There is a syndrome, Stockholm syndrome, whereby people who are kidnapped or held against their will show a psychological response of sympathy and bonding with the people who keep them in captivity.
According to FBI data, this reaction could be identified in up to 27% of the victims, of the 4,700 cases they investigated. If you want to know more about this syndrome, keep reading….
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What is Stockholm syndrome in psychology?
What is Stockholm syndrome? Stockholm syndrome is a paradoxical psychological reaction on the part of a person who is the victim of a kidnapping or held against her will.
This psychological state is based on the development of a complicity relationship and an emotional bond on the part of the victim towards the captor.
Stockholm syndrome, why is it called that?
This syndrome owes its name to events that took place in the city of Stockholm, Sweden, in August 1973. The event that occurred was the robbery of the Kreditbanken bank, with four hostages, from August 23 to 28.
History of Stockholm syndrome
The history of Stockholm syndrome dates back to 1973, when a group of criminals, led by a man named Jan Erik Olsson, tried to commit a bank robbery in the Swedish city of Stockholm.
When trying to leave the bank, the gang was cornered by the police, who had surrounded the building, so they decided to take four people employed by the bank hostage. Olsson demanded from the police a large sum of money, an escape car and to hand over Clark Olofsson, considered one of the most dangerous criminals in Sweden, who was in jail at the time.
Throughout the 130 hours that the kidnapping lasted, the people held as hostages received threats against his life on more than one occasion. However, when the police managed to enter the bank and free the detainees, they defended and tried to protect Olsson and the rest of the captors from the police authorities.
The feelings of attachment generated were so intense that they were reluctant to testify against their captors. They showed fear of the authorities and a feeling of protection from their captors.
On the other hand, they criticized the government for the lack of empathy to understand why Olsson and his gang had carried out the bank robbery. As a result of this event, the psychiatrist Nils Bejerot coined the term “Stockholm syndrome” to refer to the link between the victims and the people who kidnap or hold them.
Although this is the origin of the Stockholm Syndrome , it was a year later when the event took place that expanded and popularized the term Stockholm Syndrome worldwide.
In February 1974, Patricia Hearst, granddaughter of tycoon William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. The kidnapping lasted a total of two months. However, once released, Patricia joined the people who had kidnapped her to help them raid a bank.
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Reverse Stockholm Syndrome: Lima Syndrome
Not only people who are victims of kidnapping can develop a bond with those who hold them against their will, as occurs in the Stockholm Syndrome. There is another syndrome, Lima syndrome, whereby the kidnapping person or persons establish an intense bond with the captives.
Both are comparable psychological states, but the direction of attachment is opposite; in the Stockholm syndrome it occurs from the victims to the captors and in the Lima syndrome from captors to hostages. Therefore, Lima syndrome is the opposite of Stockholm syndrome.
Symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome
Stockholm syndrome is not included in either of the two most widely used psychopathology classification systems, DSM and ICD, due to the lack of research on this syndrome.
We have seen what Stockholm syndrome is, but why does Stockholm syndrome occur? The development of this syndrome is also explained as an adaptive process and a survival mechanism. Despite not being its own clinical entity and the lack of research and consensus about this syndrome, a series of symptoms have been described that characterize it:
- Development of a positive bond and emotional attachment by the victim towards the person who holds him against his will.
- Sympathy develops towards the kidnappers, as well as towards their motives or goals, and negative feelings towards the authority or police.
- In general, there is an alteration in thought schemes and cognitive, perception, attention and attribution patterns.
- Feeling of loss and lack of control over circumstances, feelings of helplessness throughout the kidnapping.
- There may be a cognitive process of identifying the person being held to their captor or captor unconsciously, as part of an automatic emotional response.
- Shift of guilt outward. The identification process can lead the victim to consider as enemies those people whom the kidnapper considers enemies.
- States of dissociation in which the victims come to deny and rationalize the violence by the captor. There is an attention bias whereby the negative part of the captor is ignored and only the positive part is paid attention to and maximized.
- An idealization of the captor and their motives may occur.
- The acts of aggressor kindness are maximized, it is a mechanism that helps to generate hope in the person who is a victim.
- Victims can come to ignore their own needs and praise and compromise with those of their captors, becoming hypervigilance towards the needs of others.
- Cognitive modification so that the victim does not perceive or identify himself as a victim.
- Development of symptoms of emotional dependency towards the kidnapper.
- Feelings of gratitude towards the kidnapper, also in those cases in which the victims have not suffered violence, they may feel exaggeratedly grateful towards their kidnappers. Likewise, they can also show gratitude because they consider that the experience has provided them with personal growth and a change in their value system.
- Positive feelings towards the captor may be maintained after captivity ends.
Domestic Stockholm Syndrome
Stockholm syndrome has been described in other situations where there are victims of abuse. One of these is also called domestic Stockholm Syndrome. It is an extension of Stockholm syndrome and occurs in those who are victims of physical and/or psychological abuse and mistreatment by their romantic partners.
In this case, there is already an intense emotional bond between the victim and the aggressor prior to the abuse situation.
In addition, in the couple there is a dynamic nature of power asymmetry, so that abuse is an act of vindication and perpetuation of power.
The victim adapts to the abuse situation through survival to trauma, resistance and coping mechanisms. These mechanisms include thought distortions such as minimization, denial and dissociation of the acts carried out by the aggressor.
Corporate Stockholm Syndrome
The Corporate Stockholm Syndrome is another extension of the Stockholm syndrome, but in this case the toxic relationship takes place between the workers and the managers of the company or the company itself.
It is about the existing link and identification between an employee towards a company in which working conditions are exploitative, as well as the environment and existing relationships are hostile and disrespectful.
The person may remain in the company due to the unconscious justification of the working conditions, since they have internalized the working conditions and/or their self-esteem has deteriorated, fear of not finding another job, urgent need for employment or excessive identification with the company and its values, so that, despite the situation of abuse, the person feels belonging to the business group.