Why Stockholm Syndrome Happens and How to Help

Light shines though slightly cracked-open door.Stockholm syndrome is a psychological condition that occurs when a victim of abuse identifies and attaches, or bonds, positively with their abuser. This syndrome was originally observed when hostages who were kidnapped not only bonded with their kidnappers, but also fell in love with them.

Professionals have expanded the definition of Stockholm syndrome to include any relationship in which victims of abuse develop a strong, loyal attachment to the perpetrators of abuse. Some of the populations affected with this condition include concentration camp prisoners, prisoners of war, abused children, incest survivors, victims of domestic violence, cult members, and people in toxic work or church environments.

The Characteristics of Stockholm Syndrome

It may be easier to understand Stockholm syndrome as an actual survival strategy for victims. This is because it seems to increase victims’ chances of survival and is believed to be a necessary tactic for defending psychologically and physically against experiencing an abusive, toxic, and controlling relationship. Stockholm syndrome is often found in toxic relationships where a power differential exists, such as between a parent and child or spiritual leader and congregant. Some signs of Stockholm syndrome include:

  • Positive regard towards perpetrators of abuse or captors.
  • Failure to cooperate with police and other government authorities when it comes to holding perpetrators of abuse or kidnapping accountable.
  • Little or not effort to escape.
  • Belief in the goodness of the perpetrators or kidnappers.
  • Appeasement of captors. This is a manipulative strategy for maintaining one’s safety. As victims get rewarded—perhaps with less abuse or even with life itself—their appeasing behaviors are reinforced.
  • Learned helplessness. This can be akin to “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” As the victims fail to escape the abuse or captivity, they may start giving up and soon realize it’s just easier for everyone if they acquiesce all their power to their captors.
  • Feelings of pity toward the abusers, believing they are actually victims themselves. Because of this, victims may go on a crusade or mission to “save” their abuser.
  • Unwillingness to learn to detach from their perpetrators and heal. In essence, victims may tend to be less loyal to themselves than to their abuser.

Anyone can be susceptible to Stockholm syndrome. Yes, there are certain people with abusive backgrounds that may be more likely to be affected, such as people with abusive childhoods; but any person can become a victim if the right conditions exist.

Battered partners or spouses are a prime example of Stockholm syndrome. Oftentimes, they are reluctant to press charges or initiate a restraining order, and some have attempted to stop police from arresting their abusers even after a violent assault. After the relationship has ended, victims of domestic violence may often make statements such as, “I still love him,” even after being brutally beaten.

Battered partners or spouses are a prime example of Stockholm syndrome. Oftentimes, they are reluctant to press charges or initiate a restraining order, and some have attempted to stop police from arresting their abusers even after a violent assault.

How Stockholm Syndrome Works

Stockholm syndrome occurs when certain dynamics are at play, and it happens within particular circumstances. Following is a list of ingredients that can contribute to the development of the syndrome in individuals:

  • The condition can develop when victims of abuse believe there is a threat to their physical or psychological survival, and they also believe their abusers would carry out that threat.
  • When victims of kidnapping are treated humanely or simply allowed to live, they often feel grateful and attribute positive qualities to their captors believing that they are, indeed, good people.
  • Intermittent good/bad behavior can create trauma bonds. Stockholm syndrome is a form of trauma bond, where the victims “wait out” the bad behaviors for the “crumbs” of good behaviors bestowed on them.
  • Victims are isolated from others. When people are in abusive systems, such as a kidnapping situation, access to outside input and communication is limited, or even nonexistent. This way, only the perpetrators’ input is allowed. It’s like “uber-propaganda.”

How to Help People Who May Have Stockholm Syndrome

Understanding the underlying psychology surrounding Stockholm syndrome can help you know how to help someone who has it. Stockholm syndrome is the victim’s response to trauma and involves many social dynamics. Some of these social dynamics include conformity, groupthink, deindividuation, romantic love, and fundamental attribution error, among others.

