Stockholm Syndrome vs Trauma Bonding – The Hidden Truths

Both Stockholm Syndrome and Trauma bonding involve emotional ties that develop between a victim and their abuser, often blurring the lines between loyalty and entrapment.

  • While Stockholm Syndrome was first described in 1973 after a bank robbery in Stockholm, Trauma Bonding has its roots in long-term abusive relationships, making it a more pervasive issue.
  • Surprisingly, up to 8% of people held in a hostage situation develop Stockholm Syndrome, according to some studies. On the other hand, Trauma Bonding is harder to quantify but is believed to affect a significant portion of those in abusive relationships.
  • The FBI’s Hostage Barricade Database System shows that Stockholm Syndrome occurs in roughly 27% of kidnapping cases, highlighting its prevalence in high-stress, life-threatening situations.

Unlike Stockholm syndrome, which can develop over just a few days, trauma bonding often requires a longer time.

Read on to uncover the psychological mechanisms behind these and why you must differentiate between the two.

Stockholm Syndrome vs Trauma Bonding: Differences and Similarities

Stockholm-Syndrome-vs-Trauma-Bonding

Stockholm Syndrome and trauma bonding share some similarities and differences.

One key difference is that Stockholm Syndrome is often associated with specific events, such as hostage situations or kidnapping. Trauma bonding, on the other hand, can occur in any type of abusive relationship.

Another difference is that Stockholm Syndrome is often seen as a survival mechanism, while trauma bonding is seen as a response to ongoing abuse.

Victims of Stockholm Syndrome may bond with their abuser as a way to cope with the trauma of their situation, while victims of trauma bonding may bond with their abuser as a result of ongoing abuse.

Despite these differences, both Stockholm Syndrome and trauma bonding can make it difficult for victims to leave abusive relationships.

In both cases, victims may feel a sense of loyalty or attachment to their abuser, making it difficult to break free from the cycle of abuse.

Don’t delay recognizing the signs of both Stockholm Syndrome and trauma bonding and seek help if you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship.

With the right support, you can learn to break free from your abuser and heal from the trauma they have bonded you with in the past.

Narcissistic Abuse and Trauma Bonds & Stockholm Syndrome (3 Minutes or Less)

Defining The Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where a victim develops positive feelings towards their captor or abuser.

In this, the victim may empathize with and feel grateful for the small acts of kindness from their abuser, and even defend their abuser’s actions.

The term originated from a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, where hostages formed a positive bond with their captors.

Stockholm Syndrome is often seen in cases of kidnapping, hostage situations, and abuse.

Not surprisingly, it can be a survival mechanism.

  • First, it helps victims cope with the trauma of their situation, as they feel that being empathetic with the kidnapper’s cause grateful to their lenient gestures would invite less punishment.
  • Second, it gives the victim a ray of hope as they think that being compliant, sympathetic, and kind to their kidnapper can sway them into ultimately releasing the victim.

However, a positive and gentle response to the Stockholm syndrome victim can prove to be dangerous for the kidnapper, as the victim might only be faking empathy to encourage a drop of guard to attack back or escape.

Defining Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonding is similar to Stockholm Syndrome in that it involves a bond between a victim and their abuser. However, it is a broader term that can apply to any type of abusive relationship, not just those involving captivity or kidnapping.

Trauma bonding can whenever there’s an imbalance of power and a cycle of kindness and mistreatment in a relationship.

It binds the victim to their abuser with an intense emotional attachment that they don’t see or realize.

This attachment is often based on fear, as the victim may believe that leaving their abuser will result in severe consequences. The victim may also feel a sense of loyalty to their abuser, believing that they are the only person who truly understands them.

Trauma bonding can make it difficult for victims to leave abusive relationships, as they may feel that they are giving up a part of themselves by leaving their abuser.

And like the Stockholm syndrome, the trauma bonded victim can fake being trauma bonded to get their possessions out of the abuser’s clutches.

Sigmund Freud defined something similar to trauma bonding: “repetition compulsion” — the urge to repeat the same painful patterns we learned or were shown in childhood.

It is automatic and unconscious, and aims to fix the trauma.

It’s driven by a subconscious desire to resolve childhood trauma through re-creating the situation while believing they can handle it better this time.

