Stockholm syndrome is an emotional response. It happens to some abuse and hostage victims when they have positive feelings toward an abuser or captor. Stockholm syndrome isn’t a psychological diagnosis. Instead, it is a way of understanding the emotional response some people have towards a captor or abuser.
Sometimes people who are held prisoner or are subject to abuse can have feelings of sympathy or other positive feelings toward the captor. This seems to happen over days, weeks, months, or years of captivity and close contact with the captor.
A bond can grow between the victim and the captor. This can lead to kind treatment and less harm from the abuser as they might also create a positive bond with their victims.
Someone who has Stockholm syndrome might have confusing feelings toward the abuser, including:
- Desire to protect them
Stockholm syndrome might also cause the hostage to have negative feelings toward the police or anyone who might try to attempt a rescue.
People have likely experienced this syndrome for a long time, but it was first named in 1973 by Nils Bejerot, a criminologist in Stockholm, Sweden. He used the term to explain the unexpected reaction hostages of a bank raid had toward their captor.
Despite being held against their will in a life-threatening situation, these individuals made positive relationships with their captors. They even helped them pay for their lawyers after they were caught.
Why Do You Get Stockholm Syndrome?
Not all people who are in situations experience Stockholm syndrome. It’s not entirely clear why some people react this way, but it’s thought to be a survival mechanism. A person might create these bonds as a way to cope with an extreme and terrifying situation.
Some key pieces seem to increase the likelihood of a Stockholm syndrome. These include:
- Being in an emotionally charged situation for a long time
- Being in a shared space with the hostage-taker with poor conditions (e.g. not enough food, physically uncomfortable space)
- When hostages are dependent on a hostage-taker for basic needs
- When threats to life are not carried out (e.g. mock executions)
- When hostages haven’t been dehumanized
In conclusion, Stockholm syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in some individuals who have experienced abuse or hostage situations. It is not a diagnosis but rather a way of understanding an emotional response to a captor or abuser. The syndrome is characterized by positive feelings towards the captor, including love, sympathy, and empathy, and a desire to protect them. While not all individuals experience Stockholm syndrome, it is believed to be a survival mechanism in some cases. Certain factors, such as being in an emotionally charged situation for a long time, being in poor living conditions, and dependence on the captor for basic needs, increase the likelihood of developing the syndrome. Despite being identified and named over four decades ago, there is still much to learn about this complex phenomenon.