  • Try psychoeducation. Psychoeducation involves teaching victims of Stockholm syndrome what is going on. Remember the saying, “Knowledge is power”? Knowing what you’re up against is the best offense to win the battle for your loved one’s freedom.
  • Avoid polarization. Don’t try to convince the victim of the villainous traits of the abuser; this may cause the victim to polarize and defend the perpetrator.
  • Use the Socratic method. Ask the victim questions about how they see the situation, how they feel and think, and what they believe needs to happen next.
  • Listen without judgment. As the victim ponders everything that’s happened and processes their experience with the perpetrator, listen and use reflection to show concern and validation.
  • Don’t give advice. Victims of abuse need to be empowered to make their own decisions. If you come along and tell them what to do because you “obviously know better,” then you are not helping the victim build their muscle of personal power. Remember, the road to healing from abuse is often to empower the victim to make their own decisions, to know this, and to own it.
  • Address the cognitive dissonance. Being in a manipulative relationship can cause cognitive dissonance. This means the victim’s intuition has been damaged, and they may be confused about reality. Help them by validating their truth and encouraging them to trust themselves.
  • Identify the “hook.” Victims of Stockholm syndrome can become dedicated to a cause or an unspoken desire. They may over-identify with the perpetrator in a dysfunctional way in order to fulfill a personal need. This is the “hook.” Help the victim identify what the underlying need is that is being fulfilled by the abusive relationship connection. Once the victim understands why they are so committed to the relationship, they can start making positive changes.

Examples of hooks include a variety of feelings, such as those of loyalty. They can be found in statements such as “I’ll be there no matter what,” or “It’s you and me against the world.” These types of needs tend to be unconscious and may have developed at an earlier stage of an individual’s life.

Being aware of the psychological underpinnings of Stockholm syndrome can help you understand how to best help someone with the condition. Its treatment is under-researched. While there is ample discussion of the legal ramifications of the disorder, very little has been written on how to help someone who has been affected. The bottom line, no matter what intervention you use to help someone who has this condition, is to remember to offer empathy always and coercion never.

If you think you or a loved one is experiencing Stockholm syndrome, a therapist may help you or them work through some of the steps to healing above. Start your search for the therapist best suited to helping you today.


  1. Alexander, D. A. & Klein, S. (2009, January 1). Kidnapping and hostage-taking: A review of effects, coping and resilience. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 1(102), 16–21. doi: 10.1258/jrsm.2008.080347
  2. Carver, J. M. (2014, December 20). Love and Stockholm syndrome: The mystery of loving an abuser, page 1. Retrieved from https://counsellingresource.com/therapy/self-help/stockholm
  3. Dittman, M. (2002). Cults of hatred. American Psychological Association, 10(33), 30. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/nov02/cults.aspx
  4. Gray, M. D. (2017, January 16). How to treat Stockholm syndrome. Retrieved from https://health.onehowto.com/article/how-to-treat-stockholm-syndrome-7546.html
  5. Kerkar, P. (2017, August 28). What is a Stockholm syndrome & how is it treated? Retrieved from https://www.epainassist.com/mental-health/stockholm-syndrome
  6.  Social psychology. (2010). Retrieved from https://www1.psych.purdue.edu/~willia55/120/LectureSocialF10.pdf

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Sharie Stines, PsyD

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • harrison j.

    January 25th, 2019 at 7:26 AM

    i once had stockholm syndrome and now i am in love with a man.

  • anonemos

    March 7th, 2019 at 2:43 PM

    can you tell me more cuz i think i have it

  • Madison

    May 14th, 2019 at 3:09 PM

    Thank you for the helpful information, I have a question; do you have any coping strategies for someone who has broken away from their captor? Ways to stay in their own reality, ways to realize the truth of their experience, ect? I’m more looking for ways to move on after being in a Stockholm Syndrome situation

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    May 16th, 2019 at 11:32 AM

    Dear Madison,

    Thank you for visiting our blog. If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, you can start finding therapists in your area by entering your city or ZIP code into the search field on this page: https://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. You may click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. If you need help finding a therapist, you are welcome to call us. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time, and our phone number is 888-563-2112.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy Team

  • Heidimarie

    July 24th, 2019 at 3:36 AM

    Don’t ever give up on them. Express love at all times. Show them this article and have a serious discussion before, during, and after. Pray for them. Take advice from article.

