Why do we keep going back to the people who hurt us? Why does a hurt and exploited intern return for a 2nd year? Why does a dismissed intern return for another shot at graduating?
Sometimes, the answer is “Stockholm Syndrome.” The term was coined when hostages in a Stockholm bank robbery bonded so deeply with their captors that they were actually angry at being rescued. Although threatened with death, the hostages supported the captors and after 10 years in prison, 2 of the hostages married 2 of the captors in a double wedding attended by many of the former hostages.
I recently came across a great discussion of this concept in the book The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitative Relationships by Patrick Carnes. For many reasons, we can bond deeply with those who hurt us – and this addictive bond keeps us entrapped in the cycles of abuse, often with a smile on their face.
In terms of the Honor Academy, we sometimes see this wheninterns that were clearly abused by Teen Mania continue to speak its praises. I can’t tell you how many times alumni have profusely praised their Teen Mania experience – and yet when I ask some deeper questions about what they went through, they recount tales of humiliation and abuse.
An apt description of these bonds via Caught in the Cogs:
These victims develop compassion and loyalty to their abusers, whether that abuse be physical, psychological, emotional, verbal, or a combination thereof. They tend to see the lack of abuse or periods between abuse as kindness, as proof of their abuser’s humanity.
While this might seem counterintuitive, its a common phenomenon in abusive relationships. In fact, I think interns might be more subject to this than the average victim because their entire life is under the subjection of Teen Mania. At the end of the day, they can’t go home to their own safe space. Teen Mania is their entire reality and in order to cope with that reality, denial is often employed:
The use of denial and distancing oneself from the abuse are forms of what is called cognitive dissonance. In abusive relationships this means that what is happening to the victim is so horrible, so far removed from their thoughts and expectations of the world, that it is “dissonant” or “out of tune” or “at odds” with their pre-existing expectations and reality. Since the victim feels powerless to change the situation, they rely on emotional strategies to try to make it less dissonant, to try to somehow make it fit. To cope with the contradicting behaviors of the abuser, and to survive the abuse, the person literally has to change how they perceive reality. Studies also show a person is more loyal and committed to a person or situation that is difficult, uncomfortable, or even humiliating, and the more the victim has invested in the relationship, the more they need to justify their position.
Trauma bonding makes it easier for a victim to survive within the relationship, but it severely undermines the victims self-structures, undermining their ability to accurately evaluate danger, and impairs their ability to perceive of alternatives to the situation.
If you think you might still have a betrayal bond with someone, here is an online test to help gauge the level of your symptoms. (Of course, this is no substitute for seeing a therapist for a professional diagnosis.) A few sample questions that may be relevant to former interns:
– Do you continue to be a “team” member when obviously things are becoming destructive?
– Do you find that others are horrified by something that has happened to you and you are not?
– Have you kept damaging secrets about exploitation or abuse?
– When there is a constant pattern of non-performance in a relationship, do you continue to expect them to follow through anyway?
– Do you find you cannot detach from someone even though you do not trust, like or care for the person?
– Do you find yourself missing a relationship even to the point of nostalgia and longing, that was so awful it almost destroyed you?
– Do you keep secret someone’s destructive behavior because of all of the good they have done or the importance of their position or career?