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Stockholm syndrome

Stockholm syndrome

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response sometimes seen in an abducted hostage, in which the hostage shows signs of loyalty to the hostage-taker, regardless of the danger (or at least risk) in which the hostage has been placed. Stockholm syndrome is also sometimes discussed in reference to other situations with similar tensions, such as battered person syndrome, rape cases, child abuse cases and bride kidnapping. The syndrome is named after the Norrmalmstorg robbery of Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg, Stockholm, Sweden, in which the bank robbers held bank employees hostage from August 23 to August 28 in 1973. In this case, the victims became emotionally attached to their victimizers, and even defended their captors after they were freed from their six-day ordeal. The term Stockholm Syndrome was coined by the criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot, who assisted the police during the robbery, and referred to the syndrome in a news broadcast.


  • 1 Other uses
  • 2 Psychoanalytic explanations
  • 3 Sociological explanation
  • 4 Possible examples of Stockholm Syndrome
  • 5 Lima syndrome
  • 6 In Popular Media
  • 7 External links

Other uses

Loyalty to a more powerful abuser — in spite of the danger that this loyalty puts the victim in — is common among victims of domestic abuse, battered partners and child abuse (dependent children). In many instances the victims choose to remain loyal to their abuser, and choose not to leave him or her, even when they are offered a safe placement in foster homes or safe houses. This unhealthy type of mental phenomenon is also known as Trauma-Bonding or Bonding-to-the-Perpetrator. This syndrome was described by psychoanalysts of the object relations theory school (see Fairbairn) as the phenomenon of psychological identification with the more powerful abuser. A variant of Stockholm Syndrome includes cases of abusive parents and abusive siblings in which the victim, even after entering adulthood, still justifies the family abuse.

Psychoanalytic explanations

According to the psychoanalytic view of the syndrome, the tendency might well be the result of employing the strategy evolved by newborn babies to form an emotional attachment to the nearest powerful adult in order to maximize the probability that this adult will enable — at the very least — the survival of the child, if not also prove to be a good parental figure. This syndrome is considered a prime example for the defense mechanism of identification.[1]

Sociological explanation

Based on the capital theory by Pierre Bourdieu, five forms of capital from the economic to the symbolic are constantly fought over in the society. Social actions amount to capital which can be used for power in various fields of social interaction. This power depends on violently preventing others from accessing capital and it is the opposite to a non-violent social action, where the capitals are used to increase the capital possessed by others. In the marxist class theory, capital is essential for self-realization. It has been proposed that traditions maintain the class society and forms of capitalist violence. In a hostage situation, these traditions are by-passed in a way which may allow an unforeseen action from a lower class person to gain capital. As personal interests are in conflict with the traditional culture, this lapse of tradition provides to the victims an independent forum where they interpret the actions of the abductor outside traditional norms and relate to the abductor in a compassionate way. This may lead to the need of assuring that the powerfully felt struggle for social equality of the abductor succeeds. This need may be accompanied by a sense of security, which exists between a loyal person and the abductor. this explanation can be linked to the psychologist Aymon Hamdi.

