Saturday, September 19, 2009

Stockholm Syndrome

When you’re in the shit, you can’t really see straight. I mean, who can blame you? You’re in shit.

Let me explain.

I began revealing more and more about my relationship to my bestie one day, telling her some of the crazy shit I went through in the years with my ex. I told her about the things that now, for the life of me, I can’t believe that I tolerated. I was telling her all this and she kept asking me, “But why?! Didn’t you know that those things were not okay? How did you put up with it? What did you tell yourself?” I kept saying, “I don’t know, I just did… I don’t know why… I loved him, I guess, I just --” She stopped me short, her eyes got wide and wild, and she started to laugh. She yelled out, “YOU WERE IN THE SHIT!”

There’s this scene in Rushmore.

Max Fischer: So you were in Vietnam, if I'm not mistaken?
Herman Blume: Yeah
Max Fischer: Were you in the shit?
Herman Blume: Yeah, I was in the shit.
Remembering this scene, we both started laughing uncontrollably. The only way to explain why I convinced myself that everything was okay when it most certainly was not, was that... well… I was in the shit. So now when I say something like, “I can’t believe it, I thought he was my partner.” OR, “Why did I think I could live that way?!” My bestie responds, stone cold, “You were in the shit, my friend.”

And this is the truth. I was immersed in the relationship. I was in it, fully. Fueled by love and hope, I believed things were okay when they weren't and ignored so much of what was wrong.

When I think about it. It makes me think of one thing, Stockholm Syndrome. Remember millionaire heiress Patty Hearst, great-granddaughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst? She was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army in the 70s. Originally intended to be held for ransom, she wound up identifying with her captors, joining their army, and found herself robbing a bank while wielding a semi-automatic firearm.

When a kidnap victim identifies with their captor it's called Stockholm Syndrome. One way to explain the phenomenon is to pin it on cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance explains how and why someone can change their ideas and opinions to support a situation that does not appear to be healthy, positive, or safe. When you’re in a situation that you know, deep down, is bad for you, you sometimes don’t want to admit it. Instead, you attempt do anything just so you can to live with it, you turn a blind eye.

Now, I'm not saying my ex was a member of a radical guerrilla army or anything. And he certainly was not abusive in any way. And I do realize that this theory of cognitive dissonance is a way to explain why women stay in abusive relationships and that’s a very serious issue. I’m only using this theory to try and help me understand how I stayed in a relationship that didn’t work for me for as long as I did.

So why did I stay?

What happens when you invest all your time and love into someone? When you love them and only want to see the best in them -- breaking up doesn’t seem like an option. So you ignore the bad and eventually convince yourself that it’s okay to stay. You tolerate things that you would never have tolerated before. And you stay and get further and further immersed in the shit, so much so that you can’t see what’s going on.

When Patty Hearst was on trail, her defense was Stockholm Syndrome – she was only under the spell of the liberation army for 2 months. So what the fuck happens to you when you're with someone for NINE years?

What happens between falling in love and breaking up? Is it Stockholm Syndrome?

Here's how it happened to me...

When I fell in love, I couldn't believe my luck. I didn't think I would ever find someone who seemed so perfect for me. That was what made it so difficult when things started to take a turn. I couldn’t face it. There was no way this man I loved could be wrong for me. And those feelings of love and luck mixed in with holding on to what a truly sweet, loving, and caring person he was (right until the end) helped me maintain the illusion that everything was alright even through the toughest times.

There were times when I would think to myself: It's okay that he doesn’t appear to give a fuck that after four long years of hard work I finally earned my BFA and working full-time while doing it. It’s okay that he dismisses my emotions with a smile and a --"Shhh… you’re not really angry. You’re fine." It's okay that every conversation about our future was stopped short with a --"Don’t worry, it’ll all work out somehow." --and a pat on the head. Yes, all of this was fine, perfectly normal stuff.

