Photo:  The Fox and the Grapes is a fable used to illustrate the concept of cognitive dissonance.  Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine, but he was unable to even though he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked, “Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.”7

 

References

  1. Wikipedia, Stockholm Syndrome.
  2. Counselling Resource Mental Health Library, Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser, web.
  3. Understanding Stockholm Syndrome, Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Bulletin, July 2007, web.
  4. Love and Stockholm Syndrome:  The Mystery of Loving an Abuser by Dr. Joseph M. Carver.
  5. Understanding Cognitive Dissonance in Relation to Narcissist Abuse by The Roadshow for Therapists.
  6. Understanding Stockholm Syndrome, Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Bulletin, July 2007, web.
  7. The Fox and the Grapes, Aesop Fables.

12 comments:

  1. You are an incredibly insightful survivor of NM abuse. I just found your blog last night and have spent several hours reading quite a few of your posts. You have articulated so eloquently the nuanced as well as the overt tactics used by the completely corrupted minds of the narcissistic mother.

    My own NM died on the 7th of March, nine days ago. I sat with her for nineteen hours and witnessed no tenderness, love, or spiritual goodness in the passing. In fact, it's possible that the spark of life that belongs to God was quickly returned, as the body wound down like a machine, left behind without a soul.

    Everything you write is accurate and true about these people (I wanted to write 'aliens,' or creatures.)

    In the last seven months of wrangling my NM, I tried to think like a WWII resistance fighter: I did whatever it took to minimize the damage, ward off trouble, protect others from her poison, and protect myself. I took care of her for me. I wanted to prove to myself that I was not like her, and, more importantly, I honor humanity enough that I would not allow any physical suffering, like she caused me as a child. In doing so, I felt like I did not restrain the judgement of God that she would eventually face. I felt more civilized than she was.

    I'm not sure if this was the right thing to do. I'm bone weary. But, I'd had seven years of good counseling and 4 years of 'no contact.' I think that anyone not prepared, would have found it too much to bear. It almost did me in. I wouldn't recommend it, and no one should feel bad if they cannot do the same.

    What I discovered was my own courage. I exposed her several times. I, with the help of God's love and strength, and a couple of strong helpers, had victory over evil.

    Your blog is a victory too. Your life and your generosity in sharing your experience is doing good in the world, perhaps even saving lives. I don't even think that's hyperbolic.

    You've done something else too. You've turned your NM's life into something useful and productive. That is overcoming at it's finest.

    Thank you.

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    1. I can't express how relieved I am at coming to this site tonite and reading the above. I am dealing with exactly the same difficulties - and am just so relieved to read that I haven't imagined what has happened to me my entire life. Thank you both for your insight!

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  2. As the scapegoat daughter of a narcissistic mother, thank you from the bottom of my heart to Gail Meyers and this amazing, compassionate blog! Blessings also to the two previous commenters. My narc mother spent a lifetime trying to destroy my very spirit, my self-esteem, my sexuality - you name it, she denigrated and humiliated every aspect about me for decades! It goes without saying that I am an adult survivor of physical and verbal child abuse, thanks to a mother who often reminded me that she had never wanted me.

    My hateful mother's death literally released me from a lifelong Stockholm-like Syndrome of denial and repression. So it is extremely validating to read articles like this on this blog to know that I am not alone, am not "crazy" - and someone out there UNDERSTANDS. (Although I also am so sorry for all of you who equally had to endure this type of horrible emotional pain!)

    Thank you again, Gail, for being such an eloquent voice on our behalf!

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    1. Thank you, Anonymous. My heart goes out to you. It is validating, but tragic just how many of us there are who do understand. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences.

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  3. she'd laughed at me for years when i hsve brought ip the idea of a boyfriend. as a teen, i was aftaid to allow men to find me attractive. Slowly, i have noticed how she treats me. Never occired yo me to look to her as the source of my depression,lack of motivation,dirty home...it hot worse when she became sick. Constant raging when i don't follow her schedule,sudden announcement of doctor's appointment. At work,waiting for the other shoe to drop and feeling paralized to do my work,and when i take her to this doctor or that,too drain to focus. Bad mouthing me when i can't make it. But...when i try to help,she...how can i explain it? She mmakes it hatd for me to help. My sister an i got along fine until she moved in w mom following her divorce. our conflict revolve around me as if i'm the mean one. Now they both deem me selfish. And my sister saus the cruelest things. Mom had a blank satisfied look while my sister does. Each time Mom and I have a conflict,and I reac out for my sister for an unrelated issue,my sister is so cold yowards me. It's a maddening,lonely way of life as if...i am the problem, with no seeming no way of escape. As a child,young teen, I would hold my head and scream or cry while she stared at me curiously and coldly.
    The stronger i am,the more i feel punished. I can't find the words as I type this. She has moments of kindness and I feel so badly. And i feel that she has gone to bat for me and who else would be there gor me. She has always told us,us versus the world. I owe her a lot. I feel badly for her. And seeing her through others' eyes,she looks so vulnerable,i want yo pfotect her. But when she is tormenting...it's confusing. And who would believe me?