  • Cindy

    October 6th, 2019 at 6:55 PM

    Change habits. The easiest way to make new brain synapses and move forward not back.

  • Steve

    April 13th, 2020 at 1:07 AM

    I woke up to my abuse after 5 years of pondering. And I’m a male. Chat to me if you like.

  • Terri D

    September 23rd, 2019 at 8:55 AM

    As a domestic violence volunteer, I run across this quite often as the “why people stay in the abusive relationship.” Refreshing to read this and remember my purpose as listener and support person.

  • Jawed H.

    November 8th, 2019 at 6:40 PM

    My daughter who is a PhD in Neuroscience with Post Doctorate is a Victim of Stockholm Syndrome. She is a mother of Two lovely Children aged 11 and 6. Her Husband is The Finest Husband. She was doing renovation of her home in Toronto and got involved with a 10 years Younger Refugee Carpenter. This Guy from a broken Arab Country on Refugee status is a very cruel person and now he is after her home and he is planning to get them separated and have a full control of her. I am sorry for her but I am really worried about my lovely Grand Children. Can anyone on this blog help me and tell me how to press charges on this Carpenter and how to get help for my innocent daughter? Is there any group or govt. body who an help these people who does not want to press charges against the captors. She is our only daughter who is so brilliant and married with a great IT engineer from last 14 years. She has now broken ties with everyone in the family as well as extended family. Please help me if you can. God bless you.

  • Tessy

    March 19th, 2020 at 4:05 AM

    Hi, I saw your comment and I must applaud you for this.
    First thing first does the carpenter still come do their house ?

  • Amber

    April 14th, 2020 at 5:01 PM

    you never really answerd why?

  • Amber (Again )

    April 14th, 2020 at 5:03 PM

    sorry nvm i found it :)

  • Anon

    June 16th, 2020 at 1:44 PM

    Can Stockholm Syndrome take the form of having an anger toward an abuser but having a predisposition of fear or inability to act? I know who I’m angry at, but they just seem to have an entrenched social position, and I lack personal relationships that give me a voice. In the past I might have resolved this as them having some special need that I could help, but there’s no way I’d see them that way now.

  • Anon

    June 16th, 2020 at 1:47 PM

    Can Stockholme Syndrome take the form of having an anger towards an abuser but having a predisposition of fear or inability to act? They just seem to have an entrenched social position, and I have no personal relationships that provide me a voice. In the past I might have resolved this as them having a special need that only I can satisfy, but there’s no way I’d see them that way now. But the perceived entrenched social position and fear and anger remain.

  • Michelle S

    July 30th, 2020 at 8:48 AM

    Thank you for this. I really needed it.

  • Isabella P.

    August 3rd, 2020 at 7:37 AM

    Do you think Stockholm syndrome can still happen if the victim knows what’s happening but just doesn’t get out of the relationship? For whatever reason, I believe that this is happening to me and I’m unsure if I have Stockholm syndrome or if I’m just an idiot who doesn’t know a bad relationship when they see one.

  • Anonymous

    August 13th, 2020 at 1:44 AM

    I have recently been told by someone that they were in love with me and as I too have had these feelings having known her for years and having felt this way for much longer, don’t know what to do. She is married with two children but clearly suffers from Stockholm syndrome and tells me she’s still in love with her husband who controls her at every turn and doesn’t really give her her own life away from him and his own family, actually alienating her from her own family as well. I don’t know what to do because she tells me she wants me and her to eventually work but she wants time for her kids to grow up and understand the situation. She too gets very defensive if anything negative is ever brought up about her husband but seeing her away from him and then around him she is like a beaten puppy that has to constantly be asking permission to do anything. Any suggestions on what I should do?


    August 13th, 2020 at 2:46 AM

    I’m soooo worried about my child

  • Andrew

    October 6th, 2020 at 12:59 PM

    Hey there! I think one of my loved ones are in this situation and things getting very bad. I’d love to talk to someone (a she preferably) who was in a situation like this. I already searched for a psychologist to colsult with about what to do. Thanks

  • That's not where it was first observed.

