I have noticed a strong similarity between what happens to the victim of a high conflict divorce and what happens when a person develops Stockholm Syndrome, as the consequence of the ongoing assaults of the opposing attorney in the case.
So what is Stockholm Syndrome?
Stockholm Syndrome was first identified in the early 70s to describe the puzzling reactions of four bank employees to their captors. On August 23, 1973, three women and one man were taken hostage and held for six days by two ex-convicts in a botched robbery attempt.
To the world's surprise, when the government attempted to rescue the hostages, they strongly resisted those efforts and instead defended their captors. Even several months after the hostages were saved by the police, they retained warm feelings for their captors, even though the bank robbers had threatened their lives. One of the hostages set up a defense fund for the robbers, and another hostage became engaged to one of them.
There is also the well known story of Patty Hurst who was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Even though she was tortured by the members of this group, eventually she joined their cause, picked up weapons and participated in bank robberies, and took on the name "Tania" to show her solidarity with her former captors.
Another similar case was that of Natascha Kampusch of Vienna, Austria. In 1998, at the age of ten, Natascha was kidnapped and held in a basement by her captor until she escaped in 2006 at the age of eighteen. Instead of condemning the man who abducted her, Natascha found good in the situation stating, "My youth was very different. But I was also spared a lot of things - I did not start smoking or drinking and I did not hang out in bad company."
Stockholm Syndrome is a bond of interdependence that develops between a captive and her captor when the captor threatens you, thinks it over, and then chooses not to kill you. The strong feelings of relief that arise from the fact that the captor chose not to kill his victim results in intense feelings of gratitude towards the captor. In addition, ongoing fear that the captor could change his mind leads the captive to avoid any expressions of anger or dissatisfaction towards his or her captive.
Victims of terrorist acts or hostage situations have been known to have visited their captors in jail, recommended defense counsel, started defense funds, as I have mentioned, as well as become engaged to their captors. And furthermore, they have refused to assist in prosecuting these criminals. Thus, it is not surprising that Patty Hurst ended up marrying one of the jailors at the prison where she resided.
According to experts, "the victims' need to survive in these hostage situations is stronger than their impulse to hate the person who has created the dilemma. The victim comes to see the captor as a 'good guy', even a savior, because he could have killed her, but he didn't.
There are four specific conditions which are ordinarily in place which lead to the development of Stockholm Syndrome. They are as follows:
1. A person threatens to kill another and is perceived as having the capability to do so.
2. The other cannot escape, so her or his life depends on the threatening person.
3. The threatened person is isolated from outsiders so that the only other perspective available to her or him is that of the threatening person.
4. The threatening person is perceived as showing some degree of kindness to the one being threatened.
Apparently, in a hostage situation like this, it only takes around 3 days for Stockholm Syndrome to develop if the people involved haven't known each other previously.
A person can become more vulnerable to Stockholm syndrome if denied food, water, or sleep, and if the captor acts in a manner that is capricious and unpredictable.
I believe that a very similar situation takes place in high conflict divorces, not only with the women who become victims of these divorces, but also in regard to their children.
To start, women in these divorces lose their financial base and find themselves one step away from being homeless--they can't afford to pay for basic necessities for themselves and their children.
They are then terrorized by their ex husbands as the trial court system allows these abusers to disobey court orders and coerce their victims. For example, the automatic orders allow abusive men to remain in the marital home which gives them access to their victims to further frighten and abuse them. So this reduces women to a condition of helplessness and total vulnerability.
Next, the opposing attorney hammers away at an alternative theory of the case with corrupt psychiatrists and GALs to support them. Such theories shift the blame onto the shoulder of the victim and totally restructure reality so that the truth becomes false and the false becomes truth.
All of a sudden, a person who never had a mental illness previously can find herself with diagnoses of personality disorders.
Financial wrongdoing gets swept under the rug, and a man who was embezzling from his firm or who had a reputation for abusing a previous wife, all of a sudden is born anew with a dazzling reputation for being a great guy.
The victim of this kind of restructuring of reality, the abused woman, will be told that if she doesn't go along with this newly refurbished image of her abuser, she will lose everything--her children, her financial security, her reputation--everything. Her life becomes an endless round of trial court hearings, meetings with attorneys and evaluators involved in the case, and she often becomes so upset all the time that she is unable to maintain relationships with her friends and mentors in the community.
Under these circumstances, most abused women become extremely compliant and grateful for whatever minimal favors they can get from their ex, the opposing attorney or the trial court, no matter how demeaning. Because they know that it could always get so much worse.
The punishments of trial court are swift and harsh. Between one moment and the next you can lose all access to your children. From one moment to the next your bank accounts can be completely wiped out. And this often goes on for years.
My guess is that if you really sat down with women in these circumstances, if you really listened to what they had to say, and heard the details of the so-called freely agreed upon settlements they signed at dissolution, you would recognize the signs of Stockholm Syndrome.
The same goes for the children who quickly learn that the only one with absolute power is the abuser. And if they want to survive, they better do what the abuser tells them to do, or else. Unfortunately, this often means that the abusive Father will demand the children reject their Mother. It is also worth noting that there's also a small percentage of good Fathers who are abused this way as well.
Unfortunately, what this teaches children is that what counts is not right and wrong, it is not the person who is the most loving that counts. What matters is who has the power and who can dominate and bully.