Stockholm syndrome

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The location where the 1973 Norrmalmstorg robbery took place in Stockholm, Sweden (2005).

Stockholm syndrome is a condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity.[1] These feelings, resulting from a bond formed between captor and captives during intimate time spent together, are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims. Generally speaking, Stockholm syndrome consists of "strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other."[2] The FBI's Hostage Barricade Database System shows that roughly eight percent of victims show evidence of Stockholm syndrome.[3]

It was formally named 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.[4] Stockholm syndrome is ostensibly paradoxical because the sympathetic sentiments captives feel towards their captors are the opposite of the fear and disdain an onlooker may feel towards the captors.

There are four key components that generally lead to the development of Stockholm syndrome:

  • A hostage's development of positive feelings towards their captor
  • No previous hostage-captor relationship
  • A refusal by hostages to co-operate with police forces and other government authorities
  • A hostage's belief in the humanity of their captor, for the reason that when a victim holds the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be perceived as a threat.[2][3]

Stockholm syndrome is considered a "contested illness", due to many law enforcement officers' doubt about the legitimacy of the condition.[4]


Nils Bejerot, a Swedish criminologist and psychiatrist coined the term after 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" instinctively reduced the hostages' reactions to a result of being brainwashed by their captors.[4] He called it Norrmalmstorgssyndromet, meaning "The Norrmalmstorg Syndrome"; it later became known outside of Sweden as the Stockholm syndrome.[5] It was originally defined by psychiatrist Frank Ochberg to aid the management of hostage situations.[6]

Famous instances[edit]

Stockholm bank robbery[edit]

In 1973, Jan-Erik Olsson, a convict on parole, took four employees of the bank (three women and one man) hostage during a failed bank robbery in Kreditbanken, one of the largest banks in Stockholm, Sweden. He negotiated the release from prison of his friend Clark Olofsson to assist him. They held the hostages captive for six days (August 23–28) in one of the bank’s vaults while torturing them with nooses and dynamite. When they were released, none of them would testify against either captor in court; instead they began raising money for their defense.[4]

Patty Hearst[edit]

Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of publisher William Randolph Hearst, was taken and held hostage by the Symbionese Liberation Army, "an urban guerilla group", in 1974. She was recorded denouncing her family as well as the police under her new name, "Tania", and was later seen working with the SLA to rob banks in San Francisco. She publicly asserted her sympathetic feelings towards the SLA and their pursuits as well. After her 1975 arrest, pleading Stockholm syndrome did not work as a proper defense in court, much to the chagrin of her defense lawyer, F. Lee Bailey. Her seven-year prison sentence was later commuted, and she was eventually presidentially pardoned by Bill Clinton, who was informed that she was not acting under her own free will.[4]

Lima syndrome[edit]

A similar form of Stockholm syndrome called Lima syndrome has been proposed, in which abductors develop sympathy for their hostages. An abductor may also have second thoughts or experience empathy towards their victims.

Lima syndrome was named after an abduction at the Japanese embassy in Lima, Peru, in 1996, when members of a militant movement took hostage hundreds of people attending a party at the official residence of Japan's ambassador. Within a few hours, the abductors had set free most of the hostages, including the most valuable ones, because of sympathy towards them.[7][8]

Symptoms and behaviours[edit]

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".[4] These symptoms often follow escaped victims back into their previously ordinary lives.

Coping mechanism[edit]

From a psychoanalytic lens, it can be argued that Stockholm syndrome arises strictly as a result of survival instincts. Strentz states, "the victim’s need to survive is stronger than his impulse to hate the person who has created the dilemma." A positive emotional bond between captor and captive is a "defense mechanism of the ego under stress".[4] These sentimental feelings are not strictly for show, however. Since captives often fear that their affection will be perceived as fake, they eventually begin to believe that their positive sentiments are genuine.

Attachment patterns[edit]

Stockholm syndrome is not merely a condition developed in victims of kidnappings or hostage instances. It can also be applied to a wider variety of situations, afflicting victims of domestic or child abuse, human trafficking, and incest. Prisoners of war, political terrorism, cult members, concentration camp prisoners, slaves, and prostitutes" can also fall prey to Stockholm syndrome.[4] It is believed that women are especially subject to develop the condition.[9]

Typically, Stockholm syndrome develops in captives when they engage in "face-to-face contact" with their captors, as well as when captors make captives doubt the likelihood of their survival by aggressively terrorizing them into "helpless, powerless, and submissive" states. This enables captors to appear to be nice people when they perform acts of kindness on, or fail to "beat, abuse, or rape" the victims.[4]