But it wasn’t all fine, perfectly normal stuff. The truth was that we were wrong for each other and it was getting harder and harder to dismiss that. Despite the love that was between us, something wasn’t right. Something snapped in me and a cloudy, fuzzy feeling started to seep in -- it was getting harder to ignore myself and my instinct, the voice inside me that said, “You don’t have to put up with this, you deserve more.” And when that voice got so loud I couldn’t drown it out, I began thinking of the worst possible thing that could happen; the end game, the break up. And I have to say here and now, that the fear that came after I said, out loud, that I thought it was over, and right before actually leaving, was much harder than what followed. Snapping myself out of this Stockholm Syndrome was the hardest thing I ever did, but it was crucial. Because when you get untangled and get out, something happens -- you can see again.

I was in the shit.

And now I’m not.

So Dear Followers of my humble blog, what was your Stockholm Syndrome? What did you think was totally normal when you were with your significant other that after you left you thought to yourself, “How the fuck did I let that happen?” I'd love to know because I know I'm not alone.


  1. I think this is GREAT! I read the first version the other day (on Google Reader, and was so confused and broken hearted when I couldn't find it on the site to forward on to my friends. haha)

    I recently came out of a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship of about a year. And it wasn't until the other day, when I was explaining some of what went on to a friend, out-loud, that I finally saw how naive I was. Before meeting this guy I would have, and never did, tolerate that kinda of behavior. I knew I deserved more, but I saw it as a result of his difficult ad frustrating experiences in life, and as a compromise for the beauty he introduced me to.

    And some of this I still to believe, and appreciate him for, but at the same time, now I'm actually happy... day in and day out... happy!!! And maybe I'm overlooking some deeper meaning of life that he thinks I should be in tune to, but I'm living my life again instead of dwelling on it...

    Let's give ourselves a pat on the back to welcome us back to independent happiness!!

  2. I came across your blog from a friend of a friend. That person knew I needed more than just my backbone to help me through.

    It's been a year and a half since I broke up with the love I once knew of over six years. There were a lot of things that I put up which eventually made me position myself outside of my body and to take a new perspective as if this was happening to one of my friends. I would have told them to do what I actually did, end it.

    Love has a strange way of clouding things. After I broke it off, I felt liberated, and my anger of what I had put up with for so long coasted me through the next couple of months. What I didn't realize is what would happen to me once he started to reject me.

    But I had to do it, I had to end it because the voice inside was getting stronger. I was seeing my best friends in fun/healthy relationships and having things that I didn't have and they were only dating for months, not years. The cocaine addiction is something that I found out afterwards as well. I knew it was bad when I would get up for work and he still wouldn't be home. It's hard enough keeping a relationship togehter, but when you're goal-oriented and he just wants to be a bartendar and do coke all the time...well, that voice gets stronger...

    I struggle with it to this day because I know we had something extremely special. It was noticed by others and it was what made me smile everyday. I know though that if we were together now, I would still have that voice whispering in the background. "You deserve better."

    So thank you for your words, they are great to hear when I don't have anyone who can relate like this.

  3. Dear E,

    I loved your comment! I was so happy to hear from you. (Sorry about the post coming down. I keep rewriting my posts these days, just cant seem to get them right the first time.)

    I understand what you mean. When you said after you told a friend about the reality of the relationship, you saw yourself as naive, I totally got that. Once I started really talking about my relationship out loud, I saw myself so differently. I just wrote a post about it actually. It's so crazy to look back now at the person I was.

    Well it sounds like you're doing really well. I'm so happy for you. I loved your phrase "independent happiness." It's so fitting! Way to go us!

  4. Dear "Anonymous",

    Thank you for reading my little blog. I'm really glad you feel as if you can connect to it. I started this because I wanted to connect with other people going through something similar. When I started going through this, it felt like such a unique thing but the more I hear from other people, I can see that I'm really not alone in this and thats really comforting.

