What Is Stockholm Syndrome?



Psychiatrists utilize the term Stockholm syndrome to explain a set of mental attributes initially observed in individuals hijacked throughout a 1973 bank break-in in Stockholm. Because event, 2 males held 4 teller captive at gunpoint for 6 days inside a safe-deposit box. When the standoff ended, the victims appeared to have actually established favorable sensations for their captors and even revealed empathy towards them.


Although it can be tough to comprehend how captives would relate to, form psychological accessories to and even protect their captors after a frightening, dangerous experience, this uncommon phenomenon has actually been understood to take place on unusual events. In addition to the syndrome’s incident in captive events, psychologists recommend that it might likewise impact cult members and victims of domestic abuse.


Among the most popular examples of a victim with Stockholm syndrome is Patty Hearst, a well-known media heiress abducted in 1974. Hearst ultimately assisted her captors rob a bank and revealed assistance for their militant cause. Another prominent example is Elizabeth Smart, a Utah teenager who was abducted in 2002. Smart revealed issue for the well-being of her kidnappers when authorities lastly discovered her.


Although some professionals disagree, most think about these cases to be clear examples of Stockholm syndrome.


Stockholm syndrome is a mental idea utilized to discuss specific responses, however it’s not an official medical diagnosis, stated Steven Norton, a forensic psychologist in Rochester, Minnesota. Stockholm syndrome isn’t noted in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Handbook of Mental Illness (DSM-5), a referral tool psychologists utilize to identify psychological health and behavioral conditions. [Top 10 Mysteries of the Mind]


Nevertheless, police and psychological health experts acknowledge that Stockholm syndrome can take place, so there’s a basic approval and awareness of the condition, Norton stated.


An individual with Stockholm syndrome might begin to relate to or form a close connection to individuals who have actually taken him or her captive, Norton informed Live Science. The hostage might start to have compassion with the captive takers and might likewise end up being mentally depending on them, he stated. That’s since a victim with Stockholm syndrome might end up being progressively afraid and depressed and will reveal a reduced capability to look after themselves. This, in turn, will make them more depending on their captors for care, Norton stated.


Victims with Stockholm syndrome show 2 crucial attributes: Favorable sensations towards their captors and unfavorable sensations, such as anger and suspect, towards police, according to a 1999 FBI police publication. The victim might fear that authorities action may threaten their security.


According to Norton, there is no clear set of requirements utilized to recognize whether somebody has Stockholm syndrome. In addition, the signs might overlap with those related to other medical diagnoses, such as trauma (PTSD) and “learned helplessness.” In the latter phenomenon, individuals consistently exposed to difficult scenarios that are beyond their control lose the capability to make choices.


It’s not totally clear why Stockholm syndrome takes place. Psychological health professionals have actually recommended it’s a protective method and coping technique for victims of psychological and physical abuse.


“It’s really a form of survival,” Norton stated. It’s a survival method and coping system that’s based upon the level of worry, dependence and injury of the scenario, he stated.

Victims with Stockholm syndrome may refuse rescue because they've begun to trust their captor. This misplaced trust is a way for the victim to cope and survive the trauma of being captured.

Victims with Stockholm syndrome might decline rescue since they have actually started to trust their captor. This lost trust is a method for the victim to cope and endure the injury of being recorded.

Credit: Shutterstock


In their 1995 publication, Dee L. R. Graham, a psychologist and teacher emerita at the University of Cincinnati, and her coworkers explained that Stockholm syndrome might be most likely to take place under the following 4 conditions:


  1. Victims feel a viewed risk to their survival at the hands of their captors.

  2. Victims view little generosities originating from their captors, such as getting food or not getting hurt.

  3. Victims are separated from viewpoints aside from those of their captors.

  4. Victims feel they can’t get away from their scenario.


One possible description for how the syndrome establishes is that, in the beginning, the captive takers might threaten to eliminate the victims, which develops worry. However if the captors do not damage the victims, the captives might feel appreciation for the little compassion.


Captives likewise find out that, in order to endure, they need to end up being attuned to the responses of their captors and establish mental qualities that please those people, such as dependence and compliance.


Specialists have actually hypothesized that it’s the strength of the distressing event together with an absence of physical abuse towards victims, regardless of the victims’ worry of its incident, that develops an environment favorable to Stockholm syndrome, according to a 2007 FBI police publication. Captive arbitrators might motivate the advancement of the syndrome, since they think victims might have a much better opportunity of enduring if the hostage-takers establish some issue for their captives’ well-being.


Stockholm syndrome is an uncommon condition, which might discuss why the research study surrounding it is so sporadic, Norton stated. A 1999 FBI report discovered that 92% of captive victims never ever reveal indications of Stockholm syndrome.


With so couple of cases, it’s likewise uncertain how Stockholm syndrome impacts the psychological health of somebody years after the distressing event, Norton stated.


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About the Author: Dr. James Goodall

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