For example, a victim of parental abuse can lead one to attract abusive partners, while unconsciuosly assuring themselves, “They can’t hurt me this time.”

Your daily reminder:

Trauma bonding can occur in any relationship, with the trauma being forgiven for the sake of glorifying love .

5 Common Reasons for Trauma Bonds + Abusive Relationships | Mental Health 101 | Kati Morton

Root Causes of Trauma Bonding and Stockholm Syndrome

Trauma bonding and Stockholm Syndrome are both caused by abusive relationships where there is an imbalance of power.

The abuser uses manipulation, fear, isolation, and inconsistent kindness to create a cycle of abuse that keeps the victim captive.

The victim may feel anxious and afraid, but they also feel a sense of connection and attachment to their abuser.

Both create a tangled web of feelings that can be hard to navigate and recover from, making it all the more important to understand and address.

Trauma bonding can also occur in other situations, such as prolonged heists and kidnappings, training prgrams, and cults.

The victims in both cases often unknowingly become dependent on their abuser and may justify or defend their actions.

In the first documented case of Stockholm Syndrome, 1973, the hostages developed positive feelings towards their captors and defended them against the police.

Psychiatrist Nils Bejerot coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome” to describe this phenomenon.

How a Botched Bank Heist Created ‘Stockholm Syndrome’

Psychological Response of Trauma Bonding and Stockholm Syndrome

Both trauma bonding and Stockholm Syndrome are coping mechanisms that the victim uses to survive in an unhealthy attachment.

The victim may experience a wide range of emotions, including fear, anxiety, compassion, sympathy, confusion, guilt, shame, and even a misplaced sense of loyalty towards their abuser.

In Stockholm Syndrome, the victim may develop a sense of loyalty towards their captor and may even rationalize their actions.

In trauma bonding, the victim may feel so attached to their abuser that may take an active stand to defend them against others.

This attachment can be difficult to break, even after the victim leaves the abusive relationship.

Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974. She later joined the group and participated in bank robberies.

In both cases, the victim may experience negative feelings towards themselves and their situation. They may feel trapped and powerless to leave the relationship.

Overall, trauma bonding and Stockholm Syndrome are complex psychological responses to abusive relationships.

Understanding the root causes and psychological responses can help victims and their loved ones to recognize the signs and seek help.

Identifying Trauma bonding and Stockholm Syndrome

Signs of Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological response that occurs when hostages or abuse victims bond with their captors or abusers. It is a coping mechanism that helps the victim survive in a threatening and isolated environment.

Some signs of Stockholm Syndrome include:

  • Defending the abuser or captor
  • Rationalizing the abuse or captivity
  • Justifying the abuser’s behavior
  • Developing positive feelings towards the abuser
  • Feeling compassion for the abuser
  • Feeling a connection or emotional attachment to the abuser
  • Blaming others for the abuser’s behavior
  • Feeling dependent on the abuser
  • Isolating oneself from friends and family
  • Developing anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Signs of Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonding, also known as abusive bonding, occurs when the victim of abuse forms an unhealthy attachment to the abuser. It is a psychological response to trauma and is similar to Stockholm Syndrome.

Some signs of trauma bonding include:

  • Feeling emotionally attached to the abuser
  • Feeling dependent on the abuser
  • Defending the abuser’s behavior
  • Justifying the abuse
  • Feeling anxious or inconsistent around the abuser
  • Feeling a sense of loyalty to the abuser
  • Feeling grateful for small acts of kindness from the abuser
  • Feeling like the abuser is the only one who understands or cares
  • Feeling like the abuser is the only one who can protect the victim
  • Feeling like the victim is responsible for the abuser’s behavior

Both Stockholm Syndrome and trauma bonding are unhealthy coping mechanisms that develop in abusive relationships.

Victims of abuse should seek help and support to break free from the cycle of abuse, heal from the effects of trauma, and regain their self-esteem, control, and independence.

Treatment and Recovery

People who have undegone Stockholm Syndrome or trauma bonding may find it challenging to leave an abusive relationship due to the emotional attachment and coping mechanisms they have developed.

However, with the right treatment and self-care strategies, recovery is possible.

How To Begin Healing Trauma Bonds

Therapeutic Approaches

Psychotherapy and counseling are common therapeutic approaches used to treat individuals who have experienced Stockholm Syndrome or trauma bonding.