    November 4th, 2020 at 9:49 PM

    “This syndrome was originally observed when hostages who were kidnapped not only bonded with their kidnappers, but also fell in love with them.”
    The origin of the term comes from the Norrmalmstorg robbery in Stockholm, where the hostages refused to testify against their captor due to them believing that the police were more dangerous than the robbers.

  • Eileen

    December 29th, 2020 at 2:19 PM

    Thank you. I believe my daughter may be a victim of this.

  • Suzanne

    December 29th, 2020 at 5:16 PM

    I was involved in a mental abuse relationship for 2 years, after coming home from work, I had a phone call to say my love was in jail. It was a month went by and I found out the truth on why he was jailed. it turned out he was a paedophile, 3rd degree and 2nd-degree felonies to his name. Still to this day, I believe he is a good guy and I need help to move away from this mentality.

  • Muhammad

    January 8th, 2021 at 3:15 PM

    I have a problem, i am married almost 20years. Couple of yeaes having problem wth my wife, I noticed my wife did some mistake and She blame her abusive childhood by her uncle and did everyfin to council her. I love my wife even she disapoint me always but i never abuse her, i cry alone never let any1 to my pain always pretend to be happy. Yes we did argue with some but most of time i walk away. And come back. Recently i realise and find she wrote her abusive narriage. I am an abuser to her. Its hurts me. I dont kno wat to do. I did everyfin for her to be indepenent. I was still upest i hard a absive story that she was raped in her friends birthday party… 7;years ago…..la8r i find out she like to make abusive story abut her even the childhood 1. Rape and about me. What sud i do. I try to talk to her. But she told me she is with protecton order i must not go next to her. She lied abkut protection order. Why she like to do this? i have 3 kids. She is at her mother place with kids. She sad she will cone when she feel safe. I have no idea what to do. Fals abuse fals protection order… pls help. M 44 and she is 37 a teacher and i am a consulrant.

  • Pamela

    March 3rd, 2021 at 12:50 PM

    Hi in not really sure about how this works I have been recently told I have Stockholm syndrome were I left my partner after five years I understand what they did was wrong but I am heartbroken I miss even though I know I shouldn’t I love still even though I know I should I hate myself for even feeling like this I cant trust anyone feel like ppl are out to get me it’s very difficult and very very tiring to deal with all the highs them all the loss I hope to just get over this but I have alot of unanswered questions that I know will never have the answers to puts me in a whirl wind of emotions my biggest question is why and how x

  • Hilda

    March 23rd, 2021 at 11:29 PM

    I think my granddaughter (8 years) has Stockholm Syndrome. Her mother, which is my daughter, can get very irritable. My granddaughter “shrinks” when it happens. Now she started to be scared of rain!! If it rains, she cries and wants to be with her mother. Do I diagnose her correctly and how I can I help?

  • M.J.

    May 23rd, 2021 at 4:38 AM

    He is nuts! This 42 year old guy who has my 18 year old daughter! She is 200 miles away from us. He doesn’t work, has lived with his Mom and Dad up until he got her to get on Welfare to support him. He nabbed her when she had been taken by another pedophile. She was 16. The pedophile had taken her 200 miles away.. so she escaped that one to wind up with this guy who is now 42 years old. I picked her up when she was 17 years old. She managed to get the cops to help her then.. Now he has her again. I have found out that when she was a missing person he and his parents brought her to get an abortion. She has messaged me, but everytime he finds out and he makes her life so terrible that she is scared to death of this nut! So now she is afraid to call or message me because he will hurt her. He is also a drug dealer. So are his parents. I am afraid of getting her killed, afraid to call or message her. Does anyone know what to do? She needs help so much!

  • Anonymous

    May 27th, 2021 at 4:22 PM

    Iv been told i have Stockholm syndrome from a psychologically abusive relationship. I cant seem to find help or afford therapy and my friends are trying to pull me out but i feel like i cant go and that they dont see the man i see and im just so confused.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.