Friday, 4 April 2014

The syndrome of shame

The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author

The Northern Echo: Psychotherapist Zoe Lodrick  

Psychotherapist Zoe Lodrick
HUNDREDS of young inmates of Medomsley Detention Centre who lived under a reign of terror have been left with a legacy and shame and guilt after suffering appalling abuse at the hands of staff.

Decades later, many may wonder why they did not struggle, scratch or scream and, in some cases, even developed positive feelings towards their abusers.

Even less likely is that they would have heard of the Stockholm Syndrome – something more commonly associated with hostage and kidnapping situations.

But the psychological phenomenon, also known as trauma bonding, may go some way to explaining the reactions of victims of historic abuse.

The phrase was first coined at the end of a six-day bank siege in the Swedish capital in 1973, to describe the irrational feelings of sympathy captives develop for their captors.

During the stand-off, the captives rejected help and defended their captors after they were freed.

Psychotherapist and sexual trauma expert Zoe Lodrick, who has made video for Durham Police, to help victims of sexual and physical abuse come to terms with what happened to them, says: “What many of victims of Medomsley would have experienced would have been serious trauma on a grand scale by a group of organised criminals, who were legitimised by their role in that organisation and who targeted very vulnerable people .

“It created trauma bonding, which happens when someone is exposed to a situation where they are faced with an interpersonal threat.

“The first element is someone is threatening to hurt them and they believe that person will carry out that threat. The second is that they are treated harshly, but that treatment is interspersed with small kindnesses.

And they are isolated from others and unable to escape. The symptoms are a positive feeling towards their abuser, which some of the victims may well have experienced, despite the fact that it makes no logical sense.

“At the same time, they also have negative feelings toward potential rescuers – anyone who might have been able to get them out of that situation. Stockholm Syndrome can develop after four days and some of this activity (at Medomsley) went on for four months and more.

“So people end up bonded and silenced by the Stockholm Syndrome, which many of the survivors don’t understand.

“They look back and think they were treated so horrendously and yet they may have had positive feelings towards the people who were mistreating them.”

Ms Lodrick adds many victims are also wracked with shame and guilt for not fighting back and cannot forgive themselves.

She says: “Logically, it would make sense to fight, run, scream or tell someone, but the victims of sexual abuse hardly ever do that.

“Any sexual offence examiner will tell you the vast majority of victims of sexual crime have little or no injuries – defence injuries, at least.

“But it doesn’t change what people think.

People’s perception is usually that they would fight, struggle, scratch or scream, and when they don’t it is very puzzling and difficult (for victims) to come to terms with.”

Zoe Lodrick says it is all to do with the survival reaction governed by the amygdala part of the brain, which deals with threats.

“The amygdala is like a smoke detector in the brain and its job is to filter and scan all the sensory input into the brain,’’ she says.

“If it detects threat, its job is to release chemicals into our body to prepare us to meet the threat.
“The amygdala will only prioritise survival.

All it cares about is this second, now.

“It couldn’t care about whether you feel ashamed in the future or whether you’ll have post-traumatic stress disorder. Its only job in that moment is to concern itself with survival.

The common reactions to threat are fight, flight, friend, freeze and flop, according to Ms Lodrick.

“If someone is threatening me I might go to a friend defence, whereby I smile in order to minimise the likelihood of being seriously hurt. Or I might start to talk to them to try and appease them. That is the first defence response,’’ she says.

To freeze is supposed to indicate submission to get the other person to back off.

“When it fails, the victim will flop or become physically malleable and yield to any physical or sexual impact, says Ms Lodrick.

“It is great news in terms of survival, because you are less likely to end up badly injured and less likely to end up dead.

“The rational areas of the brain are often overwhelmed by chemicals and often they are bypassed.

‘‘If the person does survive and survives well, with relatively little or no injuries comparative to what might have happened if they had tried to fight, the amygdala will reinforce that as having been successful. Therefore if they find themselves in a similar situation, they will instigate the same reaction.

“Rationally, people have no understanding of that and cannot explain it if people ask ‘why didn’t you fight?’ ‘‘The guilt and shame that follow are psychologically healthy in that they give people hope.’’ She adds: “The reality is that no victim of sexual or physical crime is responsible for what happened to them. It doesn’t change the fact that people often feel guilty and ashamed.

“Durham Police have been excellent in signposting victims to the appropriate services.”


Durham Constabulary would like anyone who has suffered abuse or has information which may assist the enquiry to contact them on 101 or 0345 60 60 365.

A call handler will take the caller’s details which will be referred to the ‘Operation Seabrook’ team. Further contact and investigation will then be carried out by specialist detectives who are highly trained and experienced in dealing with sensitive abuse cases.

The investigation is being lead by a Senior Investigating Officer (SIO), Det Supt Paul Goundry and a Deputy SIO, Det Chief Insp Brad Howe.
NSPCC FREEPHONE HELPLINE (24 hrs): 0808 800 5000
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children                                  

The helpline is available for anyone who has concerns about a child or anyone including adults who wish to discuss their own experience of abuse as a child or young person.

Contact can also be made via e mail :  or by text 88858
Contact can be made anonymously if the caller so wishes.

National Association for People Abused in ChildhoodFreephone (from landline or a Virgin, Orange or 3 mobile) 0800 085 3330.

If you are calling from a mobile provided by O2, Vodafone or T-Mobile an alternative freephone number is 0808 801 0331. This is not a 24 hr service 

The Meadows:
The Meadows Sexual Assault Referral Centre (Darlington and Co Durham) 0191 301 8554
The Meadows will accept calls between the hours of 9am-3.30 pm Monday to Friday and can arrange one-to-one counselling sessions and can make referrals to similar centres throughout the UK.

Counselling does not involve discussing what has happened in relation to the assault, it aims to help you work through your feelings to aid the healing process.

Staff at the Meadows will not contact the police without your consent unless there are current concerns in respect of a child or vulnerable adult.