Caught Between Parents

Supporting children through the challenges of divorce

The Minds of Abused and Alienated Children

abducted children form attachments to their abusers

As I continue to read first-hand accounts of individuals who have been abducted, I gain increasing insight into the mind of abused and alienated children. The need for comfort and human interaction is hard wired into us for survival purposes, to such a great extent that if the only adult available to comfort a child is the abuser, the child will look forward to and try to seek approval and a human connection from that person. As bizarre as that might seem to an observer, it is the way our brains and hearts are wired. The story of Natascha Kampusch is a very compelling one in this respect. She was abducted on her way to school at the age of 8 and kept in a single underground room for many years with her only contact being with the abductor, a man who mistreated her terribly, both physically and mentally. Nonetheless, she looked forward to his visits, played checkers with him, and tried in many ways to accommodate his needs and demands. In her book, she writes that she objects to being labeled as having Stockholm Syndrome because she wants her behavior to be understood as a rational choice to avoid pain and as a reflection of her as a human who is designed to seek social interaction. She objects to her actions being pathologized. Regardless of what it is called, her behavior can be understood as the development of a relationship with an abusive person that is not dissimilar to the kind of relationship that some alienated children develop with their favored parent. Likewise, the motivations and behavior of the abductor can be seen as analogous as that of the favored parent: the desire to control the child is greater than the desire to nurture and care for the child. In my opinion, Natascha can be commended for trying to understand the psychological foundation of the man who abducted her and in doing so refusing to demonize him. She writes that this came at great personal cost in the form of negative press and public attitudes towards her. Her argument is that this man was her sole connection to humanity for many years and she simply cannot see him as all bad despite his having done some very bad things to her. Her ability to hold divergent thoughts at the same time will do her well in the rest of her life.

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Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D., researches parental alienation and children of divorce.

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