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What is Stockholm Syndrome?

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What is Stockholm Syndrome?

Stockholm syndrome is basically a psychological response that causes the captive to start identifying intimately with his/her tormentor or captor. The understanding and identification extend to the captor’s demands and agenda.

There are certain circumstances when people are caught in a place/situation wherein they are unable to control what is happening to them. They feel an extreme fear of abuse and physical injury and are at the mercy of their captor. The fear can lead them to develop a strategy, a psychological and emotional response, which includes support and sympathy for the tormentor’s plight. This is what is referred to as Stockholm Syndrome.

  • Origin of the name

Most people are curious to know how the syndrome got its name. There is, in fact, an interesting story behind it, one that is related to a failed bank robbery. In 1973, four employees working in Stockholm’s Sveriges Kreditbank ended up being kept as hostages in the facility’s vault for almost six days. A very surprising thing happened during this standoff; the development of a seemingly inappropriate bond between the captor and the captive.

During a telephonic conversation with the Prime Minister of Sweden, one hostage said that she had absolute trust in her captors. However, she was fearful that she might die as part of a police attack on the bank building.

The entire time that the bank employees were imprisoned and at a risk of danger, all seemed to back the robbers’ actions. In fact, some even reprimanded the government’s efforts aimed at rescuing them. These hostages had started to believe that their captors were really protecting them and that the police were probably going to harm them instead. What is even more shocking is that one of the women who was held as a hostage later got engaged to one of her captors, while another one created an official defense fund that would support their criminal activities. It is quite obvious that there was an emotional “bonding” between the hostages and the captors.

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  • The psychological theory behind Stockholm Syndrome

According to psychologists, the so-called bond between the captor and the captive is initially formulated when the captor threatens to kill the captive, but later thinks over the decision and avoids killing. The immense relief experienced by the captive in this scenario translates into a feeling of gratitude and even respect for the captor. It is almost like he/she returned their life to them.

As is clear from the bank robbery incident in Stockholm, it may take just a couple of days for the bond to form and get strengthened. This basically indicates that the victim’s wish to survive overpowers the fundamental urge to dislike or hate the captor.

The feelings and responses noted in the Stockholm Syndrome have earlier been identified in other case studies involving prisoners, hostages, and also in abusive relationships. These include:

  • Abused women and children
  • Incest victims
  • Kidnapped victims
  • Cult members
  • War prisoners
  • Prisoners of concentration camps
  • Intimidating and/or controlling relationships


  • Final analysis

Research suggests that the Stockholm Syndrome is not just limited to criminal or hostage situations. It may be prevalent in the family, interpersonal, and romantic relationships as well. In such scenarios, the abuser could be a mother or father, wife or husband, girlfriend or boyfriend wherein the abuser holds a controlling or authoritative position.

Psychologists and researchers who have done a detailed study on Stockholm Syndrome suggest that it is vital to be aware of the various elements of this syndrome and their relevance in controlling and abusing relationships. If a person understands the syndrome fully, it is easier to comprehend the unusual feelings of love and support that a victim harbors for their captive or controller.



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