Saturday, May 11, 2013

Stockholm Syndrome

Two weeks ago my daughter asked me to do a Bytes on the origin of Stockholm syndrome, especially as regards its name. She and her work colleagues had been discussing it. I looked into it and wrote it last weekend, intending to post it this weekend. Then the captives in Cleveland escaped. The following post is not inspired by the Cleveland matter, nor is it suggested that those captives developed Stockholm syndrome, or in any way to diminish the horror of their situation.

Stockholm syndrome is also known as capture bonding, trauma bonding and terror bonding. 

It is a psychological phenomenon in which victims display compassion for and even loyalty to their captors. The bonding may take the form of expressions of sympathy for the captors, defence of them and sometimes even positive assistance. Victims have been known to decline to escape when given the opportunity. 


Stockholm syndrome is named after a robbery of the Kreditbanken at Normalmstorg in Stockholm, Sweden. In 1973 during that robbery four bank employees were held hostage in a bank vault for 6 days by Jan-Erik Olsson and Clark Olofsson. During their captivity the victims became emotionally attached to their captors, rejected assistance from government officials at one point and even defended them after they were freed from their six-day ordeal. The world was shocked by photographs of them kissing and hugging their captors after release. 

The captives during the robbery with their captor at right 

During the siege in Stockholm


Though the precise origin of the term Stockholm syndrome is debated, it is often attributed to remarks during a subsequent news broadcast by the Swedish criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot, who had assisted the police during the robbery.


One commonly used hypothesis to explain the effect of Stockholm syndrome is based on Freudian theory. It suggests that the bonding is the individual’s response to trauma in becoming a victim. Identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. When a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they no longer become a threat.


According to a 2007 FBI publication, the conditions favouring the development of Stockholm Syndrome feature: 
  • captors who do not abuse the victim; 
  • a long duration before resolution; 
  • continued contact between the perpetrator and hostage; and 
  • a high level of emotion. 

Experts believe that it is the intensity, not the length of the incident, combined with a lack of physical abuse, that is important in developing the Syndrome: 


One commonly used hypothesis to explain the effect of Stockholm syndrome is based on Freudian theory. It suggests that the bonding is the individual’s response to trauma in becoming a victim. Identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. When a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they no longer become a threat. 


The FBI publication mentioned above defines three characteristics of Stockholm Syndrome, although they do not always exist together: 

1) Hostages have positive feelings for their captors. 

2) Victims show fear, distrust, and anger toward the authorities. 

3) Captors display positive feelings toward captives as they begin to see them as human beings 

In essence, eventually, the hostage views the perpetrator as giving life by simply not taking it, resulting in bonding. 

Another site has summarised the causes and characteristics of the syndrome as follows: 
Individuals can apparently succumb to Stockholm syndrome under the following circumstances: 
Believing one's captor can and will kill them. 
Isolation from anyone but the captors. 
Belief that escape is impossible. 
Inflating the captor's acts of kindness into genuine care for each other's welfare.  
Victims of Stockholm syndrome generally suffer from severe isolation and emotional and physical abuse demonstrated in characteristics of battered spouses, incest victims, abused children, prisoners of war, cult victims and kidnapped or hostage victims. Each of these circumstances can result in victims responding in a compliant and supportive way as a tactic for survival. 

Some other points made in the FBI article: 
  • According to the FBI’s Hostage Barricade Database System, which contains data pertaining to over 4,700 reported federal, state, and local hostage/barricade incidents, 73 percent of captives show no evidence of Stockholm syndrome. 
  • Nearly 96 percent of hostage and barricade situations in the United States are domestic in nature; involve suicide, attempted suicide, and domestic violence; and include subjects with an existing relationship. For Stockholm syndrome to occur, the incident must take place between strangers. 
  • It is also an integral element that the hostage fears and resents law enforcement as much as or more than the captors. 
  • Hostage negotiators often try to foster Stockholm Syndrome, even if it results in less likelihood of successful conviction, because it increases the chances of hostage survival. 

Some famous examples of Stockholm Syndrome: 

Elizabeth Smart: 

Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home in Salt Lake City,Utah, in 2002 when she was aged 14. She was found 9 months later not far from her home in the company of Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, who were eventually convicted of her kidnapping. Her abductors had not held her captive, as initially believed. Elizabeth Smart had walked in public, attended parties, and even refused to reveal her true identity when first approached 

by police. Perhaps, even more puzzling than her initial reluctance to escape was her apparent concern upon rescue about the fate of her captors. “What’s going to happen to them? Are they in trouble?” she asked. When informed by officers that they likely would face punishment, she started to cry and sobbed the whole way to the station. 

Patty Hearst: 

Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a left wing revolutionary group, in February 1974. During her 19 months captivity she was photographed participating in an armed bank holdup. She sent audiotaped messages to her parents denouncing their lifestyles, declared that she had joined the SLA and that she had adopted the name “Tania”.. She also took part in other SLA illegal activities. After being arrested and charged in September 1975, she alleged that she had been held in close confinement, sexually assaulted and brainwashed. It is considered that her case is one of Stockholm Syndrome. She was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment but this was eventually commuted by President Jimmy Carter. She was released from prison on February 1, 1979, having served 22 months and was granted a full pardon by President Bill Clinton in 2001 as his last official act. 

Participating in bank holdup

Striking a pose for the SLA, an image that became iconic.

Jaycee Lee Dugard: 

Jaycee was kidnapped in 1991 in California whilst walking from home to a school bus stop. She was 11. She was located after 18 years and her captors, Phillip Garrido and Nancy Garrido, received sentences of 431 years and 36 years to life respectively. During her captivity Jaycee had two daughters to Garrido, aged 11 and 15 at the time of her reappearance. 

It is considered that her captivity is a classic case of Stockholm syndrome: she had many opportunities to escape but chose to stay, she defended Garrido and even lied to the police about her identity, the abduction and her relationship with Garrido. 

Natascha Kampusch: 

Natascha Kampousch was aged 10 when abducted in 1998 whilst on her way to school in Austria. During her 8 years of captivity by kidnapper Wolfgang Pnklopil, she was held in a small cellar underneath Priklopil’s garage. Like Jaycee Lee Dugard, in the later years of her captivity she had opportunities of escape but did not take them until she bolted one day whilst cleaning his car. She was then 18. Knowing the police were after him, Priklopil committed suicide by jumping in front of a train. Hearing about his suicide, Kampusch burst into tears and lit a candle for him at the morgue. She later stated "All I can say is that, bit by bit, I feel more sorry for him." She also later said that she saw Priklopil a "poor soul — lost and misguided." Although it has been suggested that she had developed Stockholm syndrome, Kampusch denies it, saying that people who use this term about her are disrespectful of her right to describe and analyse for herself the complex relationship she had with her kidnapper.


Lima Syndrome 

The opposite of Stockholm syndrome is known as Lima syndrome, the phenomenon where the hostage takers become more sympathetic to the plights and needs of the hostages. 

It is named after the Japanese embassy hostage crisis in Lima, Peru where 14 members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) took hundreds of people hostage at a party at the official residence of Japan’s ambassador to Peru. The hostages consisted of diplomats, government and military officials, and business executives of many nationalities who happened to be at the party at the time. It began on December 17, 1996 and ended on April 22, 1997. 

Within a few days of the hostage crisis, the militants had released most of the captives, with seeming disregard for their importance, including the future President of Peru, and the mother of the current President. 

After months of unsuccessful negotiations, all remaining hostages were freed by a raid by Peruvian commandos, although one hostage was killed.

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