Why I stayed with my abusive husband

Remember Theon Greyjoy in Games of Thrones? He was tortured to a point where he believed that he was Reek.


She loved him.

“…or at least that’s what I thought I felt,” she said with an embarrassed smile, “ I kept telling myself that he would change someday. I just had to be better and more supportive of him.”

Hers is a story common to most abused people. Last year Lang’ata residence who didn’t help a neighbour while she was being beaten by her husband faced social media’s critics. Their excuse was that they had tried severally but she kept defending her abuser.

Unfortunately, it’s not an isolated case. We’ve heard it before: of people who stay with their abusive partners and even go to the extent of defending them. To the average Joe, it’s quite a perplexing theory.

Why would anyone stay with a partner that is physically and emotionally assaulting them?

In psychology, we call it The Stockholm Syndrome.

It all started on August 23rd, 1973 when two gun carrying criminals entered a bank in Stockholm, Sweden. The two robbers held three women and a man hostages for five days after strapping with them with dynamite and locking them in a bank vault.

To everyone’s surprise, the hostages exhibited a peculiar attitude towards the robbers after their rescue on August 28th. After the threats, abuse and fear the hostages were supporting their captors and fearing the police who came to their rescue. The hostages had begun to feel the captors were actually protecting them from the police. One woman later became engaged to one of the criminals and another developed a legal defence fund to aid in their criminal defence fees.


The Stockholm syndrome depicts an emotional bond between abuser and victim were to the victim develops an emotional attachment to the abuser and instead of escaping, they stay back and defend them.

This is explained by four major reasons:

1.    Perceived threats to one physical or psychological survival

The victim is made to believe that silence and corporation is their only way of survival. The relationship is solely based on the threat that telling on the abuser will put their friends, family or themselves in danger. With such, there is no hope of getting out of the relationship.

2.    Small acts of kindness by the abuser

Winfred accounts to the many times her husband would bring her gifts, always remembering their anniversaries and special days to her. “At such times he would be sweet to me, he would call me his girl and that made me feel like he genuinely cared about me. He’d say things like ‘I’m a mess but you keep me balanced, don’t ever leave me, I love you … and I believed him, “ she says tearing up, “ I can’t believe that I banked on such days for better days with him. I was manipulated and I believed.”

As seen with Winfred’s story, the small acts of kindness are a manipulative way of stalling the inevitable. Abusers use it as a way of keeping their victims hopeful that one day they will change and stop the abuse. Usually, it never happens.

3.    Isolation from Perspectives Other than those of the Captor

Last week R Kelly was accused of holding women hostage in a cult where he was their master and they can do nothing without his permission. One of the girls came out to defend him and even refused to give her location.

This is a classic example of being isolated from receiving other people’s opinion. That way one is left completely to their own thoughts and have no one to point out the bad in the relationship.

4.    Perceived inability to escape

Picture a woman with young children and the abusive father as the sole provider. Chances are, the woman will stick to her man, ‘for the sake of the children.’

This is the perceived inability to escape and it arises when the victim thinks that leaving will put them in a more difficult situation than the one they are with the abuser.

The Stockholm syndrome is one that the law is painfully aware of and most often than not, it is the deal breaker in most abusive relationship cases brought forth by closely related persons of the victim. The question of the legal right to make own decisions if whatever vile acts against them by the abuser are wrong or right have led many abusers to walk free from the law.

The way out of this sort of predicament lies within surrounding oneself with people who can call out the bad, and walk you through counselling.


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