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  4. It seems that triangulation is one of the main techniques that Narcissistic mothers use in families. I can well relate to Anon. above with her sister. Destroying the natural relations between siblings is grist for their mill. Of course, this is obvious when the stratification in a dysfunctional family falls down to scapegoat vs. golden child. I remember my 94 year old mother (who is still alive and kicking) saying: "you won't believe what your siblings are saying about you." Interesting because I hadn't seen them for over 10 years...no contact at all. They were loyal narcissists in training.

    The fear and trepidation that children feel in a dysfunctional and narcissist run home is really unbalancing. We never know where we are in the family, and this imbalance is what the narcissist parent wants. If they keep us guessing, unbalanced, they gain power from this. It is such an abusive and sadistic behavior on the part of adults. It just feeds their very sick ego.

    I know...we cling onto those short, brief, random moments of 'kindness'. That is because we are so desperate for any form of love....but this is again just a weapon in their arsenal. They very much know how to manipulate. And forget anything that is assumed to be a boundary. As children, we were just branches off her (their) trees, and didn't deserve privacy or boundaries.

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  5. A nod to the above entry...Myself and so many others believe you. For a child, it's psychological torture to hold the reality of abuse together with a mother who looks so vulnerable or pitiful. One is going to be a lie, until we realize that the liar is our NM. In order to keep this attachment bond alive we have to deny ourselves. I knew from an early age that something was wrong with her but I would minimize, rationalize and blame myself before accusing her. My NM reminded me every day of my life that I wasn't the daughter she wanted. I didn't look like her, I didn't act like her (thank God), I wasn't as "good" as she was. Sounds like a narcissist, doesn't it? It wasn't until I was 44 that I walked away for good. A death in the family brought us back in touch for about a year. I had changed but she had not. I am back in complete NC. My GC brother will be the one to take care of her for the remainder of her pathetic life.

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  6. Finding this has come at just the right time. Instead of a mother though my issue is with my father. I am a 37 year old female. I was mentally and emotionally abused by my dad and sexually by an uncle that I never told anyone about. My dad growing up was very belittling, demeaning, nothing I did was right. All verbal and mental which I think could be worse at times than physical. I had no self esteem so as soon as I could I graduated, got married and moved out. Thank God for my poor husband of 17 years I have no idea how he deals with me sometimes. The main issue is my dad owns a company and at 21 for some unknown reason I went to work for him. 16 years later I feel stuck here. The verbal and mental abuse still goes on daily but I feel like he needs me here like the business cant run without me some stupid obligation to continue to do this at my own expense. I am anxious, irritated, upset crying all of the time because I care about him but I dont get that in return. My mom is cold and bitter probably because he did the same to her and she works here too. Its just so toxic. I had a job interview yesterday with an amazing company. The pay is as much as it has taken me to make here in 16 years. Full benefits, retirement etc. Here I have none of that, no future at all but for some stupid reason I struggle with leaving. I blame the issues on myself like its not as bad as I make it seem. But in all reality it is. I feel like a soldier that goes to battle everyday. Thanks for this blog and thanks for listening...

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  7. In my case the captor was not only my narcissistic mother, but my enabling father as well. The necessity of going no-contact with my mother was clear. The fact that she is a full-blown narcissist removed potential arguments for maintaining contact.

    However, disconnecting from an enabling father who is weak and often kind has been much more challenging. I see him as both a victim and a perpetrator. I never identified much with my mother, but I do identify with the various traits, and victim status of my father.

    It's not no-contact that is the difficulty. The difficulty lies in changing the beliefs and behaviors that were enforced because, without awareness and confronting yourself, those things live on even without contact.

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    1. ... your statement so succinctly describes my own experience, I am astounded. Thank you x

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  8. Hi Gail,
    I just want you to know I find your website really helpful & the most informative of all websites on narcissistic personality disorder. When I read of your experiences which mirror my own life & family experences it was like a grace from God. You inspire me and keep me going with the experiences you have shared. I'm 37 years old and my family are just like yours. I have been battling my narcissistic family for years to keep them out of my life & protect my two children a boy aged 18 & daughter aged 11. I failed,... My son has been in contact with them for several years which I found out since his behaviour changed towards me. His father took his own life when my son was 9 years old. He'd been in a new relationship for several years but still collected our son every weekend. My ex took his own life on my sons 9th birthday. My son had been waiting by the window for him to arrive with his birthday presents, he never came. I just wish the world would end I'm so tired. I grew up with two sisters & two brothers until I was thrown out in the snow aged 11. I was then taken into local authority care where I was abused even more. Approx Two years ago in England news headlines across the globe highlighted 1,400 children sexually abused... ( I was one of them) The Majority of girls abused were in local authority care. The figure is much higher more like 2,000 children, I feel consumed with pain & depression my life is killing me.. My Mother is likely a sociopath than a narcissist. She's evil to the core. You are such a courageous woman and I Thank you so much for providing validation that I wasn't crazy after all. Please Take Care X

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    1. Hello, Gillan. Thank you for taking the time to share some of your story. I am sorry for your pain.

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