versión en español


 by Andrés Montero-Gómez
Sociedad Española de Psicología de la Violencia

In spite of the fact that nowadays the figures about the incidence of violence against women by spouses or sentimental partners, or in the frame of other kind of affective relationships, are gradually gaining publicity with regard to previous times, it is equally true that there is still a lot of hidden reality to know.

At the same time that several have been the factors contributing to publicize the problem of mistreatment, diverse also have been the elements supporting the silence of the victim, thus posing an obstacle in the search of ways of solution for numerous cases of violence against women. Among some of the elements that keeps the woman in silence about her suffering are various behavioural paralysing process related to and generated by fear; the perception of the absence of escaping ways or ways outs for the victim; and the lack of alternative resources, about all in women with children who cannot see, due to different causes, a feasible external source of help.

However, the people working in the search of explanations and lines of action in order to put out the phenomenon of violence and to cut off its consequences, know very well that some women supposedly autonomous in a personal or economic level and even granted with the possibility to have success in several fields of life, otherwise go on with relationship where they are suffering violence. These type of women, who carry out activities that might give someone food to think that they are not subjected to a
paralysis for fear or that they have no resources to act, nevertheless seem to be incapable to report about their aggressors, who they continue to live with, or to leave the relationship. In the other hand, these kind of women of more independent social profile, and the other rather more tied to a familiar nucleus, both share the paradoxical reaction of developing an affective bond still stronger with their batterers, defending his reasons, withdrawing police reports or stopping judicial trial when they declare in favour of her violent
partners. These paradoxical effects are a reality and perhaps is the time to look for its mechanisms and for lines of intervention.

Some theorists have tried to give light to the emergence of these paradoxical bonds between victim and aggressor, mainly appealing to affective or emotional cues developed in the context of the traumatic environment. Dutton and Painter (1981) have depicted a scenario in which two factors, the power imbalance and the intermittent good-bad treatment, generate in the battered woman a traumatic bonding that ties her with the aggressor through behaviours of docility. According to Dutton et al., the abuse
creates and maintains a dynamics of dependence in the couple due to its asymmetric effect over the power balance, being the traumatic bonding produced by the alternation of reinforcement and punishment.  However, this approach apparently rests on the behavioural basis of the instrumental conditioning, which, from our perspective, is valid in order to explain some aspects of the victimisation repertoire (mainly the one referred to the learned helplessness and the persistency of behaviour associated to alternate reinforcing) but it fails when covering the complex psychological apparatus associated with a paradoxical attachment. To our understanding, the uncertainty around the thrashings, derived from the repeated and intermittent violence, is one key element in the long way of the attachment, but not its unique cause. Furthermore, the theory  does not take into account that a kind of power imbalance is already present in many human relationships: in the traumatic couples seems to be not a consequence but an antecedent of the abuse.

Another model for explaining these paradoxical behaviours on battered women is Graham’s factorial treatment of Stockholm Syndrome-type reactions in young dating women (Graham et al, 1995). This factorial model takes the way of a 49 items assessment scale around a nucleus characterised by cognitive distortions and coping strategies, and two secondary dimensions called ‘psychological damage’ and the more ambiguous ‘love-dependence’. Graham’s factorial model, of assessing purposes, topographic
profile and correlational methodology, was designed to detect the appearance of the syndrome in young women abused by their sentimental counterparts, and is based on the idea that the syndrome is a product of a kind of dissociative state in which the victim denies the violent part of the aggressor’s behaviour and gets attached to the perceived positive side of the abuser, ignoring the victim in this ways her/his needs and turning hypervigilant to the abuser’s (Graham and Rawlings, 1991). However, while this explanation
could be valid to describe one of the global processes implied in the syndrome, does not give a theoretical hypothesis for its nature
beyond the description of eventual constituent elements.

Alternatively, from our perspective, before the deficit of theories accounting more precisely for the psychological processes and dynamics of these sort of paradoxical effects, and working on a similar theoretical structure for the classical Stockholm Syndrome (Montero, 1999), we have designed a model suitable for application to the violence against women.

Out hypothesis (Montero, 2000), which has been presented under the title ‘FEATURING DOMESTIC STOCKHOLM SYNDROME. A COGNITIVE BOND OF PROTECTION IN BATTERED WOMEN’ at the XIV World Meeting of the International Society for Research on Aggression [Valencia 9-14 July 2000], tries to develop a sequential structure of psychophysiologic reactions that finally generates in the female victim a variant of the Stockholm Syndrome, one that we have named Domestic Stockholm Syndrome (DSS).

Without entering into complex descriptions here, the DSS will be depicted like an interpersonal bond of protection, built between victim and aggressor, in the framework of a traumatic and stimuli restricted environment, through the induction in the victim of a mental model (inter-situational network of mental schemata and beliefs). The victim suffering mistreatment would develop DSS in order to protect her own psychological integrity and to recover the physiologic and behavioural homeostasis. DSS pathway will be
determined by a pattern of cognitive modifications, its adaptive functionality and a terminal course as a result of a reactive process in the victim before the traumatic context.

DSS, as a type of adaptation disorder, would be responsible for the above mentioned paradoxical effects.

The term ‘domestic’

Montserrat Boix, Co-ordinator of Mujeres en Red, has sensibly called my attention on the semantic implications derived from the use of the term ‘domestic’ in order to qualify the variant of the Stockholm Syndrome we are analysing. Actually, the modifying word ‘domestic’ has been elected for two reasons: one of conceptual comprehensive precision and other of economy. Let’s see.

If we understand ‘domestic’ as referring strictly to the enclosure limited by the domicile, it is accurate to say that the women are not only mistreated inside the domestic environment and, besides, not only by their spouses but also by partners they are not living with. The use of the term does NOT deny this reality and we do not desire the applications of this category to elements within the phenomenon of violence against woman not including specific features of a Stockholm Syndrome. We suppose, though, that is
within domestic environment where there is more probabilities for the DSS to be generated, implicitly assuming at the same time that it can be produced in other environmental configurations. Still, ‘domestic’ is not used here in a restrictive sense, but accepting that the meaning is not circumscribed in a reductive way to the physical space of the house, being understood for a extensive scope of living experiences. It is possible to deny that in the vast majority of the cases we might observe, the affective partner symbolically
becomes part of the domestic milieu understood as primary ring of referents for the personal identity?.

At last, from a clinical point of view or from a economical comprehensive perspective, the expression points exactly to what it pretends to define: for anyone who knows what classically means the Stockholm Syndrome, the association between ‘domestic’, DSS and violence against women is automatic.


-Dutton, DG; Painter, SL (1981). Traumatic bonding: the development of emotional attachments in
battered women and other relationships of intermittent abuse. Victimology: an International Journal, 6:
-Graham, DL; Rawling, EL (1991). Bonding with abusive dating partners: dynamics of Stockholm
syndrome. In B. Levy (ed) Dating Violence, Women in Danger. Seattle, WA: Seal Press
-Graham, DL; Rawlings, EL; Ihms, K; Latimer, D; Foliano, J; Thomson, A; Suttman, K; Farrington, M; Hacker, R (1995). A scale for identifying Stockholm syndrome reactions in young dating
women: factor structure, reliability and validity. Violence and Victims 10 (1): 3-22.
-Montero, A (1999). Shaping the etiology of the Stockholm Syndrome: hypothesis of the Induced
Mental Model. IberPsicología, 5(1):4
-Montero, A (2000). Featuring Domestic Stockholm Syndrome: a cognitive bond of protection in
battered women. Proceedings of the XIV World Meeting of the International Society for Research
on Aggression.