Evolutionarily speaking, research evidence exists to support the genuine scientific nature of Stockholm syndrome.[citation needed] Responses similar to those in human captives have been detected in some reptiles and mammals, primates in particular. Ideas like "dominance hierarchies and submission strategies" assist in devising explanations for the illogical reasoning behind the symptoms of those suffering from Stockholm syndrome as a result of an oppressive relationship of any kind.[9]

One of the "adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors", particularly females, was being abducted by another band. Life in the "human environment of evolutionary adaptiveness" (EEA) is thought by researchers such as Israeli military historian Azar Gat to be similar to that of the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies. "Deadly violence is also regularly activated in competition over women. . . . Abduction of women, rape, ... are widespread direct causes of reproductive conflict ..."[10] Being captured[11] and having their dependent children killed might have been fairly common.[12] Women who resisted capture in such situations risked being killed.[13]

Azar Gat asserts that war and abductions (capture) were typical of human pre-history.[10] When selection is intense and persistent, adaptive traits (such as capture-bonding) become universal to the population or species.

Partial activation of the capture-bonding psychological trait may lie behind battered person syndrome,[14] military basic training, fraternity hazing, and sex practices such as sadism/masochism or bondage/discipline.[15] Being captured by neighbouring tribes was a relatively common event for women in human history, if anything like the recent history of the few remaining tribes. In some of those tribes (Yanomamo, for instance), practically everyone in the tribe is descended from a captive within the last three generations. Perhaps as high as one in ten of females were abducted and incorporated into the tribe that captured them.[15]


Recovering from Stockholm syndrome ordinarily involves "psychiatric or psychological counseling," with an end goal of making patients realize that their actions and feelings stemmed from inherent human survival techniques. Counseling aims to reinstate normalcy into the lives of recovering victims, and to make sure that they can function in a way that is not out of fear or in the sole interest of survival.[9]



FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin[edit]

Within this work, writer Fuselier questions the frequency with which Stockholm syndrome actually occurs, as well as the validity of its classifications as a disease or medical condition at all.[4]

The actual victims of the bank robbery and hostage situation in Stockholm 1973 have also told in various interviews[citation needed] that they never sympathized at all with the robber. Instead they feared for their lives because of the actions taken by the police. However the "Stockholm syndrome" was already regarded as a true fact by popular culture.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM5)[edit]

This book is widely used as the "classification system for psychological disorders" by the American Psychiatric Association.[4] Stockholm syndrome has not historically appeared in the manual, as many[citation needed] believe it falls under Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Before the fifth edition (DSM-5) was released, Stockholm syndrome was under consideration to be included under 'Disorders of Extreme Stress, Not Otherwise Specified'.[4] The work was updated in 2013, but Stockholm syndrome was not present.[16]

Loving to Survive[edit]

First published in 1994, author Dee Graham uses the Stockholm syndrome label to describe group or collective responses to trauma, rather than individual reactions. Graham focuses specifically on the impact of Stockholm syndrome on battered and abused women as a community.[4] She claimed that in both the psychological and societal senses, these women are defined by their sense of fear surrounding the threat of male violence. This constant fear is what drives these women to perform actions that they know will be pleasing to men in order to avoid emotional, physical, or sexual assault as a result of male anger. Graham draws parallels between women and kidnapping victims in the sense that these women bond to men to survive, as captives bond to their captors to survive.[4]


Robbins and Anthony (1982)[edit]

Robbins and Anthony, who had historically studied a condition similar to Stockholm syndrome, known as destructive cult disorder, observed in their 1982 study that the 1970s were rich with apprehension surrounding the potential risks of brainwashing. They assert that brainwashing’s media attention during this time resulted in the fluid reception of Stockholm syndrome as a psychological condition.[4]

In popular culture[edit]

Films and television[edit]

