Paradoxical adaptation syndrome: what it is, characteristics and phases

Domestic violence is a social scourge to which a solution must be found. Unfortunately, this is difficult since many people do not dare to report, which is why it is difficult to know exactly how many cases of mistreatment there are in the couple.

In addition to economic dependence and fear, to this inability to denounce their aggressiveness is added the compassion factor. There are victims who, despite the physical and psychological violence suffered, do not report it because they adapt to the new situation and, in addition, they end up feeling understood for what their attacker has done.

Cases of violence are very complex and the proof is the existence of a paradoxical adaptation syndrome, a situation similar to Stockholm syndrome that many women and men experience with their intimate relationships.

    What is paradoxical adaptation syndrome?

    Paradoxical adaptation syndrome is a term used in contexts of domestic violence. This describes a phenomenon which seems apparently contradictory: people who have been assaulted by the couple also end up feeling that it is their aggressor who is protecting them, establishing a relationship of compassion and refuge for the person who abuses them.

    The learned helplessness in which the victim is trapped eventually becomes paradoxical adaptation syndrome. This, combined with the fact that victims of domestic violence often do not report out of fear or economic dependence, makes them reluctant to report as there comes a point when they have ‘adjusted’ to the situation, fearing that news might change. . modify and worsen it. They end up convinced that there is absolutely nothing they can do to change the situation.

    Domestic violence is a widespread scourge in most societies around the world. In most cases, it is the men who commit the assaults, but we must not ignore the fact that there are also women who exercise violence with their partner, both physically and psychologically. Cases of gender-based violence are the most visible, but we know that cases of attacks against men, which are less visible, have also increased.

    Paradoxical adaptation syndrome it occurs in all kinds of couples regardless of the sexual and gender identity of its members. It occurs in heterosexual couples, in homosexuals, and can also occur in couples whose members have non-binary genders. In any case, in most cases, the violence occurs in the intimate plane, it is usually not reported to the courts or warned in organizations against the appropriate violence between partners.

      The syndrome and its relation to domestic violence

      Paradoxical adaptation syndrome it is experienced by the victim in a dysfunctional love affair. It should be mentioned that domestic violence is a very complex phenomenon, in which a large repertoire of conflicting feelings, thoughts and beliefs appears.

      In the best-case scenario, the situation ends in separation, causing the victim to be released before it escalates further., seeing the victim that trust and respect have been broken and therefore there is no recourse but to end the relationship.

      However, at other times the victim fails to free himself from the chains of his attacker. Among the reasons why this happens, we need to consider the following three factors:

      • An intense fear that paralyzes the person and prevents him from making decisions.
      • Perception that the situation has no possible escape route.
      • Lack of emotional and material resources needed to break free.

      These three factors would be the ones that would occur in a typical case, although this is not what is given in absolutely all cases.

      There are also people who, although they are apparently independent and seem to have the necessary alternatives to be able to escape their situation of physical and psychological abuse, they do not shy away from it. and suffer from paradoxical adaptation syndrome.

        How does this syndrome occur?

        To all the couples where there is violence from the start there is an imbalance of power, whether economic, social, material or emotional. It is this situation of imbalance that is considered an essential condition for the abuse to consolidate in the relationship.

        The paradoxical adaptation syndrome is a psychological reaction of people who are victims of domestic violence and therefore it involves both cognitive and emotional changes.

        These modifications are given so that the person can endure or survive the situation. It would first be a coping mechanism, even if it would not be functional because the person adapts to a situation that they would have to flee, without tolerating it.

        Given its characteristics, this psychological state it is linked to Stockholm syndrome. In both problems, feelings of love, attraction and sympathy for the abuser arise in the victim. One of the reasons why this happens is that the victim herself compares the harm done, what she is suffering or has already suffered, with the potential harm, concluding that she is receiving a benefit, as this could be much worse.

          Paradoxical adaptation phases

          As we have said, paradoxical adaptation syndrome is a consequence of mistreatment, physical and psychological mistreatment. This situation does not happen immediately or spontaneously, but feeds on a long process in which we can identify four phases:

          1. Trigger phase

          The trigger phase takes place when the first assault is received, usually of a physical nature. It destroys the security and trust the victim believed that gave him what has now become his abuser. A situation of mistreatment is triggered, of danger.

            2. Reorientation phase

            After the initiation phase, the victim feels disorientation and uncertainty about the new direction their relationship has just taken.

            Anxiety, guilt, shame and sadness are the main emotions expressed by the assaulted person., feelings that cause the person to rethink the beliefs they had about their partner, in search of a new balance that compensates for the fear.

            3. Confrontation phase

            The victim opposes the challenges of the new situation to the personal resources at her disposal. Depression and stress arise and increase even more. Pain tolerance increases, reducing sensitivity. The phase of adaptation to paradoxical adaptation syndrome is when passive resistance appears.

              4. Adaptation phase

              Finally, comes the phase of paradoxical adaptation itself. The deterioration of the relationship also leads to a physical and mental deterioration of the victim, leading her to gradually submit to the conditions imposed on her by her attacker. Feelings of inferiority cause you to identify with the abuser at some point, and even pity him.

              Once these four phases are completed, the paradoxical adaptation would occur. The victim ends up protecting himself by modifying his behavior and his attitude towards the aggressor. In this way, the initial rejection of what his partner had done to him becomes a kind of plea for protection, even compassion for what he did to her. This syndrome can be so alienating that it pushes the victim to thank his attacker who does not hurt him more.

              Bibliographical references

              • Jara Romero, P., & Romero Felip, A. (2009). Gender-based violence type and phase rating scale.
              • Montero Gómez, Andrés: Paradoxical adaptation syndrome to domestic violence: a theoretical proposition. Clinic and Health, vol. 12, no. 1, 2001, p. 6-8.
              • Rizo-Martínez, Lucía Ester. (2018). Stockholm syndrome: a systematic review. Clinic and Health, 29 (2), 81-88. https://dx.doi.org/10.5093/clysa2018a12

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