Stockholm syndrome is a condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity. 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." The FBI's Hostage Barricade Database System shows that roughly eight percent of victims show evidence of Stockholm syndrome.
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. 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.
Stockholm syndrome is considered a "contested illness", due to many law enforcement officers' doubt about the legitimacy of the condition.
Stockholm syndrome 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, discrimination, terror, and political oppression.
- 1 History
- 2 Symptoms and behaviours
- 3 Criticism
- 4 See also
- 5 References
Stockholm bank robbery
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 (23–28 August) 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.
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. He called it Norrmalmstorgssyndromet, meaning "The Norrmalmstorg Syndrome"; it later became known outside of Sweden as the Stockholm syndrome. It was originally defined by psychiatrist Frank Ochberg to aid the management of hostage situations.
Other famous examples
Mary McElroy was abducted from her home at age 25 by four men who held a gun to her, demanded her compliance, took her to an abandoned farmhouse, and chained her to a wall. She defended her kidnappers when she was released, explaining that they were only businessmen. She then continued to visit her captors while they were in jail. She eventually committed suicide and left the following note: “My four kidnappers are probably the only people on Earth who don't consider me an utter fool. You have your death penalty now – so, please, give them a chance."
Natascha Kampusch was kidnapped at age ten and kept in an insulated, dark room under the garage of Wolfgang Priklopil. She would receive a variation of kind, physically and sexually abusive, controlling, and permissive treatment from her captor. Eight years after her kidnapping, Natascha left and Priklopil committed suicide. After her kidnapper's death, Natascha lamented and kept a picture of him in her wallet.
Kampusch now owns the house in which she was imprisoned, saying, "I know it's grotesque – I must now pay for electricity, water and taxes on a house I never wanted to live in". It was reported that she claimed the house from Přiklopil's estate because she wanted to protect it from vandals and being torn down; she also noted that she has visited it since her escape. When the third anniversary of her escape approached, it was revealed she had become a regular visitor at the property and was cleaning it out possibly to move in herself.
In January 2010, Kampusch said she had retained the house because it was such a big part of her formative years, also stating that she would fill in the cellar if it is ever sold, adamant that it will never become a macabre museum to her lost adolescence. The cellar was indeed filled in, though Kampusch still owns the house.
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.
In 1977, Colleen Stan was hitchhiking to visit a friend in southern California when she was kidnapped by Cameron Hooker and his wife Janice and forced to live in a wooden restraining box underneath their bed. For seven years she was repeatedly raped and tortured by Cameron and forced to live life as a sort of domestic/sex slave. Even though she was allowed to socialize with Janice and even visit her mother, she still continued to live in the box and did not attempt to escape. She was eventually freed by Janice, who asked Stan to not disclose her abuse as Janice was attempting to reform Cameron. Stan remained silent until Janice finally decided to turn Cameron over to the police.
Sexual abuse victims
There is evidence that some victims of childhood sexual abuse come to feel a connection with their abuser. They often feel flattered by the adult attention or are afraid that disclosure will create family disruption. In adulthood, they resist disclosure for emotional and personal reasons.
One instance of this was in the Elisabeth Fritzl case. Upon reaching the age of 18, Fritzl’s father locked her in the cellar of her home where she remained captive and victim to her father’s repetitive molestations for 24 years. During her confinement, she birthed seven of her father’s children, four who were kept secret and three whom her father and mother cared for openly. Due to her father also being the father of her children, Elisabeth grew attached to him.
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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.
Jan-Erik Olsson, the perpetrator of the original bank robbery in Stockholm, 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.
Symptoms and behaviours
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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; refusal to accept the reality of events; recurring flashbacks.
- Emotional: lack of feeling; fear; helplessness; hopelessness; aggression; depression; guilt; dependence on captor; development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Social: anxious; irritable; cautious; estrangement
- Physical: increase in effects of pre-existing conditions; development of health conditions due to possible restriction from food, sleep, or exposure to outdoors
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". 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. The conception of Stockholm syndrome has grown to include victims of kidnappings or hostage instances, domestic or child abuse, human trafficking, incest, prisoners of war, political terrorism, cult members, concentration camp prisoners, slaves, and prostitutes. It is believed that women are especially subject to develop the condition.
Typically, Stockholm syndrome develops in captives when they engage in "face-to-face contact" with their captors, and when captors make captives doubt the likelihood of their survival by terrorizing them into "helpless, powerless, and submissive" states. This enables captors to appear merciful when they perform acts of kindness or fail to "beat, abuse, or rape" the victims. 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 any oppressive relationship. Partial activation of the capture-bonding psychological trait may lie behind battered woman syndrome, military basic training, fraternity hazing, and sex practices such as sadism/masochism or bondage/discipline.
Possible evolutionary explanations
Evolutionarily speaking, research evidence exists to support the genuine scientific nature of Stockholm syndrome. Responses similar to those in human captives have been detected in some reptiles and mammals, primates in particular. Abuse and subsequent submission and appeasement by the victim have been observed among chimpanzees, leading to the theory that the Stockholm Syndrome may have its roots in evolutionary needs.
Life in the "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, who asserts that war and abductions were typical of human pre-history.[10 Being captured by neighbouring tribes was a relatively common event for women. In some of those tribes (Yanomamo, for instance), practically everyone in the tribe is descended from a captive within the last three generations. As high as one in ten of females were abducted and incorporated into the tribe that captured them.Being captured and having their children killed may have been common; women who resisted capture risked being killed. When selection is intense and persistent, adaptive traits (such as capture-bonding) become universal to the population or species.
Loving to survive
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.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.
Recovering from Stockholm syndrome ordinarily involves "psychiatric or psychological counseling," where the patient is helped to realize that his or her actions and feelings stemmed from inherent human survival techniques. The process of recovery includes reinstating normalcy into the lives of victims, including helping the victim learn how to decrease his or her survival-driven behaviors.
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
A report by the FBI found that only 8% of kidnapping victims showed signs of Stockholm syndrome. The sensational nature of dramatic cases causes that the public perceives this phenomenon as the rule rather than the exception. For Stockholm Syndrome to happen, FBI researchers have identified three key factors: the passage of time, continual contact, and small acts of kindness without direct and persistent abuse.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM5)
This book is widely used as the "classification system for psychological disorders" by the American Psychiatric Association. Stockholm syndrome has not historically appeared in the manual, as many believe it falls under Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Before the fifth edition (DSM5) was released, Stockholm syndrome was under consideration to be included under 'Disorders of Extreme Stress, Not Otherwise Specified'. The work was updated in 2013, but Stockholm syndrome was not present.
Robbins and Anthony (1982)
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.
Other researchers have found that although there is a lot of media coverage of Stockholm Syndrome, there has not been a lot of professional research into the phenomena. What little research has been done is often contradictory and does not always agree on what Stockholm Syndrome is. The term has grown beyond kidnappings to all kinds of abuse. Also, there is no clear definition of symptoms to ‘diagnose’ the ‘syndrome.
It is possible that the label Stockholm Syndrome is used too freely in cases in which it may not apply. Elizabeth Smart has been held as a classic example of Stockholm syndrome; however, she denies that she ever had any emotional attachment to her abusers. Although she chose not to run away when she had the chance, she emphasized that the threats from her captors to her and her family, and the direct presence of her captors influenced her decision to stay. Once freed from her captors, she gladly reunited with her family and felt no empathy for her abusers.
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