Stockholm syndrome is a condition in which hostages develop a psychological bond with their captors during captivity. Emotional bonds may be formed between captors and captives, during intimate time together, but these are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims. Stockholm syndrome has never been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM, the standard tool for diagnostic of psychiatric illnesses and disorders, mainly due to the lack of a consistent body of academic research. The syndrome is rare, according to data from the FBI about 5% of hostage victims show evidence of Stockholm syndrome.
This term was first used by the media in 1973 when four hostages were taken during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. The hostages defended their captors after being released and would not agree to testify in court against them. It was noted that in this case, however, the police were perceived to have acted with little care for the hostages’ safety, providing an alternative reason for their unwillingness to testify. Stockholm syndrome is paradoxical because the sympathetic sentiments that captives feel towards their captors are the opposite of the fear and disdain which an onlooker might feel towards the captors.
There are four key components that characterize Stockholm syndrome:
- A hostage’s development of positive feelings towards the captor
- No previous relationship between hostage and captor
- A refusal by hostages to cooperate with police forces and other government authorities (unless the captors themselves happen to be members of police forces or government authorities).
- A hostage’s belief in the humanity of the captor because they cease to perceive the captor as a threat when the victim holds the same values as the aggressor
Stockholm syndrome is a “contested illness” due to doubt about the legitimacy of the condition. It has also come to describe the reactions of some abuse victims beyond the context of kidnappings or hostage-taking. Actions and attitudes similar to those suffering from Stockholm syndrome have also been found in victims of sexual abuse, human trafficking, terror, and political and religious oppression.
Stockholm bank robbery
Main article: Norrmalmstorg robbery
In 1973, Jan-Erik Olsson, a convict on parole, took four employees (three women and one man) of Kreditbanken, one of the largest banks in Stockholm, Sweden, hostage during a failed bank robbery. He negotiated the release from prison of his friend Clark Olofsson to assist him. They held the hostages captive for six days (23–28 August) in one of the bank’s vaults. When the hostages were released, none of them would testify against either captor in court; instead, they began raising money for their defense.
Nils Bejerot, a Swedish criminologist and psychiatrist coined the term after the Stockholm police asked him for assistance with analyzing the victims’ reactions to the 1973 bank robbery and their status as hostages. As the idea of brainwashing was not a new concept, Bejerot, speaking on “a news cast after the captives’ release” described the hostages’ reactions as a result of being brainwashed by their captors. He called it Norrmalmstorgssyndromet (after Norrmalmstorg Square where the attempted robbery took place), meaning “the Norrmalmstorg syndrome”; it later became known outside Sweden as Stockholm syndrome. It was originally defined by psychiatrist Frank Ochberg to aid the management of hostage situations.
Olsson later said in an interview:
It was the hostages’ fault. They did everything I told them to. If they hadn’t, I might not be here now. Why didn’t any of them attack me? They made it hard to kill. They made us go on living together day after day, like goats, in that filth. There was nothing to do but get to know each other.
In her 2020 treatise on domestic violence See What You Made Me Do, Australian journalist Jess Hill described the syndrome as a “dubious pathology with no diagnostic criteria”, and stated that it is “riddled with misogyny and founded on a lie”; she also noted that a 2008 literature review revealed that “most diagnoses [of Stockholm syndrome] are made by the media, not by psychologists or psychiatrists.” In particular, Hill’s analysis revealed that Stockholm authorities — under direct guidance from Bejerot — responded to the robbery in a way that put the hostages at greater risk from the police than from their captors (hostage Kristin Enmark, who during the siege was granted a phone call with Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, reported that Palme told her that the government would not negotiate with criminals, and that “you will have to content yourself that you will have died at your post”); as well, she observed that not only was Bejerot’s diagnosis of Enmark made without ever having spoken to her, it was in direct response to her public criticism of his actions during the siege.
Symptoms and behaviors
Victims of the formal definition of Stockholm syndrome develop “positive feelings toward their captors and sympathy for their causes and goals, and negative feelings toward the police or authorities”. These symptoms often follow escaped victims back into their previously ordinary lives.
Physical and psychological effects
- Cognitive: confusion, blurred memory, delusion, and recurring flashbacks.
- Emotional: lack of feeling, fear, helplessness, hopelessness, aggression, depression, guilt, dependence on captor, and development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Social: anxiety, irritability, cautiousness, and estrangement.
- Physical: increase in effects of pre-existing conditions; development of health conditions due to possible restriction from food, sleep, and exposure to outdoors.
- Atlas personality
- Attachment theory
- Cognitive dissonance
- Colonial mentality
- Complex post-traumatic stress disorder
- Identification with the Aggressor
- Learned helplessness
- Parental alienation
- Symptoms of victimization
- Traumatic bonding
- Uncle Tom syndrome
Read more here at Wikipedia