Stockholm Syndrome: Definition and Examples

What is Stockholm syndrome? Why does it happen? What are the symptoms? How is it diagnosed and treated? Is it possible to get rid of this situation? You can find the answers to all these questions and much more below. 

What is Stockholm syndrome?

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological condition in which a hostage attaches to and sympathizes with her kidnapper or detainee. Stockholm syndrome takes its name from a hostage case in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1973. During an attempted bank robbery, several bank employees were taken hostage, and during their six-day captivity, they began to sympathize with their kidnappers and fear the police.

The emotional response of Stockholm syndrome is not a one-way street – both the hostage and the hostage taker can begin to feel this bond. In fact, this commitment is strong enough even for the victim to feel hostile towards any law enforcement officer attempting to rescue. In the detainee’s opinion, they are less likely to experience violence from their kidnapper, and a reduced propensity for violence helps protect the hostage from law enforcement. The bond between the hostage and the hostage may continue after the hostage is released.

Researchers have also described Stockholm syndrome in relationships, even in the context of severe domestic abuse. In both hostage situations and relationships, such a situation can develop as a result of the detainee’s or abuser’s decision not to use violence (against the hostage) or to temporarily stop the abuse (in relationships). In relationships, this can be called the honeymoon phase, where the abuser apologizes and promises to stop the abuse.

Studies have found that the psychological attachment of Stockholm syndrome is a defense mechanism for the hostage against the stress and emotional trauma of her current situation. This bond typically develops over a period of time in situations of long-term abuse. However, in some cases, this bond can form quickly, even in just a few days, as in the bank robbery hostage case of 1973. Scientists do not yet know why some victims develop the condition and others do not.

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Stockholm syndrome: Causes

Stockholm syndrome is a coping mechanism used by survivors of certain abuse situations to deal with the extremely stressful and traumatic event that can occur over a long period of time. In fact, the development of this syndrome can truly protect the victim and help ensure her survival, especially in potentially violent situations.

When the victim begins to identify with the aggressor, they stop being against the aggressor and can start working with him, which can reduce the likelihood of violent behavior. The victim may not be fully aware that this emotional response is developing.

The power imbalance between the victim and the aggressor contributes to the development of Stockholm syndrome. When a hostage or other victim fears that the aggressor will harm them in some way, they may be relieved if the assailant refrains from violence (or, in abuse cases, stops harming the victim and apologizes for their behavior). The victim may view this as kindness or compassion that can lead to positive feelings towards the aggressor.

Stockholm syndrome: Symptoms

The most common symptom of Stockholm syndrome is the victim’s feeling of having positive feelings towards the aggressor. In addition, the victim may develop negative feelings and even hostility towards strangers, such as law enforcement, friends or family members who are trying to intervene in the situation. Another possible symptom is the aggressor’s mutual attachment to the victim. Hostages may also experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder , a common condition that coincides with Stockholm syndrome .

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder include:

  • Flashbacks or dreams about the traumatic event
  • Emotional or physical distress in a situation that reminds the victim of the traumatic event
  • Feelings of hopelessness or emotional numbness
  • Feeling disconnected from friends and family
  • Memory/memory issues
  • Difficulty concentrating or sleeping
  • irritability/anger
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • self-harming behavior

The above symptoms may require the help of a mental health professional for effective treatment.

Stockholm syndrome: Examples

In addition to the 1973 bank robbery hostage situation that got its name, there are many notorious examples of this situation. Leading cases of Stockholm syndrome include:

  • Patty Hearst: The grandson of famous newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst was abducted by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974. He began to identify with his kidnappers and eventually helped them rob a bank. He used the Stockholm syndrome as a legal defense when he was caught and charged with a crime, but was sentenced to prison.
  • Iran hostage crisis: In 1979 Iranian students occupied the US Embassy in Tehran and held more than 50 Americans hostage for over a year. Upon release, many hostages reported being well-treated despite the fact that they were often kept in isolation and sleep-deprived.
  • Hijacking of TWA Flight 847: After being held hostage for 14 days by Lebanese Shiites in 1985, all but one of the dozens of passengers developed Stockholm syndrome. After his release, one of the hostages reported that when the plane landed, he witnessed other hostages helping their captors and even playing football with their captors. A hostage bid farewell to one of the kidnappers after she was released.
  • Hostages in Lebanon: Three hostages kidnapped by Islamist militants were released after they were released, although they lived in very bad conditions for several years before finally being released in 1991, he said, and their captors treated them well.

Stockholm syndrome: Treatment

This can be quite difficult to treat, as the bond between the hostage and the prisoner can be strong. Also, since this condition is not recognized as a psychological disorder or illness, there is no standard treatment plan for the condition.

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When this is the case in relationships, taking the abused person away from the abuser can sometimes break the psychological bond. However, the victim may even resist the help of an outsider to get away from the abusive environment. However, if withdrawal from the abuser is successful, the victim can often see the situation as it is and move forward by seeking treatment as needed.

Health conditions such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder may be associated with this syndrome and can be treated by a doctor. Medication or psychotherapy with a mental health professional can help the victim cope with these and other related conditions.

Stockholm syndrome: long-term effects

Victims of abuse or hostage situations may still feel a bond with the abuser or hostage taker even after they have recovered from the situation. In some famous cases, victims defended their kidnappers against the police, and some even physically protected their kidnappers from law enforcement.

If the victim is unable to escape the situation and continues to be isolated from friends, family or law enforcement, the bond between the victim and the abuser can continue to grow.

Stockholm syndrome: different types

Stockholm syndrome can develop in victims of several different conditions. Example conditions of Stockholm syndrome include:

  • Kidnapping or hostage situations
  • Domestic abuse, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Hostile employers known as Corporate Stockholm Syndrome
  • sex trade
  • malicious sports coaching

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