It’s taken more than a few attempts for me to make sense of Stockholm Syndrome, a twisted dynamic where a hostage bonds with his or her captor (due to skewed power dynamics and small tokens of kindness given to the hostage / child / abused person).
It’s taken many more attempts to get to the other side of it and help others do the same. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. After all, it’s illogical for a hostage to fall in love with or bond with their captor. But in the right context, it makes complete sense. Here’s the gist of breaking the Stockholm Syndrome bond for good – in the form of a story.
My good friend, “Marlo” was raised by siblings 20+ years older than himself. One of the siblings has narcissistic personality disorder and the other has a sociopathic character disorder. Both of them are covert which means the surrounding society sees them in a good light. Both of Marlo’s parents loved him. His dad was an alcoholic. Mom did her best but needless to say, she had her own battles to fight. Yes, oy vey. Anyhoo, Marlo has a beautiful family of his own. He has tremendous strengths, resilience and loyalty (like any co-narcissist) but he was having trouble with:
- letting go of familial abusers who continue to act out in ways that would cause irreparable damage if allowed to continue
- attracting new abusers who were showing up at work (in leadership positions, which for him was a perfect vibrational match to the old familiar sibling relationships – “like attracts like”)
- letting go of the new abusers (at work) without feeling guilty
He had recently taken strategic action by going “no contact” with “Brad,” a toxic leader in his workplace. Brad had behaved unethically (business-wise) with some of Marlo’s team members.
Marlo’s question to me was, “Do I contact Brad and explain why I’m no longer going to work with him and why my team members are no longer going to engage with him?” Oh, the subtleties of those toxic ties that bind us. Boy, they can be as strong as a conditioned elephant who is tethered to a small chair by a small rope.
I knew logic wasn’t powerful enough to break the old familiar thinking so we aimed straight for the toxic bond. For those of you who aren’t familiar, one of the best techniques to break toxic bonds is recognizing that you’re dealing with a flashback. Healing emotional flashbacks can be found in Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) literature. One of the first steps in the C-PTSD healing process is telling yourself, “I am safe now.” (To read all of the steps, click the link and scroll down to the comment area.)
Marlo was already familiar with the steps to healing C-PTSD . He was already familiar with tuning in to the younger self for experiencing breakthroughs which had freed him in the past. He allowed his large self speak to his young self. This young self completely and totally relied on his older siblings. This young self loved and adored them and trusted them with his whole life.
Then Marlo imagined his large, adult self saying to his young self: You are safe now. I’ve got your back. You can trust me. You can let go of the siblings. You are with me. I am with you. You are safe now. I’ve got you. You are safe now.
He repeated those words to himself and allowed them to integrate, to be embodied. His body physically made some adjustments and his energy shifted. I waited and watched. Then he opened his eyes and said, “I feel completely different.” I asked him to describe his experience. He said, “You know those Russian dolls that fit into one another, you know how there’s a tiny one and a big one?” I nodded my head and he continued, “Well, I was the tiny one. And now I’m the big one. I feel full. Complete. Whole.”
O Yeah. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. I asked, “Now, what are your thoughts about contacting Brad to explain your actions?” He replied with absolute clarity, “Absolutely not.” By this time, I wanted to hand him an “I Don’t Think So!” award because he had broken the toxic bond. He will probably have to repeat this a few more times, but now he knows what breaking the bond feels like and he knows how to do it. He also knows what wholeness feels like, at a whole new level.
From this centered place of wholeness, completion and fullness, he will go forward and captain his ship with more presence, power, ease and joy. Less drama. More success. Less toxicity. More healthy bonding.
I hope this has shed some light on Stockholm Syndrome for you and the healing process that taking your power back usually entails. I believe in you. You got this! We got this! Cheers to healthy bonding, well-placed loyalty and excellence in leadership!