Stockholm syndrome


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Stockholm Syndrome

 

Definition

Stockholm syndrome refers to a group of psychological symptoms that occur in some persons in a captive or hostage situation. It has received considerable media publicity in recent years because it has been used to explain the behavior of such well-known kidnapping victims as Patty Hearst (1974) and Elizabeth Smart (2002). The term takes its name from a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, in August 1973. The robber took four employees of the bank (three women and one man) into the vault with him and kept them hostage for 131 hours. After the employees were finally released, they appeared to have formed a paradoxical emotional bond with their captor; they told reporters that they saw the police as their enemy rather than the bank robber, and that they had positive feelings toward the criminal. The syndrome was first named by Nils Bejerot (1921–1988), a medical professor who specialized in addiction research and served as a psychiatric consultant to the Swedish police during the standoff at the bank. Stockholm syndrome is also known as Survival Identification Syndrome.

Description

Stockholm syndrome is considered a complex reaction to a frightening situation, and experts do not agree completely on all of its characteristic features or on the factors that make some people more susceptible than others to developing it. One reason for the disagreement is that it would be unethical to test theories about the syndrome by experimenting on human beings. The data for understanding the syndrome are derived from actual hostage situations since 1973 that differ considerably from one another in terms of location, number of people involved, and time frame. Another source of disagreement concerns the extent to which the syndrome can be used to explain other historical phenomena or more commonplace types of abusive relationships. Many researchers believe that Stockholm syndrome helps to explain certain behaviors of survivors of World War II concentration camps; members of religious cults; battered wives; incest survivors; and physically or emotionally abused children as well as persons taken hostage by criminals or terrorists.
Most experts, however, agree that Stockholm syndrome has three central characteristics:
  • The hostages have negative feelings about the police or other authorities.
  • The hostages have positive feelings toward their captor(s).
  • The captors develop positive feelings toward the hostages.

Causes & symptoms

Stockholm syndrome does not affect all hostages (or persons in comparable situations); in fact, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) study of over 1200 hostage-taking incidents found that 92% of the hostages did not develop Stockholm syndrome. FBI researchers then interviewed flight attendants who had been taken hostage during airplane hijackings, and concluded that three factors are necessary for the syndrome to develop:
  • The crisis situation lasts for several days or longer.
  • The hostage takers remain in contact with the hostages; that is, the hostages are not placed in a separate room.
  • The hostage takers show some kindness toward the hostages or at least refrain from harming them. Hostages abused by captors typically feel anger toward them and do not usually develop the syndrome.
In addition, people who often feel helpless in other stressful life situations or are willing to do anything in order to survive seem to be more susceptible to developing Stockholm syndrome if they are taken hostage.
People with Stockholm syndrome report the same symptoms as those diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): insomnia, nightmares, general irritability, difficulty concentrating, being easily startled, feelings of unreality or confusion, inability to enjoy previously pleasurable experiences, increased distrust of others, and flashbacks.

Diagnosis

Stockholm syndrome is a descriptive term for a pattern of coping with a traumatic situation rather than a diagnostic category. Most psychiatrists would use the diagnostic criteria for acute stress disorder or posttraumatic stress disorder when evaluating a person with Stockholm syndrome.

Treatment

Treatment of Stockholm syndrome is the same as for PTSD, most commonly a combination of medications for short-term sleep disturbances and psychotherapy for the longer-term symptoms.

Key terms

Coping — In psychology, a term that refers to a person's patterns of response to stress. Some patterns of coping may lower a person's risk of developing Stockholm syndrome in a hostage situation.
Flashback — The re-emergence of a traumatic memory as a vivid recollection of sounds, images, and sensations associated with the trauma. The person having the flashback typically feels as if they are reliving the event. Flashbacks were first described by doctors treating combat veterans of World War I (1914–1918).
Identification with an aggressor — In psychology, an unconscious process in which a person adopts the perspective or behavior patterns of a captor or abuser. Some researchers consider it a partial explanation of Stockholm syndrome.
Regression — In psychology, a return to earlier, usually childish or infantile, patterns of thought or behavior.
Syndrome — A set of symptoms that occur together.

Prognosis

The prognosis for recovery from Stockholm syndrome is generally good, but the length of treatment needed depends on several variables. These include the nature of the hostage situation; the length of time the crisis lasted, and the individual patient's general coping style and previous experience(s) of trauma.

