Stockholm, Sweden, August 23rd, 1973. Paroled convict Jan-Erik Olsson is hell-bent on finding a way to get his buddy released from prison. What does he do? He bursts into Kreditbanken – one of the largest banks in the city – and takes four hostages (one man, three women) to use in negotiating with the police. In his twisted mind, he thinks maybe his friend will be released in exchange for his hostages. This isn’t how it ended at all, to the surprise of everyone, including Olsson himself.
After six days of being held captive in a bank vault (with Olsson), the hostages began to irrationally sympathize with their captor. They felt sorry for him, pity for his plight. They developed a sort of psychological alliance with this man who was terrorizing them, to the extent that when the ordeal was all over with they refused to testify against him in court. They even went a step farther and helped to raise money for Olsson’s court defense.
What in the actual hell just happened here? you may be asking yourself in disgust.
This, friends, is what is known as ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.
Stockholm Syndrome extends to relationships between children and their sexual abusers, cult members and their leaders, prostitutes and their pimps, and so on. And in my personal experience, I can say with certainty that it can occur between us and our narcissistic emotional abusers.
When you step back and take a look – a really good look – at a narcissist, what do you see? A sick, sad person whose only joy is derived from the suppression and control of other humans? A person who is unable to view others as real people that they could form bonds with, instead opting to use them as puppets? Although we have basically just described Hitler here, there are some of us who still can’t help but feel sympathy for these messed-up souls. It pains us that these people are missing out on so many beautiful things in life – really loving, sharing, caring – they’re missing it all.
When that first twinge of sympathy hits, you need to stop and reel your feelings back in. This can be difficult, especially for empaths. We want to fix people – we would love nothing more than to throw on a bandaid and make the narcissist a whole-hearted person who can experience these great things like the rest of us. Not only is this not our job, but it is very likely to be an impossible endeavor. Because the narcissist is fine with how they are – they don’t see a need or have a desire to be fixed or saved. They’re already perfect.
When I left my ex he used his own weaknesses to make me feel guilty for leaving him. “If you leave me, I will have nobody” is a great line narcissists love to use, and we fall for it way too often. Even if it’s true, it is still not your issue to fix – the narcissist is fully capable of making friends, meeting a new girlfriend, and moving on without you or your help. Don’t let him guilt you into staying.
No matter how sympathetic you feel towards your “captor”, you need to realize that you are responsible for your own happiness and well-being just as they are responsible for theirs.
Suck up all the pity and sympathy you feel for this emotionally abusive jerk and place it where it is deserved – like, go walk a shelter dog or something. Just don’t give all those valuable feelings to the narcissist or they will be wasted.