  • In the independent film noir movie Something Wild (1961), the protagonist Mary Ann is held captive until she escapes, only to return to her captor and marry him.
  • In the 1977 TV series Lou Grant, episode Hostages. The hostage negotiator mentions Stockholm syndrome to Lou when hostage Carla Mardigian goes back after hostage taker lets her go to the toilet.
  • In the opening sequence of Never Say Never Again (1983) James Bond is "killed" in a training exercise by a prisoner he has released, since he doesn't anticipate that she might be suffering from Stockholm syndrome.
  • In Animal House (1978), John “Bluto” Blutarsky (John Belushi) kidnaps Mandy Pepperidge (Mary Louise Weller), and drives away in a Mercedes convertible. It is later shown that she has married Bluto, and we see her sitting next to Bluto, smiling.
  • In Overboard (1987), widower Dean Proffitt (Kurt Russell) tells a wealthy amnesiac woman (Goldie Hawn) she's his wife, where he keeps her in his house so that she would do housekeeping and mothers his four children. They would later start having romantic feelings for each other.
  • In Die Hard (1988), a book author, Dr. Hasseldorf, expresses his view that "by this time, the hostages should be going through the early stages of the Helsinki syndrome," an error compounded by news reporter Harvey Johnson's reply of "As in Helsinki, Sweden."
  • In A Perfect World (1993) a kidnapped boy (T.J. Lowther) becomes amiable with his captor (Kevin Costner), who is an escaped convict.
  • The Chase (1994), with Charlie Sheen.
  • In the film 12 Monkeys (1995), where a psychologist (Madeleine Stowe) starts to believe the apocalyptic theories of her kidnapper (the film's protagonist) and she falls in love with him.
  • In Babylon 5's 8th episode of Season 4, The Illusion of Truth (1997), Dr. Indiri states that Sheridan is suffering from Helsinki syndrome
  • Excess Baggage (1997) with Benicio Del Toro and Alicia Silverstone.
  • Buffalo '66 (1998), where a dance student, Layla (Christina Ricci), is kidnapped by a man just so she can be taken home and be shown off to his parents. She eventually falls for him.
  • Out of Sight (1998), where a bank robber (George Clooney) breaks out of jail and has a mutual attraction with a US Marshall (Jennifer Lopez) whom he has kidnapped.
  • The World is Not Enough (1999)
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
  • Saving Silverman (2001)
  • In Bandits' (2001), Kate Wheeler (Cate Blanchett) falls for the two bank robbers (Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton) who have kidnapped her.
  • In The Scorpion King (2002), a desert warrior (Dwayne Johnson) captures the enemy's sorceress, only to fall in love with her later in the film.
  • In John Q. (2002), a father (Denzel Washington) unable to pay for medical treatment and having a limited healthcare insurance policy; takes various medical staff and patients hostage to force free-healthcare for his dying son.
  • In Perfect Strangers (2003), a woman who realizes that she is kidnapped, gradually starts to fall for her captor (Sam Neill).
  • In the remake of King Kong (2005), Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) fears the ape at first but slowly develops feelings toward the creature and even attempts to save it.
  • In the animated series Black Lagoon, it is often contemplated by the protagonist whether or not he has Stockholm syndrome after he joins the pirates as a former hostage.
  • Captivity (2007), with Elisha Cuthbert.
  • In some episodes of Criminal Minds, abducted characters succumb to loyalty and obedience towards their captors.
  • Red (2010), with Bruce Willis.
  • In Time (2011), with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried.
  • In Pawn Shop Chronicles (2013) the abductor makes the women love him, one of the women even betraying her husband.
  • In Labor Day (2013), single mom Adele (Kate Winslet) and her son Henry are held hostage in a sort of unspoken, implied captivity by an escaped convict, Frank (Josh Brolin), until Frank and Adele fall for each other.
  • Black Ice (2014), a girl, who becomes kidnapped and held hostage while being stranded on an icy mountain, falls in love with one of her captors.
  • In Highway (2014), the main lead (Alia Bhatt) gets kidnapped and held in hostage meanwhile she falls for one of the captors (Randeep Hooda).
  • In Hero (2015), the main lead Radha (Athiya Shetty) gets kidnapped and held in hostage meanwhile she falls for one of the captors, Sooraj (Sooraj Pancholi).
  • In the BBC show Thirteen (TV series) (2016), the female lead Ivy Moxam (Jodie Comer) escapes after being held captive for 13 years. The character displays some signs of Stockholm syndrome towards her kidnapper.
  • Passengers (2016), with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.
  • In Berlin Syndrome (2017), the female lead Clare (Teresa Palmer) is held hostage by a Berlin school teacher, Andi (Max Riemelt) after a one-night stand.
  • In the second episode of Series XII of Red Dwarf, Siliconia (2017), the leader of the Mechanoid Intergalactic Liberation Front known as Wind suggests to Kryten that he is suffering from Stockholm syndrome based on his professed affection for his shipmates despite his seeming servitude

Other media[edit]