    It struck a cord with me when you said you were seeing your friends in fun/healthy relationships and having things that you didn't have. I felt it too and wondered why my relationship was so different. Well, it was different because we were wrong for each other -- yet loved each other too. What a weird paradox. And for me that was the thing that conflicted in my head for so long.

    And the thing is, I know you did have something special, like you said, but that doesn't mean you didn't deserve better. You know? And think thats a really hard thing to reconcile.

    Thanks again for reading this and please keep sharing what you're going through. Its really encouraging to know i'm not alone too.

  5. I can't remember how I found your blog, le bonheur, but now I have and I can't stop reading.

    All that you're saying... I'm going through this now. I had the "Stockholme Syndrome" for eight years, and am still married to this man (though I do not want to be). We have children together.

    Over the years, he has hurt me in more ways than I can even imagine. A few months into our marriage, he had a long and passionate affair with a "working girl" who'd pretended to be my friend. I was pregnant with our daughter at the time. I knew about it for weeks before I confronted him, hoping and praying that he would still want to stay with me because I was so scared he'd leave me alone again - no job, no money, and a single parent again.

    Somehow, we did make it through but his behaviour never changed. He's always been selfish, thinking about himself - his wants and desires - before anything or anyone else.

    Then almost two months ago, I finally broke and realised that I don't have to put up with this anymore. I don't have to be with him, and certainly don't want to.

    But now the tables have turned. I told him that I don't want to be with him anymore. And now HE has the syndrome. He simply can't accept that I don't feel the same way for him anymore. He begs me to give him yet another chance to make things right. At any point when I'm not actually saying to him that I don't want to continue this relationship, he believes we have a chance.

    My syndrome-feelings must have projected to him that I wouldn't leave him, no matter what. So he took me for granted, right until the point when I broke.

    Your words here, so heartfelt and brave... they remind me of all that I put up with, and now also the way he must be feeling right now.

    I know that I can get over this, and I hope that one day he will too. I hope that one day he will understand all the things which made us "not right for each other", and stop looking back through those rose-tinted lenses.

    Perhaps some part of me does still love him, though I know we can never be happy together. Not unless I am prepared to be a stranger to myself. I must still care somehow because I don't want him to go through all this hurt and come out the other end.

    What you're doing here - writing about your feelings with such truth and sincerity - is magical and totally brave. I know you will be fine, you'll be happy and content and understand that in leaving you truly did do the right thing for you.

    I hope that soon I'll have the strength to leave with my children, to make a fresh start again and give myself (and my husband) the chance to heal.

    Thank you for writing here. It's a comfort for many more of us in this situation to know we are not alone.

  6. Dear Amanda,
    How brave of you to say those things out loud(i.e. write them in a blog comment). My mother was married to my father for 11 years with 6 and 1 year old children when she had had enough of being with an alcoholic who didn't contribute anything to our lives. She knew she would be better off alone than with a man that made her miserable.

    Amanda, as I mom myself, I know how hard it can be to deal with kids and life at the same time. It seems like the author of this blog spends a considerable amount of time getting reaquainted with herself and that is what is helping her get through this rough time. You can do the same thing. Spend time discovering who you and your children really are. Without having to shut out parts of your world.

    Good luck, Amanda, and please check back here soon to let us who follow know how you are doing.

    All the best,

  7. Amanda,

    Allow me to suggest you read a book called _The Passion Trap_ by Dean Delis. It describes exactly the kind of scenario you're talking about; where one person is dependent upon the relationship, then finally is able to break free, only to find the previously "stronger" partner becoming the dependent one. The book was recommended to me by my therapist, because I was (am) in a similar situation. Like you, my wife and I have got young children to consider. And, like you, I was the "dependent" one, and am only now working up the courage to break out.

    Best of success to you, Amanda. And, as has been said by others, thank you le bonheur for this excellent post. I'm linking to it on my own blog, because it feels so relevant to my own situation.



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