Stockholm Syndrome

woman-looking-out-windowStockholm syndrome refers to symptoms that may occur in a person who is in a hostage situation or otherwise held prisoner. Typically, these feelings can be described as sympathy toward captors or the development of a bond with the captor or captors.

This reaction can also be recognized in those who have left religious cults, abusive relationships, or other traumatic situations.

Understanding Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm syndrome is not a recognized psychological diagnosis, but rather, an attempt to explain the symptoms appearing in some individuals who are held captive. A person who experiences Stockholm syndrome comes to bond with the captor and may experience feelings of love, empathy, or a desire to protect the captor. The hostage may also often develop negative feelings toward the police or other parties who are attempting rescue.

Studies of incidents involving hostages indicate Stockholm syndrome appears to be most likely to occur when individuals are held captive for several days and have close contact with their captors. These individuals are generally not harmed by their captors and may even be treated with kindness. A person who develops Stockholm syndrome often experiences symptoms of posttraumatic stress: nightmares, insomnia, flashbacks, a tendency to startle easily, confusion, and difficulty trusting others.

From a psychological perspective, this phenomenon can be understood as a survival mechanism. In fact, some experts may even encourage those in a hostage situation to act as if they are experiencing Stockholm syndrome in order to improve their chances of survival, as a connection with the perpetrator can potentially make the situation more bearable for the victim and may make the captors more inclined to meet the captive’s basic needs.

Researchers generally agree a hostage with Stockholm syndrome will develop positive feelings toward the captor and negative feelings toward the police. The captor/captors are also likely to feel positively about the hostages.

Anna Freud first described something akin to Stockholm syndrome when she talked about identification with an aggressor, or one’s attempt to cope with fear by transforming oneself from the threatened person to the threatening one. Freud considered this to be a defense mechanism that might give one a sense of power in a situation otherwise likely to be terrifying.

Prevalence of Stockholm Syndrome

An FBI study undertaken in an attempt to understand more about Stockholm syndrome suggests about 8% of people in hostage situations develop observable characteristics of Stockholm syndrome. However, theories about this reaction cannot be tested easily, as placing people in a hostage situation for the sake of a trial is not considered to be ethical.

Because there is little data about the syndrome and because existing data was obtained from widely varied situations, experts are not in complete agreement about what characterizes Stockholm syndrome or what leads some people to experience it and not others. Some researchers also disagree on the application of this syndrome to other traumatic situations, such as abusive relationships.

History of Stockholm Syndrome

The term originated following a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973. During the robbery, bank robbers held four bank employees captive in a vault for more than five days. While in captivity, the hostages bonded with their captors, mostly due to the small acts of perceived kindness on the part of the abductors. Eventually, the captives began to fear the police more than they feared the bank robbers and became resistant to the idea of rescue.

The behavior of the captives confused the police and the general public as well as the captives themselves. Psychiatrists likened the reaction to the shell shock (the term that was used to describe what is now known as posttraumatic stress) experienced by soldiers in war and explained that the captives felt grateful to their abductors, rather than to the police, for sparing them from death.

High Profile Cases of Stockholm Syndrome

The term Stockholm syndrome became widely used in 1974 in the kidnapping case of heiress Patty Hearst. Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) and later assisted her captors in a series of bank robberies, even claiming that she had joined the SLA of her own free will.  When she was arrested a year later following her involvement in the robberies, she said that she had been brainwashed by the SLA, and despite being sentenced to prison, her sentence was eventually commuted, and she was later pardoned.

Stockholm syndrome has also been used to describe the reaction of kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart. Smart was taken from her home in 2002 at the age of 14 and held captive for nine months. Even though it appears that Smart had various opportunities to escape, she never attempted to do so. It is unclear, however, whether she did not try to escape because she developed Stockholm syndrome or due to other reasons, such as her statement that she was terrified of her captors.

