Coping with Fear and Anger

The second stage of the Stockholm Syndrome is coping with fear and anger. The initial response to overwhelming threat is to be passive - to freeze in fear and to be numb with shock. In that state, with the focus on whatever is threatening, other emotions are denied and suppressed. When fear and anger replace this frozen state, the intensity of emotion is painful. This then increases the sense of powerlessness and helplessness the victim feels. Victims suppress feelings of danger, terror, and rage. By denying these feelings, the victim is able to bond with the abuser. To survive, the victim also suppresses his or her own needs and may become hypervigilant to the needs of the abuser, trying to please the abuser, taking his perspective and being hypersensitive to his feelings. The more the victim suppresses emotions and attempts to meet the abuser's needs, the stronger the betrayal bond becomes.

Anger, especially if it is chronic, may be repressed. The individual may no longer have awareness of the anger. If the person dissociates in order to cope with the pain and trauma, no conscious awareness of anger and fear may be present. When a child is being sexually abused, and if the perpetrator is a close family member, the child may have a betrayal bond with the abuser. Repressed anger, however, can emerge in other relationships and in behaviors and attitudes. Instead of anger at the offender, anger may be directed toward the mother or toward professionals attempting to help the victim. Anger may be directed towards others who are more vulnerable than the victim, repeating the victimization on others. Sexual abuse victims sometimes perpetrate sexual behaviors on younger children. In a sense, this recreates the event with the victim in the powerful position.

Repressed anger results in a multitude of consequences and affects such areas as health, relationships, self-esteem, and productivity. It often results in depression and self-destructive behaviors such as substance addictions, eating disorders, and cutting. Sometimes this anger turned inward results in multiple suicide attempts.

Unresolved emotions may fuel a lifetime of self-destruction if the person does not recognize their presence. Recognition means recognizing the event or events that brought about the anger and negative consequences. Sometimes victims of childhood sexual abuse believe they are "over" the abuse and have put it "behind" them. However, ongoing symptoms, such as disrupted relationships, ongoing addictions, and health problems, are signs that the abuse is not resolved. Counseling with a professional experienced in abuse issues is helpful.

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