What Is Stockholm Syndrome: What Cause It?
Have you ever watch any movie whereby someone being held hostage became a good helper to the captor to carry out their criminal act. Then you have understanding to “what is Stockholm syndrome.”
Psychiatrists use the term Stockholm syndrome to describe a set of psychological characteristics first observed in people taken hostage during a 1973 bank robbery in Stockholm. In that incident, two men held four bank employees hostage at gunpoint for six days inside a bank vault. When the standoff ended, the victims appeared to have developed positive feelings for their captors and even expressed compassion toward them.
Although it can be hard to understand how hostages would identify with, form emotional attachments to and even defend their captors after a terrifying, life-threatening ordeal, this unusual phenomenon has been known to occur on rare occasions.
Psychologists who have studied the syndrome believe that the bond is initially created when a captor threatens a captive’s life, deliberates, and then chooses not to kill the captive. The captive’s relief at the removal of the death threat is transposed into feelings of gratitude toward the captor for giving him or her life. As the Stockholm bank robbery incident proves, it takes only a few days for this bond to cement, proving that, early on, the victim’s desire to survive trumps the urge to hate the person who created the situation.
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One of the most famous examples of a victim with Stockholm syndrome is Patty Hearst, a famous media heiress kidnapped in 1974. Hearst eventually helped her captors rob a bank and expressed support for their militant cause. Although some experts disagree, most consider these cases to be clear examples of Stockholm syndrome.
Symptoms Of Stockholm Syndrome
Stockholm syndrome isn’t listed in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a reference tool psychologists use to diagnose mental health and behavioral conditions.
However, law enforcement and mental health professionals recognize that Stockholm syndrome can occur, so there’s a general acceptance and awareness of the condition, Norton said.
A person with Stockholm syndrome may start to identify with or form a close connection to the people who have taken him or her hostage. The captive may begin to sympathize with the hostage takers and may also become emotionally dependent on them. That’s because a victim with Stockholm syndrome may become increasingly fearful and depressed and will show a decreased ability to care for themselves.
Causes Stockholm Syndrome
It’s not entirely clear why Stockholm syndrome occurs. Mental health experts have suggested it’s a protective strategy and coping method for victims of emotional and physical abuse.
Individual with stockholm syndrome may be more likely to occur under the following four conditions:
- Victims feel a perceived threat to their survival at the hands of their captors.
- Victims perceive small kindnesses coming from their captors, such as receiving food or not getting hurt.
- Victims are isolated from perspectives other than those of their captors.
- Victims feel they can’t escape from their situation.
One possible explanation for how the syndrome develops is that, at first, the hostage takers may threaten to kill the victims, which establishes fear. But if the captors don’t harm the victims, the hostages may feel gratitude for the small kindness.
- Read in Smithsonian Magazine about the six-day hostage standoff that gave rise to the term Stockholm syndrome.
- Learn more about the psychology behind Stockholm syndrome from Psychology Today.