References:

  1. Carver, J.M. (n.d.). Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The mystery of loving an abuser. Counselling Resource. Retrieved from http://counsellingresource.com/lib/therapy/self-help/stockholm.
  2. Fuchs, E. (2013, October 20). Why Stockholm Syndrome could be a total myth. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/stockholm-syndrome-could-be-a-myth-2013-10.
  3. Patty Hearst kidnapped. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/patty-hearst-kidnapped.
  4. Klein, C. (2013, August 23). The birth of “Stockholm Syndrome,” 40 years ago. History in the Headlines. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/news/stockholm-syndrome.
  5. Sandler, A.M. (1996). The psychoanalytic legacy of Anna Freud. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 51, 270-284.
  6. Stockholm Syndrome. (n.d.). The Free Dictionary. Retrieved from http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Stockholm+syndrome.

Last Updated: 01-8-2016

  • 26 comments
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  • Taysier Elshaikh

    April 26th, 2017 at 8:00 PM

    I agree to the terms

  • Deborah

    March 7th, 2019 at 4:04 AM

    Thank you for this. I’ve been trying to understand, it all makes sense now. I am a victom and a survivor! My life has never been the same since.

  • LoriH

    March 28th, 2019 at 6:14 PM

    Hi Paige, very sorry to hear that someone close to you, could be so cruel. What type of abuse did you endure at the hands of your father? I am curious as someone I know is going through some abuse and I think it may have.been physical, verbal as well as sexual abuse by her father.

  • Leasha

    December 18th, 2019 at 10:32 AM

    I am exactly the same chick. Here I thought it was normal in the relationship and made me feel guilty like I it was all my fault all the time yet believed him ! And the black blue will never be !!!!! Ever Again!!!! J have finally met my tru match. And treated like you couldn’t fathom

  • Sharon M

    April 17th, 2020 at 5:26 AM

    HOW does one get away?? What event or action can be taken? When you feel like your in quicksand and cant make any move whatsover, what can you do to make a difference??

  • G Deva

    April 5th, 2018 at 1:34 PM

    Good article

  • John

    September 10th, 2018 at 8:44 AM

    Thanks for putting this up. I know a victim of this problem and you have taught me to encourage patience and understanding.

  • Paige

    March 12th, 2019 at 4:29 PM

    my lawyer for a court case against my dad listened to me rant about not wanting to get him in trouble and still wanting to see him so now she told me to google stockholm syndrome and is rushing child protective services to get me a therapist so… thats nice.

  • Deborah

    April 16th, 2019 at 11:15 PM

    I was a victim! Recognizing and understanding the patterns of your thoughts, actions gives you something to work on and with. Surviving mental, physical and sexual abuse I’ve also survived a terminal illness. This road I’ve walked as many of you taught me to never give up hope. I see life differently now, it hasn’t been easy and will always be work in progress. I finally can say it has empowered me as we are the strong ones, we are worthy, learning to love yourself again. I finally completed a Lay Counseling course through my church, this is the path, helping others which has set me free.

  • Paige

    September 5th, 2019 at 3:54 AM

    Well, I’m glad you managed to find a happier place for yourself. <3

  • Sarah L.

    April 9th, 2019 at 5:03 PM

    I’ve just learn from my friend about Stockholm syndrome and truly believe I suffer from this. I have a complicated upbringing and have suffered an abusive relationship.

  • Barbara

    July 18th, 2019 at 9:51 AM

    I hope you know that just because you might have similar symptoms doesn’t mean you have Stockholm Syndrome

  • Mike

    December 13th, 2019 at 4:43 PM

    Odd because just a few months before this was posted by sarah, I sent my friend Sarah information on it… Weird just saying

  • Tuna

    May 20th, 2019 at 7:52 AM

    This was a very good article to read and I enjoy reading up on this, i am student studying up on bride kidnapping and feel that many may go through this so thank you.

  • Kate

    August 13th, 2019 at 2:08 AM

    I was in a highly abusive marriage, 2 children, my my now ex husband was a true jekyll and Hyde long story short although I eventually managed to get away from him by totally switching off my emotions, I still trusted his every word even forgave him abuses that he would be imprisoned for.. I still hold feelings for me though I haven’t seen him for years now but he has parentally alienated my daughter from me since she was 9 yrs old, she is now 25 and disowned me

  • Jayden S

    October 5th, 2019 at 9:36 AM

    Wow. I’ve known about Stockholm syndrome for a while. And I always knew it was possible to get. I’m friends and have been friends for a while with a psychopath who loves getting all the attention. He continuously uses me and manipulates me and yet I can’t seem to stop talking to him. It hurts me not to. I love him with all my heart and I now realize that. This is probably why.

