In Syndromes & Disorders

Who Suffers from Stockholm Syndrome?

stockholm syndrome

Stockholm Syndrome Definition:

The simplest way to define Stockholm Syndrome is a phenomenon where hostages begin to identify and sympathize with their captors.

Additionally, according to the, the term was originally coined by Nils Bejerot after he consulted with police during a bank robbery that took place in Stockholm, Sweden in August 1973. Four bank employees were held hostage in the bank vault by the robber for 131 hours. After the hostages were freed, they were interviewed by reporters whom they told that they began to see the police as the enemy and they had developed positive feelings, even an emotional bond, with their captor.

Stockholm syndrome is described as a complex reaction to a frightening situation. Not all experts agree on what makes one person more susceptible to the syndrome than another or on the features present in the syndrome’s characteristics. Researchers are unable to test humans because of the ethical implications that such studies would provoke. Therefore, experts must rely on data gathered from a wide variety of kidnapping and hostage situations that differ in length of time, number of captors, situations hostages are held under and any other combination of variables. This makes norms hard to determine since the data widely differs.

Although it can’t be proven, many researches have concluded that Stockholm syndrome can also explain some of the behaviors of survivors of World War II concentration camps, religious cults, battered wives, incest survivors, and abused children.

There are three central characteristics of Stockholm Syndrome that are widely accepted:

  • 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

Stockholm Syndrome Symptoms;

The notes the following as causes and symptoms of the Stockholm syndrome:

Stockholm syndrome does not affect all hostages (or persons in comparable situations), a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) study of more that 1200 hostage-taking incidents found that 92% of the hostages did not develop Stockholm syndrome. Next the researchers interviewed flight attendants who had been on board during airplane hijackings.

At the end of their interviews, the researchers identified three factors that are necessary to be present in order for the syndrome to develop:

  • The crisis situation lasts for several days or longer
  • The hostage takers remain in contact with their hostages, the hostages are not isolated
  • The hostage takers show some kindness or at the very least refrain from the the hostages

The researchers also determined that hostages who were abused by their captors were more likely to feel anger toward them and less likely to develop the syndrome. Adversely, people who feel helpless in stressful situations or are willing to do whatever it takes to survive appear to be more susceptible to developing the syndrome if the opportunity arises.

Stockholm syndrome often presents itself in symptoms that are also commonly found in those diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Being easily startled
  • Confusion
  • Inability to enjoy experiences
  • Increased distrust of other people
  • Flashbacks

Stockholm syndrome is generally treated by combining medications that help reduce anxiety and improve sleeping patterns along with psychological counseling. Those with Stockholm syndrome are very likely to be able to overcome their condition as long as they seek the proper medications and counseling. The length of time needed for a victim’s treatment will vary greatly depending upon the length of time they were held captive and the circumstances involved.

Cases of Stockholm Syndrome:

There have been several highly publicized cases of Stockholm syndrome, below are three of the most famous cases involving this condition.

Patty Hearst

Patty Hearst is the granddaughter of the publisher William Randolph Hearst. At the age of 19 in 1974, Patty was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army from her apartment in Berkeley California. During the abduction she was beaten until she was unconscious, it was also reported that a machine gun fired shots during the kidnapping.

Patty Hearst would later testify that she was held in a closet with her hands tied and a blindfold over her eyes for a week. During this week she said that her life was repeatedly threatened. Ultimately her captor informed her that the SLA had decided that she should either be killed or keeping her on with the rest of their cause. Hearst said that she then began to accommodate her thoughts to identify with their cause.

Two months later, Hearst announced that she had officially joined the SLA and had chosen the name Tania to go by.

In the following months, Hearst joined her SLA comrades in committing a variety of crimes including a bank robbery, threatening a store manager with a machine gun, and hijacking two cars along with car owners inside.

Hearst was finally located 19 months after she first disappeared, but by then significant damage had been done to Hearst’s psyche and she was a fugitive who was wanted for her crimes. Hearst went on trial for her crimes during her association with the SLA and was convicted and jailed. President Bill Clinton finally pardoned her in 2001.

Elizabeth Smart

Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002 at the age of 14. Brian David Mitchell kept Smart captive for nine months during which he repeatedly raped her as his wife Wanda Barzee watched.

In an interview published on the, she revealed that her religious upbringing made her view herself as ‘impure’ after Mitchell raped her, saying: ‘I understand so easily all too well why someone wouldn’t run because of that alone.’

Ms Smart recalled that she thought at the time, ‘Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.’

As a 14-year-old girl, Ms Smart said her abductors made her feel ‘worthless’ and she felt afraid that even if she did escape they would not love her anymore.

‘I felt my soul had been crushed. I felt like I wasn’t even human anymore. How could anyone love me, or want me or care about me? I felt like life had no meaning to it. And that was only the beginning.’

But ultimately she resolved that no matter what she had to maintain a belief that her family would still be there for her if she could return to them.

‘It was because of that realization that I was able to make the decision that no matter what I had to do, no matter how many personal goals or standards I had to break, I would do it, if it meant that I would survive,’ Ms Smart said.

Elizabeth was found alive on March 12, 2003 in Sandy, Utah. After Smart’s return Mitchell was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Jaycee Dugard

Jaycee Dugard was 11 years old when Phillip Garrido kidnapped her in 1991. Garrido kept Jaycee his prisoner for 18 years, raped her repeatedly, impregnated her twice (she has two daughters ages 14 and 17) and even renamed her Allissa.

Garrido and his wife Nancy, kept Jaycee in a shack in the backyard of their home until 2009 when Jaycee escaped after security officers from UC Berkely conducted a background check on Garrido and learned that he had no record of having any children although children had been seen on his property.

Garrido lied to Jaycee constantly and wouldn’t allow her to contact the outside world. Jaycee kept a journal where she admitted to being afraid, lonely, depressed and how she worried about her family members and if they were trying to find her. Over time Jaycee began to believe she had no home to go back to and that her captors were the only ones who would interact with her.

After her rescue, Jaycee wrote a memoir and is living a normal and happy life.

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