These help the victims understand the psychological response to their captivity and unhealthy attachment to their abuser.

Therapists may use a variety of techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, to help individuals identify and challenge negative thoughts and behaviors.

They may also use trauma-focused therapy to address any underlying trauma that may have contributed to the development of Stockholm Syndrome or trauma bonding.

In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage symptoms of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Self-Care Strategies

Self-care strategies can also be used to support recovery from Stockholm Syndrome or trauma bonding.

Some self-care strategies are:

  • Building a social support network: This can include friends, family, or support groups. Having a support network can help individuals feel less isolated and provide a sense of connection and compassion.
  • Improving self-esteem: Individuals who have experienced Stockholm Syndrome or trauma bonding may have low self-esteem. Practicing gratitude, setting boundaries, and engaging in activities that bring joy can help improve self-esteem.
  • Developing healthy coping mechanisms: Individuals who have experienced Stockholm Syndrome or trauma bonding may have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as justifying or defending their abuser’s behavior. Coping mechanisms, like mindfulness and exercise, can help victims manage negative feelings and reduce anxiety.

Post-abuse recovery always takes time and patience. This should be kept in mind while seeking a qualified mental health professional.

FAQs

What are the signs of trauma bonding?

Some signs of trauma bonding include feeling a sense of loyalty or obligation to the abuser, justifying or excusing their abusive behavior, and feeling unable to leave the relationship despite the abuse.

Victims may also experience intense feelings of love and affection towards their abuser, and may feel as if they cannot live without them.

What is the difference between trauma bonding and love?

While trauma bonding can feel like love, it is not the same thing. Love is built on mutual respect, trust, and care for one another. Trauma bonding is built on fear, manipulation, and control.

In a healthy relationship, both partners are able to communicate their needs and feelings openly and without fear of retaliation. In a trauma bond, the victim is often afraid to speak up or express their needs out of fear of angering the abuser.

Can Stockholm Syndrome be considered a form of trauma bonding?

Yes, Stockholm Syndrome is a form of trauma bonding. It occurs when a victim develops positive feelings towards their captor or abuser as a means of survival.

While Stockholm Syndrome was originally identified in cases of kidnapping and hostage-taking, it is now recognized as a phenomenon that can occur in any abusive relationship.

What are some examples of trauma bonding?

Some examples of trauma bonding include a victim feeling as if they cannot leave their abuser because they have nowhere else to go, or feeling as if they are responsible for their abuser’s behavior.

Victims may also feel a sense of loyalty or obligation to their abuser, or may justify their abusive behavior as a means of coping.

How can someone break a trauma bond?

Breaking a trauma bond can be a difficult and complex process, but it is possible with the right support and resources.

It is often necessary for the victims to seek help from a trained therapist or counselor who can provide guidance and support throughout the healing process.

Victims may join a support group for survivors of abuse, or from seek out abuse recovery helplines or online forums.

Are there any similarities between trauma bonding and PTSD?

There are some similarities between trauma bonding and PTSD. Both can result from experiencing a traumatic event, and both can cause significant emotional distress and difficulty functioning in daily life.

However, trauma bonding specifically refers to the emotional attachment that can develop between a victim and their abuser, while PTSD refers to the range of symptoms that can occur after a traumatic event that may not have an abuser as the main perpetrator (like am earthqauke or a flood).

Final Words

Most authors claim, and rightly so, that trauma bonding occurs mainly when a victim develops an emotional attachment to their abuser.

However, the victim may also grow a craving for physically bonding with their abuser, because their specific type of physical compatibility, intimate mannerisms, or climactic fulfilment.

This specific phenomenon has created a space for fiction in the genre of abuse fantasy.

They portray abusive and controlling behavior as an expression of love. Abuse gets “romanticized” into a desirable act that the reader is expected to root for and idealize.

Moreover, the victim is often shown as loving or forgiving for sticking with or taking back an abusive partner.

In my opinion, these are sick books. Heed this advice by Estrella Ramirez:

“Don’t paint a picture of a toxic relationship and sell it as romance.”


Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher.

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When it comes to mental well-being, you don't have to do it alone. Therapists can help you work through your trauma triggers and emotional patterns. Reaching out to a professional to feel better is a positive choice.