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When You Develop Stockholm Syndrome With an Abusive Parent

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“An abused person who has developed Stockholm Syndrome unconsciously bonds with the abuser as a survival strategy. If the family dysfunction is so severe that the victim is in the abuser’s absolute power, the child can turn psychologically and emotionally for rescue and relief only to the tormentor, which makes for an intense need to see the torturer as good and right and to identify with the torturer.” — Patricia L. Paddison MD

In the summer of 2008, I was extremely ill with my Complex-PTSD and DID (dissociative identity disorder). After four years with my therapist, I had finally been honest about my past abuse. I was really struggling and could not see a reasonable way out of my predicament.

See, two and a half years prior, in 2005, I had a baby girl. She was the most important being in my life. Before her birth I had reconciled somewhat with my parents who had abused me as child.

In summer 2008 I began to have flashbacks and nightmares about my childhood. I assume this was happening because my daughter was becoming the age I remember being abused. I told my therapist all about this. She insisted I separate from my parents for my own mental health and well-being and safety of my child. I refused. I tried to explain to her that I could not. That I was attached to them and that my life would end if I tried to end our relationship.

Facing Reality

I confided in the therapist that my parents were coming for Christmas in a few months. She gave me an ultimatum: you either cancel their trip or I will be forced to call Child Protective Services. I was stunned. She did not understand that I could not tell them no. That I existed because of them. How could I betray them? She made it clear that I needed to go to the inpatient hospital to sort this all out. She stated that I needed to come back ready to cut off all contact with my parents or I could not continue to raise my child.

The Revelations

I am still not sure why I kept seeing my therapist. I guess some part of me knew this was the right thing to do.

November 2008

In-Patient Hospital

Journal Entry, November 2, 2008

Breaking up with Parents what would that mean?

Would it mean death? There is some fear of that but that is seeming more irrational or a distortion as the days go on. I want to care for them and make it better or safe, but I cannot fix what I cannot control, and I cannot control them. I can only control me. They can hurt me and do the same to my child. I know this to be true. So, what does this mean?

What would I lose? No more holidays, relationship with mom, close to dad, family, calls to discuss my daughter’s milestones, visitors, financial back-up, peace in the family, a chance for a break, victory (I win the affection?).

What I would gain? Safety, sanity, internal peace, family of choice, safety for my daughter.

Seeking Freedom From the Bonds of Abuse

It was decided I would confront my mother and tell her that we would no longer have a relationship. This really put me into downward spiral. I was to never communicate with my parents or brother again, in my life. I knew this would break my mother’s heart. How could I do this to her? She would hate me. She would hate that I was taking her grandchild away from her. How was I going to go through life without parents, how would I explain this to others? Where was I going to go for Christmas and Thanksgiving?

After some thought, the hospital doctor decided I was not stable enough to confront my mother face to face or even on the phone. She felt I would cower to my mother’s pressure and would take steps to please her once again. We decided on sending an e-mail instead. This seemed so callous to me, but I could think of no other way. A letter could get lost in the mail. I would have no idea if it got read.

I was discharged on November 14, 2008. I had to promise to e-mail my parents that evening from home and blind copy my therapist and hospital doctor. I had to promise under no circumstance was I to ever have contact with my parents again.

Emailed November 14, 2008 at 9:00 p.m. (6:00 p.m. my parents’ time)

To: Mom

Bcc: Therapist and Doctor

Re: Separation

Mom and Dad

I have come to realize that the ongoing contact with you is not in the best interest of myself and my daughter due to the issues previously discussed. I am insisting that we no longer communicate which includes no contact with me or my daughter a via e-mail, mail and phone communication.

(I hit send.)

I just sat in my room and cried. I had done it. I had saved the life of my daughter. Why was I so sad? Why did I feel my death was impending?

Seeking Survival

The impact of survival mode can lead a victim to attach to gain some sense of control. So the child reserves anger for those outside of the abusive environment. The child is stuck in an abusive loop with no way out. She sees her only choice is to attach to remain relatively safe in her mind. The child must find a way to escape and see themselves as independent of the abuser and regain self-esteem, assurance and a sense of safety before the bond can truly be broken and the healing can begin.

When I address my perpetrators’ hold over me, I become suicidal. So, I defend against addressing it. Thinking of the perpetrator as bad or evil ends up with me having feelings of abandonment, loss, isolation and even feelings of impending death. I often feel if I do not reattach, I will die.

This sums up how I feel about ending the relationship with my parents. I feel a part of me has died and that they will kill me for separating from them. I have done the ultimate bad deed and walked away from their control and taken my daughter along.

No Longer the Victim

They were a cult and I was their victim. I am trying to live free now. I still think of them often. I worry they are going to get me again and that I will fall back under their spell. They have been stalking me for the past 12 years, so I live in fear they are just going to show up as they have many times before. I know that I must move forward with my life and break free of their bonds. Child abuse was one of the hardest things I lived through, but I am learning to survive and am aiming to be a thriver.

You too can break the bonds of negative attachment. There is peace for your heart,
I promise. You are lovable.  You are worthy. They no longer control you. You are in control.

Still I Rise,


Getty image via nadia_bormotova

Originally published: January 28, 2021
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