Prevention

Prevention of Stockholm syndrome at the level of the larger society includes further development of crisis intervention skills on the part of law enforcement as well as strategies to prevent kidnapping or hostage-taking incidents in the first place. Prevention at the individual level is difficult as of the early 2000s because researchers have not been able to identify all the factors that may place some persons at greater risk than others; in addition, they disagree on the specific psychological mechanisms involved in Stockholm syndrome. Some regard the syndrome as a form of regression (return to childish patterns of thought or action) while others explain it in terms of emotional paralysis ("frozen fright") or identification with the aggressor.

Resources

Books

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, text revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.
Graham, Dee L. R., with Edna I. Rawlings and Roberta K. Rigsby. Loving to Survive, Chapter 1, "Love Thine Enemy: Hostages and Classic Stockholm Syndrome." New York and London: New York University Press, 1994.
Herman, Judith, MD. Trauma and Recovery, 2nd ed., revised. New York: Basic Books, 1997. Chapter 4, "Captivity," is particularly helpful in understanding Stockholm syndrome.

Periodicals

Bejerot, Nils. "The Six-Day War in Stockholm." New Scientist 61 (1974): 486-487.
Fuselier, G. Dwayne, PhD. "Placing the Stockholm Syndrome in Perspective." FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin (July 1999): 23-26.
Grady, Denise. "Experts Look to Stockholm Syndrome on Why Girl Stayed." International Herald Tribune, 17 March 2003. A newspaper article about the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case.

Organizations

American Psychiatric Association. 1400 K Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005. www.psych.org.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). J. Edgar Hoover Building, 935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20535-0001. (202) 324-3000. http://www.fbi.gov.

Other

Carver, Joseph M., PhD. Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser. http://www.drjoecarver.com/stockholm.html.

Stock·holm syn·drome

a form of bonding between a captive and captor in which the captive begins to identify with, and may even sympathize with, the captor.
[Stockholm, Sweden, where early case reported]

Stock·holm syn·drome

a form of bonding between a captive and captor in which the captive begins to identify with, and may even sympathize with, the captor.
[Stockholm, Sweden, where early case reported]

Stockholm syndrome

n.
A psychological syndrome in which a person being held captive begins to identify with and grow sympathetic to his or her captor, simultaneously becoming unsympathetic towards the police or other authorities.
A paradoxical phenomenon in which kidnapping or terrorist hostages become sympathetic to their captors on whom they depend for survival.

Stockholm syndrome

Psychiatry A syndrome in which hostages identify and sympathize with their captors on whom they depend for survival

Stock·holm syn·drome

(stok'hōlm sin'drōm)
A form of bonding between a captive and captor in which the captive begins to identify with, and may even sympathize with, the captor.
[Stockholm, Sweden, where early case reported]

Stockholm,

city in Sweden where the syndrome was first reported in 1973.
Stockholm syndrome - emotional involvement that occurs between hostage and perpetrator.
References in periodicals archive ?
The FBI's July 2007 Law Enforcement Bulletin describes the typical symptoms found in victims of Stockholm Syndrome in terms surprisingly resonant with Austen's own:
Elsewhere in the world, they would have no outlet, so thank heavens for the GDN, for it gives the likes of these master class anthropocentrics (sic) their platform and it is enjoyed by all, even if it smacks of Stockholm Syndrome sometimes and possibly they are afraid of their own shadows.
I experienced Stockholm Syndrome with the entire Delta flight crew
What I wanted to avoid in "Fair Use "--and thus draw out through that avoidance--is the low-grade Stockholm syndrome that many people engaged in participatory art suffer, the primary symptom being their inability to accept that something quite underwhelming could result from so much time and energy spent in captive social engagement.
Among their topics are commodification versus solidarity, US health care reform and the Stockholm syndrome, the marketization of health care in Europe, maternal mortality in Africa, health care as soap opera on medical television dramas, Cuban health politics at home and abroad, the shaping of global health policy, learning from the HIV/AIDS mobilizations about building a comprehensive public health movement, and mental health in a sick society.
It was the Stockholm syndrome, where you begin to love your captor," Mackenzie said.
He told BBC Radio 5 Live's Up All Night show he believed that Ms Dugard had succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages bond with their captors, adding that her laid-back personality may have saved her life.
But while Elisabeth says she can never come face-to-face with the monster who raped and abused her for years, sources close to the family said she still loved her father in a version of the Stockholm syndrome, where hostages come to identify with their captors.
Joseph's other projects include Little Women, the Jackmormons and Stockholm Syndrome, and he has penned songs for Widespread Panic.
It's official; the Church of England has succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome.
Smart serves as yet another example of Stockholm syndrome and that her
Devlin, there was speculation that Shawn never tried to escape during his four-year captivity because he identified with his captor--a reaction known as the Stockholm Syndrome.

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