  • Michelle H

    March 29th, 2020 at 5:20 AM

    Sounds like a classic Narcissist to me, anx your an Empath. Dangerous combo.

  • jeannie

    February 1st, 2020 at 3:03 AM

    wow i just keep learning. I stayed with a man for forty years and finally left and even as mean as he is or as nice as he can be i miss that part of me even though i dont want to ever go back to it. This makes so much sense thank you to whoever put this on my read feed

  • Michael

    April 23rd, 2020 at 12:20 PM

    How does one get away. What event or action can be taken

  • Jackie

    May 14th, 2020 at 6:13 PM

    I was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and had my life threatened for 2 days. I could not find a way out. I knew I was going to be killed. This was 35 years ago. I did black this out of my memory for 5 years after it hapoened and remembeted having this bond towards him. The PTSD has always been with me and I finally started treatment. I know I feared telling anyone after it happened, but I also chose to protect him. This is really helpful for me to see what I did to survive and will mention this to my new therapist to help me recover.

  • Sarah K

    July 6th, 2020 at 6:11 AM

    My neighbor (let’s call him C) became my only and closest friend while I was in a very abusive relationship and C did everything he could to care for my daughter while I was at work because my then boyfriend wouldn’t. I fell in love with C in a matter of months. He did everything for me, until he had to move away. My then boyfriend laid hands on me the next day and C came back to help me escape, but whrn I took my daughter back to my ex’s to get my daughter’s meds C came after me, beat my ex in front of me, held me hostage and pointed a gun at my daughter, when my ex stated that she was the most valuable thing in the house. I escaped with my child and called police.
    It’s been 2 years since that happened, and I absolutely hate myself for the fact that I am still in love with C, ans I can’t get him out of my head. Is this Stockholm? Cuz it’s tearing me up inside and I want to walk away from this.

  • Brittnee

    February 15th, 2021 at 8:45 PM

    The Stockholm Syndrome is quite real. The Traumabond is as well.
    I will work hard to find out how to free others from this . My research concerns this.

  • banica

    June 30th, 2021 at 7:38 AM

    Can Stockholm Syndrome be caategorized as a memory defect? If so, how? Thank you :)

  • MARION

    January 10th, 2022 at 9:09 PM

    Thank you I have a family member that is in an abusive relationship and as we have tried to rescue this family member it has turn into a real negative situation. I will employ the knowledge i have learn from these postings.

  • anonymous

    July 16th, 2022 at 1:21 AM

    Evening, I of New York and Europe over 14- more years had been dropped into pitch black , home town of which was not a metropolitan city, had huge competitive, small; far city far off of which was over populated and of zero networks where I had retained my New York home, and treated the situation after a unjust corporate drop with zero notice as a visit, only, to look at other : another m city oh which was approx six hours travel time and shared the same job market as manhattan. Though the location I was in shared opposing in fractures, huge populace drops, was what I refer to as pitch black, no friends, no anything and : you would need finances to access work and pursue work which was very far : it was not look out your door : there are people and work outside of your front door of which I was used too for over 14 years. I believe the drastic change, of which I had very high career lines : a very good life: in combination. With vulnerability : placed me in a six year situation : of which approx 4.5 year mark : I then traveled and begun reading : and found myself to: was so surreal : but was or experienced Stockholm Syndrome and or a Coercive Trauma Bond : which is social isolation and the inability or perceived inability to escape : or which I then have moved forward to launch a global positive education platform : around covert abuse, vulnerability, words, definitions of which all seemingly fly under the radar: in regards to minor to major topics : surrounding devaluation: covert abuse; intimate partner abuse: corporate responsibility: personality disorders: idealization: devaluation: intermittent reinforcement: power imbalances : to the correlation between these things in regards to: more serious or evident forms of trauma bonding and Stockholm syndrome such as the techniques used in the sex trafficking industry.

