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Stockholm syndrome

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Stockholm syndrome

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.


Formally named in 1973 when four hostages were taken during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, Stockholm syndrome is also commonly known as 'capture bonding'. The syndrome's title was developed when the victims of the Stockholm bank robbery defended their captors after being released and would not agree to testify in court against them. Stockholm syndrome's significance arises because it is based in a paradox, as captives' sentiments for their captors are the opposite of the fear and disdain an onlooker may expect to see as a result of trauma.

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 cooperate with police forces and other government authorities, and 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.


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" (Swedish), directly translated as The Norrmalmstorg Syndrome, but then later became known abroad as the Stockholm syndrome. It was originally defined by psychiatrist Frank Ochberg to aid the management of hostage situations.

Symptoms and behaviours

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 freed victims back into their previously ordinary lives.

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 (from August 23 to August 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.

Patty Hearst

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 corporate 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 eventually presidentially pardoned by Bill Clinton , who was informed that she was not acting under her own free will.

Yvonne Ridley

Yvonne Ridley is a British journalist who was a reporter for the Sunday Express when she was captured for eleven days by the Afghan Taliban in 2001. Upon release, she became a fervent Muslim , denouncing the typical values and lifestyles of the west and praising Muslim practice. Ridley denies that she suffers from Stockholm syndrome, claiming that she did not bond or empathize with her captors and that she was only awoken and shown how to live a liberated life.

As a coping mechanism

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 captors often fear that their affection will be perceived as fake, captives eventually begin to believe that their positive sentiments are genuine.

FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

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.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)

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. The work was updated in 2012, when the fifth edition (DSM 5) was released and Stockholm syndrome was included under 'Disorders of Extreme Stress, Not Otherwise Specified'.

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, women are defined by their sense of fear surrounding the threat of male violence. This constant fear drives 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.

Ibarra and Kitsuse (1993)

Ibarra and Kitsuse’s 1993 study aimed to hold sociologists more accountable for the language and rhetoric used when making broad statements about psychological conditions. Their goal was to raise awareness among social actors and scientists alike about the effects that categorizing society and reality can have on what is perceived to be true and relevant in regards to social reality. They were also encouraged to take into account the weight that labels often carry when attached to mentally suffering individuals.

Conrad and Schneider (1980)

This study, performed by sociologists Conrad and Schneider in 1980, evaluated the language used regarding medicalization, or creating conditions specifically for “medical and health” purposes. First, they investigated how specific names for diseases were developed and widely accepted in both medical and social realms alike. They later assessed how accurate it is to assign medical labels to individual conditions and diseases, and also sought to define the impact of general mental diagnosis.

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.

Attachment patterns

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 be fall prey to Stockholm syndrome. 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, 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 captors perform acts of kindness on, or fail to “beat, abuse, or rape the victims”.

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. 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.

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 ..." Being captured and having their dependent children killed might have been fairly common. Women who resisted capture in such situations risked being killed.

Azar Gat argues that war and abductions (capture) were typical of human pre-history. 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, military basic training, fraternity hazing, and sex practices such as sadism/masochism or bondage/discipline. 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.


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.

Lima syndrome

A similar form of Stockholm syndrome called Lima syndrome has been proposed, in which abductors develop sympathy for their hostages. There are many reasons why Lima syndrome can develop in abductors. Sometimes when there are multiple abductors, one or more of them will start to disagree with what they are doing and influence one another. 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.


Stockholm syndrome Wikipedia