Compliance and Denial

The first stage of the Stockholm Syndrome is compliance and denial. The abuser threatens the victim's survival. The victim is unable to escape and isolated from others. The victim then turns to the abuser for protection. When faced with a threat, human beings may freeze to protect themselves or deny that they are at risk. Either option tends to be safer than resisting someone or something with more power and with the ability to inflict harm. Denial is a normal defense mechanism that protects the person from being overwhelmed. The first response when a tragedy occurs is denial. The person can not absorb the information that an accident has occurred or a family member has died. The ability to face that reality is usually a gradual process. Denial is a temporary state. If it remains, its function is no longer protective, but it will maintain the person in a false reality.

Animals freeze when faced with a life-threatening predator. They may pretend to be dead, hoping that the predator will go away or leave them alone long enough for them to escape. Freezing is also a normal human response to trauma. All the attention and energy focuses on the threat. The victim becomes quiet and compliant. A common response during a traumatic event is to dissociate, often an automatic response to extreme pain or trauma, allowing the person to survive or endure the emotional and/or physical distress. Dissociation disrupts normal information processing and compartmentalizes traumatic memories.

If a person is a hostage, a battered woman, or an abused child, denial is a survival mechanism. However, it also keeps the victim from speaking or acting in a way to get out of the threatening situation. Kidnapped children and adults will remain with the kidnapper even when they have opportunity to escape. This phenomenon is useful in considering why children are loyal to perpetrators and do not tell about the abuse. The child victim may attach to the perpetrator and does not disclose the abuse, fearing the consequences of telling.


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