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What is Stockholm Syndrome?

Ever heard of cases where victims become sympathetic to their own kidnappers? A subject of several movies, this is a phenomenon popularly known as ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.

It is a psychological condition where a kidnap victim develops positive feelings about his or her kidnapper. The name of the syndrome was coined by noted criminologist Nils Bejerot. The condition appears in a hostage when he or she feels the kidnapper is showing kindness to him or her.

History of Stockholm Syndrome

The condition gets its name from the infamous bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. The robbery occurred in the Swedish bank Kreditbanken in 1973. Two armed men, Olsson and Olofsson, had held four bank employees as hostage for six days. When rescue attempts were made at the end of the sixth day, the kidnapped people sided with their captors. They tried to thwart rescue attempts. Even after the kidnappers surrendered and were sentenced to imprisonment, the captors tried to save them. They tried to raise money for the court proceedings and save their kidnappers from harsh sentences. It was also said that one of the captives secretly got engaged to one of the captors. The unique psychological phenomenon shown by the hostages was named as ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.

sstockholm syndrome
Picture 1: Representation of a kidnapped girl.

Stockholm Syndrome Causes

The exact reason behind this psychological condition is very complicated. Over the years, eminent psychiatrists and criminologists have pinned down several factors. These are believed to be the causes of Stockholm Syndrome. This particular condition is supposed to appear when

  • Hostages feel their kidnapper is doing them a favour by not taking their life. This immediately makes them see their captor in a more positive light.
  • The kidnapped people are treated in a sympathetic manner by their captors. When captors provide their victims with a good living environment, the hostages begin to see them more favourably. Normally, kidnapers are expected to treat their victims very harshly. Cruel behaviour generates hatred. A kinder treatment does just the opposite.
  • The captive ones are isolated from the outside world. This makes them see the viewpoint of their kidnappers. They begin to understand the circumstances that may have forced the captor to commit the crime. As a result, they try to help their kidnapper and become sympathetic to them and their causes.
  • The kidnapped people begin to develop a physical or emotional attachment with their abductors. Living together for many days can bring two different persons together. They can start sharing their common interests.
  • The abducted people develop a habit of pleasing their kidnappers. At first, this is a necessity. The kidnapped ones are forced to side with their abductors to escape harsh treatment or even murder. But when it becomes a habit, it may stay on even in the absence of the force that caused it.
  • The abducted ones develop a sort of dependence on their abductors. This especially happens when the abductors have no close family member to go back to. In case the abductor has murdered his/her relatives, the victim feels helpless and needs the abductor for food and shelter. This becomes a necessity even when there is no threat from the part of the abductor.

Symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome

Like any other psychological condition, Stockholm Syndrome has its symptoms. Some of the well-known symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome are:

  • Showing admiration for the abductors
  • Resisting rescue attempts
  • Defending kidnappers
  • Trying to please abductors
  • Refusal to testify against captors
  • Refusal to run away from abductors

Popular Stockholm Syndrome Cases

There have been many instances when Stockholm Syndrome was found in abducted people. Here are some popular cases where symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome had been clearly visible.

  • Heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the political outfit Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974. Later, she became a member of the group and also assisted them in bank robberies.
  • In 1998, a ten year old girl Natascha Kampusch was kidnapped in Austria. She came back in 2006. She had escaped when her kidnapper was unmindful. As per her own admission, she was kept locked in a cell for eight years. But she told about her abductor in golden terms.
  • In 2003, a 15-year-old girl named Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped by a self-proclaimed priest living in Salt Lake City. She came back home after nine months. Psychologists say that she could have escaped long ago if she had not identified herself with her captor.

Stockholm Syndrome Remedies & Treatment

Stockholm Syndrome is typically regarded as a condition that develops from extreme stress and fear. The most effective cure for it is counselling by psychiatrists and the love and support of family members. With loving support, expert guidance and patience, Stockholm Syndrome can be rooted out after a point of time.


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