Stockholm Syndrome & Emotional Abuse – Part II

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[cn/tw: emotional abuse, psychological abuse, just… all the abuse, really]

This is Part II of a 2 part series on Stockholm Syndrome & Emotional Abuse. Find Part I here. Find the Part I twitter thread here and the Part II twitter thread here.

If you’ve read the first part on Stockholm Syndrome, you may have recognized a few things. After I wrote the first thread several people contacted me asking how they could help a friend or family member. I hope some of these things may answer those questions for you.

First of all, you cannot pop the balloon. I’m sorry. You will not snap them out of it, you will not make them see the light, you will not fix it in one conversation. But you can, over time, loosen the knot and let some air out. Here’s how.

Be there.

Just be a nag and get time alone with them regularly. Go for coffee, go for a walk, go to a movie, text them, chat, send them funny memes or cute cat videos or whatever they like. Be present.

It will feel non-reciprocal and that’s okay. They don’t need to respond all the time, they don’t owe you that, but these little things remind them that you are always there. Isolation is the biggest hurdle in abusive situations, just refuse to let them be isolated.

Second, do not confront the abuser. Don’t do anything to upset the abuser. Do not speak poorly of the abuser to them. If they think you’re biased against their partner then they won’t open up to you. They’ll think you don’t understand and their abuser will convince them to push you away.

Third, if they open up to you about something that happened, there are two important things you can do:

  1. Validate their feelings and their initial experience of it, the things they say before they rationalize it. This is important. They’re being gaslit all the time and need to know they’re not crazy.
  2. Model healthy relationships. Tell them how you or a “friend” dealt with the same subject, you want to plant seeds that this is not normal and there are other ways to live.

Don’t directly tell them they’re being abused.

You’re playing tug of war with their abuser over them, if you say anything negative about their abuser they will lash out in fear. Victims often pay the price for what their friends and family say, don’t give the abuser ammunition.

If the victim starts to reach out to you while things are bad, this is good! Be available! Be the person who will drop anything to help them. If you get a text or a call while they’re in crisis here are things you can ask them:

  • “Are you safe?”
  • “Are you at home?”
  • and “Are you alone?”

If they’re alone, and only if they are alone, escalate your conversation to the next point of connection.

If they’re texting you, call them. Or, if they call you, say you’re coming over and go to them. They’re starting to see you as a lifeline and you want to respond when they tug on that rope with more care and love than they expected. You want them to know that you’ll show up for them and you won’t judge them. You’re letting air out of the balloon. And, this is the point when you can start talking about what’s normal and what’s not. Don’t push them to commit to leaving, tell them that you support them no matter what they choose, but you can start to explicitly say “this is not normal.”

If they’re not alone ask them if you can do anything for them using yes or no questions. “Do you need me to call your sister? You want me to come pick you up? Do you need a place to stay? Do you want me to call the police?” If they say no, commit to getting time alone ASAP.

It takes 7-10 tries for a victim to fully leave an abusive relationship.

Yes, even after they know they’re being abused. When the abuser sees how close you are they’re going to double down their efforts to isolate the victim from you.

It’s normal if after this incident the victim goes quiet around you, go back to pics and cat videos. Be a nag.

Most importantly, don’t give up on them.

I know it’s frustrating, but you’re making progress, I promise.

If you can, encourage your friend to take up a social activity/hobby that will expose them to other people in normal relationships. Join a fun indoor soccer league, a choir, a cookie exchange, anything.

The victim will try to hide from you out of guilt and shame, a lot of it because they are mentally and emotionally exhausted and feel that they can’t give you the support and friendship that you give them. Make sure you’re filling your tank in other ways, and just keep reassuring them that this is what friends do. Just keep being there for them, and spring into action when they tug the lifeline.

Don’t say negative things about the abuser, they’ll use it against you. They’ll say that you’re jealous and trying to sabotage the relationship and all kinds of twisted shit. Be a secret agent.

Your friend is a victim. They’re being brainwashed and manipulated. They’re being gaslit and abused. What the abuser wants more than anything is for you to give up on them.

Don’t.

If any of this is ringing for you and you want to do more research on this, open an incognito tab on your phone or computer and please do some research into abusive relationships. Call your national domestic violence hotline, they often have resources for friends and family as well.

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