What is Stockholm Syndrome?

Stockholm syndrome is a feeling of sympathy  of hostages towards the person or group of people who have taken them hostage. In other words, it is a psychological situation that involves the hostage being against the law and trying to help the criminals. It is defined as “the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor”.
Stockholm syndrome is used to refer to the emotional connection between a woman and a criminal in kidnapping events. On the other hand; domestic violence, rape or incest related tragedies may involve the traces of Stockholm syndrome.

The Story Behind Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm syndrome became known thanks to a bank robbery on August 23, 1973 in Stockholm. In that robbery case, the employees of Kreditbanken -Birgitta Lundblad, Elisabeth Oldgren, Kristin Ehnmark and Sven Safstrom-  were taken hostage by robber Jan Erik Olsson, 32, more than 130 hours. The hostages, in their phone conversations with Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme of the time, said that robber was treating well to them and they were very much concerned that he could be killed by the police. After the event, hostages collected money among themselves and pay the legal costs for the robber. Even one of the hostages broke up with his fiancé, and she got married to the robber when he left the prison.

The syndrome was also linked to the kidnapping of Patty Hearst of the Californian newspaper by the revolutionary militants in 1974. It turns out that Hearst was emotionally attached to the kidnappers during the hostage and then helped them in a bank robbery after she was released. Bailey, lawyer of  19-year-old woman, claimed that his client had suffered from Stockholm syndrome and her brain was being washed off to do some irrational behaviours.

In addition, careful readers may remember the case similar to the Stockholm syndrome in George Orwell’s famous fiction novel,1984.  In that novel, one of the characters, Watson, fell in love with the person who tortured him.

First Use of the Concept

The concept of Stockholm syndrome was first used by crime scientist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot.

Furthermore, Dr Frank Ochberg, a psychiatrist working for the United States government, conceptually developed the framework for Stockholm syndrome to help FBI and other  security agencies develop strategies for similar cases of hostage. According to Ochberg, the hostage has a hard time to meet very basic needs such as eating, speaking and going to the toilet with the strong feeling to die. Later, the hostage feels a sense of gratitude when given bread or treated nicely as if it was a gift of his/her life. In such an emotional state of mind, hostages start to love and help the criminals without remembering who was responsible for the hostage situation and bad conditions.

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