Possible examples of Stockholm Syndrome

  • Colleen Stan, a.k.a. "Carol Smith" was held captive from 1977 until 1984 by Cameron and Janice Hooker in locked wooden boxes. She slept in a coffin-like box under the Hookers' bed. During her imprisonment Colleen was consistently tortured and sexually assaulted to the point of complete mental and physical subservience. Yet through it all, she stayed, even when it seemed she could escape. In the end, it would be left to a jury to answer the question: Was Colleen Stan brainwashed and forced to endure years of sexual degradation and mental torture as she and Janice Hooker contended, or a willing partner in her own enslavement, and as Cameron Hooker maintained, in a consensual "love" relationship? For an in-depth synopsis of the case, see The Case of the Seven Year Sex Slave and Perfect Victim: The True Story of "The Girl in the Box" by the D.A. That Prosecuted Her Captor [ISBN 978-0440204428]. Also documented with A&E's 'American Justice" episode 166.
  • Millionaire heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. After two months in captivity, she actively took part in a robbery they were orchestrating. Her unsuccessful legal defense was that she suffered from Stockholm syndrome and was coerced into aiding the SLA. She was convicted and imprisoned for her actions in the robbery, though her sentence was commuted in February 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, and she received a Presidential pardon from Bill Clinton.
  • Natascha Kampusch, a 10-year old Austrian child who was kidnapped by Wolfgang Priklopil before escaping at the age of 18 in 2006, showed signs of having suffered from Stockholm syndrome, as evidenced by her grieving after her captor's suicide.[2]
  • Shawn Hornbeck was kidnapped at age 11 in 2002 and held for four years by Michael J. Devlin in Missouri. Shawn Hornbeck started using Devlin's last name and despite talking to police on two separate occasions about other unrelated matters Shawn Hornbeck did not seek the assistance of law enforcement. There have been many questions raised in the media reports surrounding his rescue in January 2007 about why he did not speak out earlier leading to reported speculation that he suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. However, there are many, including other victims of sexual abuse, and others who have been victims of kidnappings, who have expressed their understanding and support Shawn's decisions not to make an attempt to escape.[3]
  • Elizabeth Smart, a 14 year old girl, was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City in June 2002 by two members of a fundamentalist polygamist sect, the homeless preacher Brian David "Emmanuel" Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee. At first Smart was kept tethered to a tree in a wooded canyon, dressed in white robes, and confined to a twenty-foot long trough with a lean-to over it, but after two months, the couple was able to take the girl with them to restaurants and other public places, her face veiled, and she no longer tried to escape. The trio travelled to San Diego, California and Las Vegas, Nevada, with Smart claiming to be the couple's daughter, but they eventually returned to Utah. By this time, Smart had become so attached to her captors that when she was finally approached by Utah law enforcement officials, who had been searching for her for nine months, she told them that she was 18 years old and Mitchell's polygamous wife. Only when she was shown a picture of herself as she had looked before her abduction did she admit that she was, in fact, Elizabeth Smart.[4]

Lima syndrome

The Japanese embassy hostage crisis in December 1996 is currently touted as an example of so-called Lima Syndrome, in which the opposite effects from the Stockholm syndrome came into light. Rather than the captives becoming submissive, this incident showed signs of the MRTA guerrillas becoming more sympathetic to the plights and needs of their hostages.

In Popular Media

In the book Spook Country by William Gibson, the character Hollis Henry mentions a friend who thinks that "America had developed Stockholm syndrome toward its own government, post 9/11."

The condition is erroneously referred to as Helsinki syndrome in the film Die Hard, the X-Files episode "Folie a Deux", and the Babylon 5 episode "The Illusion of Truth".

"Stockholm Syndrome" is the title of songs by Yo La Tengo, Muse, Blink-182 and Milburn.

The Who released a song about Stockholm Syndrome called "Black Widow's Eyes" on their 2006 album Endless Wire.

Dee, a character on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, fell victim to Stockholm Syndrome in an episode in which their bar, Paddy's, is held hostage.

In an episode of the cartoon Futurama, when Bender and everyone else are taken hostage by another robot, Bender states "Hang on, I think I'm coming down with Stockholm Syndrome.... handsome."

In the video game Metal Gear Solid, Snake tells Otacon while he is locked up that it seems like Otacons affection for a female mercenary trying to kill Snake is Stockholm Syndrome

In a book by Lemony Snicket, The Slippery Slope, Sunny Baudelaire is kidnapped by Count Olaf on Mount Fraught. The narrator describes Stockholm Syndrome, then says that Sunny is experiencing Mount Fraught Syndrome, where the kidnappee becomes less and less sympathetic with their kidnapper.

Stockholm Syndrome is mentioned in the James Bond film The World is Not Enough and may be the reason why Elektra King effectively helps to murder her father and supports the terrorist Renard, her kidnapper.

In the episode of House, MD entitled "Occam's Razor", Dr. Foreman suggests that Dr. Cameron and Dr. Chase only agree with Dr. House because they are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

In an episode of The Simpsons where The Simpsons go to Brazil to rescue an orphaned child, Homer is abducted by a taxi driver, and it is said by one of the kidnappers that Homer is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

In an episode of The Unit the team rescues a hostage, only to find he is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and attempts to kill Jonas.

In the film, Never Say Never Again, a woman suffering from Stockholm Syndrome attacks James Bond in a training exercise.

In the film, The Last Samurai, Captain Nathan Algren, an American military officer hired by the Emperor to train the Japanese army in the art of modern warfare, is captured by a Samurai group, becomes sympathetic, is eventually trained and fights to the death against the Emperor's army.

In the mini series Kill Point, one of the hostages falls victim to Stockholm Syndrome when she becomes close to Mr. Wolf the leader of the bankrobbers.

In the T.V series 'Lipstick Jungle' Season 1 Episode 6 the character Joe Bennet refers to Stockholm syndrome.

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