In 2009, seven years after her abduction, Elizabeth Smart testified that the man who kidnapped her would rape her three or four times a day, keep her tied up with a cable around her leg, and threaten to kill her if she tried to escape.
When she was abducted in 2002 she was only 14 years old and was held in captivity for 9 months. The question in everyone’s mind after she was found and the event publicized on national television was, “Why didn’t she try to escape?”
Elizabeth later explained her abductors made her feel so worthless that she barely wanted to be rescued. That she felt afraid that even if she did escape they would not love her anymore. And as a rape victim it made her reluctant to leave her captors because of her religious upbringing and their views on “purity.”
Psychologist have coined the term Stockholm Syndrome to describe when victims of abuse, neglect and kidnapping begin to have emotional bonds, feelings, or sympathy for their tormentors.
Many of us wonder “How’s that even possible? If that was me, there’s no way that could happen. I’d never have feelings for someone or something terrible that was happening to me!”
But I think most of us have Stockholm Syndrome and don’t even realize it.
One of the things I enjoy most on my off days is watching movies and snacking. I can fall into a slump of watching TV for hours while making numerous trips to the refrigerator. To give you perspective on my “snacking habits” I’ll readily admit I’m a big fan of Doritos Cool Ranch chips and I even like to mix them up with ice cream (preferably vanilla). Sometimes I even order up a pizza to go along with it. Other times I’ll run to the gas station and grab donuts and a Dr. Pepper while continuing my snacking binge. Sure, a day of this won’t harm me (maybe) but imagine years of developing this habit.
Eventually it would control me. Eventually my feelings of happiness or control would be tied to getting my fix of Doritos and Ice Cream and even though it was killing me, the emotional bond would keep me attached.
Over the years I’ve met numerous people that have shared their struggles with me –abuse, drugs, cutting, porn – and I’m used to hearing the same words from each of them: “I can’t stop doing it. I’m not strong enough to stop.”
I’ve even said those words myself. And in saying those words I’m admitting defeat. That I’ve already lost the battle. Like Elizabeth Smart, I’ve given up on being rescued because I feel worthless and I’ve developed emotions and feelings for my struggle or addiction no matter how damaging it is to me. And we say, “Why bother? Why would I want to escape?” And those emotional bonds keep us trapped in a prison just like a Stockholm Syndrome victim.
So how are we to fix ourselves if we are the one who’s broken? Maybe it’s that we don’t have the will power or the strength to face our problem. Maybe we aren’t willing to dig deep into the root of the problem, or as many of us feel, “We aren’t strong enough.” It’s not true. You are strong enough. And that first courageous step is realizing we’ve been kidnapped. That we’re being tormented and it’s time to escape. That this environment doesn’t have to be “home.” That we need a way out and to act now.
But you’re going to need help.
Due to a hyper-vigilant biker who recognized Elizabeth Smart from America’s Most Wanted she was able to break free and be rescued. But she didn’t just get over her abduction and begin living a chipper life. She had help. From friends, family, community and therapists. Today she is an advocate for missing persons and involved in the fight against human trafficking. She has now repurposed her pain into something beautiful.
Many of may not be strong enough to kick something cold turkey, so it’s going to take other people to walk beside us and help us out of the harmful prisons we’ve built for ourselves. Sharing our pain may be raw and vulnerable and we’ve developed feelings towards it and we’re afraid we’ll get hurt.
But a little pain for a short period of time outweighs a lifetime spent serving your life’s captor.