What Is The Stockholm Syndrome?

By Antonia Čirjak on January 15 2020 in Answer

A hostage situation.
A hostage situation.

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological reaction of people being kept as a captive. Within that process, the prisoners start to relate intimately to the wishes and plans of their captors. However, despite some very compelling evidence of this syndrome, the American Psychiatric Association still does not recognize the Stockholm syndrome as a mental disorder. 

Stockholm Bank Robbery

The name of this psychological state comes from a bank robber that went wrong in the capital of Sweden, the city of Stockholm. In 1973, robbers attempted to take money from the Sveriges Kreditbank, but the building was quickly surrounded by the police, leaving them trapped inside with the hostages. During the six days of this hostage crisis, the bank staff developed bizarre feelings towards the robbers who kept them locked in a vault. In one of the phone calls, one of the hostages explained how she has complete trust in the people robbing the bank and suggested that the police stop their actions.

Stockholm Syndrome Examples    

Another extraordinary example of the Stockholm syndrome is when an American journalist and actress Patricia Hearst got kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. After being held captive for ten weeks in 1974, Patricia Hearst was a part of her kidnappers' team when they robbed a bank in California. 

Terrorists holding a gun to a photo journalist head
Terrorists holding a gun to a photojournalist's head.

In 1985, the TWA’s flight 847 was hijacked. Trans World Airlines had a flight scheduled from Athens, Greece, to Los Angeles, California. The whole operation took two-weeks to end, end hostages were occasionally freed as the plane would have to land for fuel in several European airports. However, despite the casualties that happened, because some people were killed what was believed to be a Hezbollah militant group members, all the passengers expressed sympathy upon release. Almost none of them spoke ill of their demands and the actions they took. 

When Survival Instincts Kick In...

The way psychology explains this phenomenon is by having people’s survival instinct in focus. If they wish to get out alive from a life-threatening situation, people need to truly understand how their captors react and what do they feel. In a way, the hostages need to quickly adapt to the captor's emotional responses, understand the situation of dependency in which they found themselves. 

It is believed that this kind of connection is born when the captor first threatens and then spares the life of a hostage. At that moment, the victim feels incredible relief for being kept alive, and all the negative emotions that could have occurred a change in a positive direction. The hostages start feeling grateful because their life was spared. In the 6-day hostage crisis of the Stockholm bank, it only took a couple of days before this bond was strong enough to influence the outcome of the situation. 

Psychologists have further explained how Stockholm syndrome is even more apparent to occur in situations where the victim has not been physically abused but always felt that possibility. Once they are given the power to communicate the terms of the abductors, the bond is developed even further. The person believes that if they can speak directly about the negotiation terms, it will link them to the abductors on a personal and emotional level. 

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