  • In The BFG, a 1982 children's novel by Roald Dahl, a young orphan named Sophie is kidnapped by a giant who takes her to his world. They would later then form a close affinity with each other.
  • The 2005 novel World War Z by Max Brooks features one character being interviewed regarding people who developed the syndrome during the worldwide zombie epidemic. Some individuals, mentally unable or unwilling to fight the zombies, tried to please them and join them, to the point of acting exactly like them. While humans couldn't always tell the difference, the zombies could, and they accepted no one but actual zombies among them regardless of behavior. These individuals are called "Quislings", and attempts are made at rehabilitating captured Quislings in the United States.
  • The award-winning 2009 novel Stolen by Lucy Christopher deals with the issue of whether or not an abducted girl eventually develops feelings for her captor.
  • In music, many bands have published songs titled "Stockholm Syndrome", such as Yo La Tengo, blink-182, Muse, and One Direction.
  • In the video game PAYDAY 2, there is an available skill in the "Mastermind" tree called Stockholm Syndrome, which gives civilians (who are typically held hostage if not freed by police units or left unattended long enough) a chance to revive downed players and give them more weapon ammunition.
  • In the TV series Hostages, Dr Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette) would start to fall for her captor Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott), who has held her family hostage. Moreover, as the season progresses, Carlisle becomes more forgiving and lenient towards the family.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jameson, Celia (2010). "The Short Step From Love to Hypnosis: A Reconsideration of the Stockholm Syndrome". Journal for Cultural Research. 14.4: 337–355 – via Elsevior. 
  2. ^ a b Mackenzie, Ian K. "The Stockholm Syndrome Revisited: Hostages, Relationships, Prediction, Control, and Psychological Science". Journal For Police Crisis Negotiations. 4: 5–21 – via Elsevior. 
  3. ^ a b Sundaram, Chandar S. (2013). "Stockholm Syndrome". Salem Press Encyclopedia – via Research Starters. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Adorjan, Michael, Tony Christensen, Benjamin Kelly, and Dorothy Pawluch. "Stockholm Syndrome As Vernacular Resource." The Sociological Quarterly 53.3 (2012): 454-74. SocINDEX with Full Text [EBSCO]. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
  5. ^ Nils Bejerot: The six day war in Stockholm New Scientist 1974, volume 61, number 886, page 486-487
  6. ^ Ochberg, Frank The Ties That Bind Captive to Captor, Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2005
  7. ^ PTSD. Springer Science+Business Media. 2006. ISBN 4-431-29566-6. 
  8. ^ "Africa Politics". International Press Service. July 10, 1996. Retrieved May 8, 2009. 
  9. ^ a b c Åse, Cecilia. "Crisis Narratives And Masculinist Protection." International Feminist Journal of Politics 17.4 (2015): 595-610. Political Science Complete. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.
  10. ^ a b Published in Anthropological Quarterly, 73.2 (2000), 74–88. The Human Motivational Complex: Evolutionary Theory and the Causes of Hunter-Gatherer Fighting, Azar Gat Part II: Proximate, Subordinate, and Derivative Causes"
  11. ^ "The percentage of females in the lowland villages who have been abducted is significantly higher: 17% compared [with] 11.7% in the highland villages." (Napoleon Chagnon quoted at Sexual Polarization in Warrior Cultures)
  12. ^ "Elena Valero, a Brazilian woman, was kidnapped by Yanomamo warriors when she was eleven years old. ... But none were so horrifying as the second [raid]: 'They killed so many.' ... The man then took the baby by his feet and bashed him against the rocks ..." (Hrdy quoted in Sexual Polarization in Warrior Cultures)
  13. ^ "The Shaur and Achuar Jivaros, once deadly enemies. ... A significant goal of these wars was geared toward the annihilation of the enemy tribe, including women and children. ... There were, however, many instances where the women and children were taken as prisoners ... A woman who fights, or a woman who refuses to accompany the victorious war-party to their homes and serve a new master, exposes herself to the risk of suffering the same fate as her men-folk." (Up de Graff also in Sexual Polarization in Warrior Cultures)
  14. ^ [self-published source]Thims, Libb (2007). Human Chemistry (Volume Two). pp. 604–605. ISBN 978-1-4303-2840-7. 
  15. ^ a b Henson, Keith (Summer 2006). "Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War". Mankind Quarterly. The Council for Social and Economic Studies. 46 (4). Archived from the original on December 9, 2012. Retrieved May 15, 2017. 
  16. ^ Association], American Psychiatry (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders : DSM-5 (5th ed.). Washington [etc.]: American Psychiatric Publishing. ISBN 0890425558.