The Cleveland Captivity: Story of Survival & Motherly Protection - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

The Cleveland Captivity: Story of Survival & Motherly Protection

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It is important to understand the psychology of captivity. It is also imperative to understand that it is traumatic for us as humans to hear the story of Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus.— This horrible story of sexual violence and captivity of 3 young girls snatched from their neighborhoods and kept like prisoners makes us wonder how this could go on for so long and many of us might ask, "Why wouldn't they try to leave?"  We ask these questions to and to help us feel more in control of our own lives and distance ourselves from the horror of these innocent victims forced captivity.  Amanda Berry is the hero because something snapped in her whether it was simply the opportunity of time given by her captor or tension building to an unbearable point that triggered her survival instinct.  The fact that Amanda was also responsible for her daughter's welfare may be of great significance in her daring escape as well.  The drive of motherly protection is one that can push a human to do acts of non-human strength such as lift cars, run into burning buildings and in this case escape from a decade of forced captivity and horrific abuse.

The Stockholm Syndrome (named for a bank robbery in Stockholm in 1973) was actually a well-known psychological response to trauma known to clinicians long before its famous namesake. The Stockholm Syndrome explains the psychological bonding that can occur between captive and abuser. It also helps explain why people stay even if it seems they could physically escape the situation.

The emotional bonding with an abuser is actually a strategy for survival for victims of abuse and intimidation. Within the syndrome, there are four situations and conditions that are present that insure the victim's psychological bonding with the abuser:

1) The presence of a perceived threat to one's physical or psychological survival, and the belief that the abuser would carry out that threat
2) The presence of a perceived small act of kindness (even just relief from abuse) from the abuser to the victim
3) Isolation from perspectives other than those of the abuser
4) The real or perceived inability to escape the situation

When these four elements are at play with a victim of captivity — Like Amanda (her daughter), Michelle and Gina — they are put in the horrible position to survive physically through an emotional manner that causes huge psychological fallout. The range of psychological disorders these women may have developed include: dissociative disorders, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and personality disorders due to the length of time in captivity. 

For victims of captivity, the Stockholm Syndrome develops on an involuntary basis. Amanda, Michelle and Gina did not purposely invent this attitude. This develops as an attempt to exist and survive in a threatening and controlling environment and relationship. They were trying to survive. All three of these young women were abducted while still in the early stages of their own identity development.   They were stripped of all things familiar while physically and sexually abused for years.  Each of them was forming feelings and thoughts in order to cope with and survive the situation, and to do anything they could to lower her emotional and physical risks while in captivity.

As a clinician, I know the more dysfunctional and abusive the situation, the more dysfunctional the victim's adaptations may be to survive. Amanda, Michelle and Gina were trapped in a horrific situation and were simply trying to survive at all costs.  Given the recent revelations about the level of sadistic abuse, rape and forced abortions through starvation and violence we can sit in awe of the strength of these three women who were amazingly resilient, and adapted well enough to keep themselves alive and each other for over a decade.  The families of these women would do well to speak with other families such as the Dugards and the Smart Family who have dealt with the return from captivity experience.


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