On August 23, 1973, four hostages were taken in Stockholm by two criminals. However, after their rescue, they revealed to have positive feelings towards their captors, visiting them in prison after they were caught, citing that there was no danger. One even was engaged to a captor after a while. The term “Stockholm Syndrome” came about then.
This is not a psychological illness, but is a way to describe the unconscious emotional response, triggered by feelings of isolation, insecurity and/or fear that happens to some hostage or abuse victim that causes them to have positive feelings towards their abuser, and even sometimes, negative feelings towards the police or intervention figures. Research has shown that it typically occurs when the victim and the captor have been in close contact, for years, or even merely days. The syndrome is seen as a survival mechanism, often likened to the shell shock of soldiers in wars.
An FBI study suggested that about 8% of people in hostage situations develop observable characteristics of Stockholm Syndrome. However, this figure cannot be tested for its reliability since it would be unethical.
A 2020 study has shown that domestic violence victims were also susceptible to Stockholm Syndrome. Experts say divorced women with low educational levels are most at risk for Stockholm Syndrome, since they are more at risk for being domestically abused.
WHY IT HAPPENS
Scientists have still not found a conclusive reason as to why hostages develop Stockholm Syndrome, but currently there are a few theories:
Due to being in isolation, a person’s perception of kindness might be warped, causing them to feel like the captor is kind, as if feeding them and talking to them are inflated.
Many hostages believe that they can be killed, and can be relieved and grateful to the captor for keeping them alive.
Some hostages will act kind towards the captor in order to gain sympathy and kindness from them in order to preserve their life, which can slowly progress to full Stockholm Syndrome.
There are no clear symptoms for Stockholm Syndrome since it is merely an emotional response, but here are a few ways to identify Stockholm Syndrome:
Someone with Stockholm Syndrome will often experience similar symptoms to PTSD, including nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty trusting others and insomnia.
Feeling positive feelings towards someone that is putting them in stress and believing that their goals align.
Since it is not a psychological disorder, there is no treatment for Stockholm Syndrome, but psychotherapy and medication are used to help the person with the process of recovering, since they might have symptoms such as depression or PTSD.
In 1998, Natascha Kampush was kidnapped at the mere age of 10 and was isolated in a cellar for more than 8 years. While her kidnapper did give her gifts, talked with her and bathed her, he also physically abused her. However, even through the abuse, she bonded with her captor, crying when she found out about his suicide after she escaped. She explained that “[she] find[s] it very natural that you would adapt yourself to identify with your kidnapper… especially if you spend a great deal of time with that person.”