    Mind blowing. Truly mind blowing. Zero if this information per se is out there readily available in the world: on a modern: clean: unbiased: definitions : words only : type of platform : of which has zero dark or negative connotations: but positive and negative per se education: for all of the behaviors traits sjd so forth :

    Grooming : even in todays modern world with the use of texting : and so forth : which kind of allow the foor open : for young men to bypass you’re everyday how you ? * to just send me photos : you know , there is so much out there : that is just so new : so much information : I had never even heard of ; until I had the experience of detoxing from Stockholm syndrome and or both : trauma bonding of which I then had and could not help myself I had to begin reading : to understand what was happening to myself and what had happened : very surreal and very kind of profound : to go through all of this: so I suppose you feel with an insurmountable amount of information and service you would like to put it somewhere :

    Under I suppose this time placement : I was in what they call or I call, my grandmothers house from New York , which was truly a kind of pitch black, no sprawl , suburb , with the San Francisco city look up ; hours away and Nine regions very black, or very slow or poplace change ;

    On arrival I had met a friend of whom lived and was established in the metropolitan city six hours away or so, of whom invited myself to be there. I had work from New York over 14 years so I was thrilled or happy to kind of have a per se long tone and or trusted friend invite me.

    Well, that turned into a six year saga in the middle of nowhere for myself between two cities : horrible truly: where I went through two patterns with this person around severe discards suddenly and very cold abrupt and truly insane : mid move : which threw my life finances work : really all : quite off : and in the middle of that or in relation to that : I then had walked into a sobriety group, sober 19 years; and was per se taken for a False school and business ride in the middle of nowhere , also between New York and m city : so ,

    It was very insane : I was working : under survival throws back and forth in a job market of which is very competitive and cost of living is one of the highest on the world * :

    i believe this person has a personality disorder, of which devaluation and discards and idealization are a natural thing : of which are the reason for my life heading into tail spin : each mid move : **

    the person in between , mind you I am a highly educated person of which : I am also very street smart , although these areas are all very wealthy or protected anyhow, as well used to be apart of organizations political back in the 70’s where I believe he was apart of sex trafficking rings, and I believe he three had thrown out baits hooks under promises of fake school business ideas or finances too : under this kind of : old way he used to operate : so, all in all , after four half years of this : and a huge cold second alarming second discard : where I had just fixed professionally one situation :

    I was cut off from this person : per se : and knew : I was going to go through a detox and or Stockholm syndrome trauma bonding :

    I associated this person and or attachment as work housing and survival : needless to say I had let yo if New York home and my grandmother passed away ; so, mid move and with huge savings and a full year paid ahead I did not move due to his profound discard : second : middle of nowhere :

    I threw myself into travel and began rapidly reading: a lot.

    He the whole situation is so unreal : whether he is a narcissist, has psychopathy, he does idealize : and devalue : he is also I believe emotionally a bit stunted : I don’t know / but logistically on a map : his actions are insane :

    Truly. It was pitch black and nothing was around me: at all. I went through very cyclical patterns with this person and another in between working the entire time : under a lot of pressure ;

    Anyhow, I love this article. The view of the girl is so much myself, looking out from my grandmothers fence 4 am or 5 am, in periods of severe culture shock, middle of nowhere between cities : watching friends , companies, open , life unfold : myself having these really off the wall experiences ‘middle of nowhere’.

    The fact this person heard it once , and weren’t forward to do it again, after correcting things once, is just so truly insane:

    I had to share. Love this article and in regards to information around healing and or support : anything , I look forward to reading comments and so forth.

    Thank you.

  • Melissa

    August 31st, 2022 at 8:02 AM

    I believe very much so that relationships should be considered in this. I spent two years in one that I was beat everyday like a grown man him an body builder so breaking a bone or giving me stitches on a daily but he worked everyday fed me clothed me along with many other things us both trying to recover addicts so I told myself it was my fault cause I brought him back to his mental trauma after he got sober so he started beating me instead of getting high. I left the hospital many times cause I never wanted him to get in trouble fought anyone that thought about saying something bad about him I still to this day feel so much love towards him an I know it it so very unhealthy. I stay confused but thats true.

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