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File:Former Kreditbanken Norrmalmstorg Stockholm Sweden.jpg

Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg, Stockholm

In psychology, Stockholm syndrome is a term used to describe a paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein hostages express adulation and have positive feelings towards their captors that appear irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, essentially mistaking a lack of abuse from their captors as an act of kindness.[1] [2] The FBI’s Hostage Barricade Database System shows that roughly 27% of victims show evidence of Stockholm syndrome.[3] The syndrome is named after the Norrmalmstorg robbery of Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm, in which the bank robbers held bank employees hostage from August 23 to August 28, 1973. In this case, the victims became emotionally attached to their captors, and even defended them 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.[4] It was originally defined by psychiatrist Frank Ochberg to aid the management of hostage situations.[5]


According to the FBI,[1][6] there is

... disagreement as to what factors characterize incidents that contribute to the development of Stockholm syndrome. Research has suggested that hostages may exhibit the condition in situations that feature captors who do not abuse the victim, a long duration before resolution, continued contact between the perpetrator and hostage, and a high level of emotion. In fact, experts have concluded that the intensity, not the length of the incident, combined with a lack of physical abuse more likely will create favorable conditions for the development of Stockholm syndrome.
The following are viewed as the conditions necessary for Stockholm syndrome to occur.
  • Hostages who develop Stockholm syndrome often view the perpetrator as giving life by simply not taking it. In this sense, the captor becomes the person in control of the captive’s basic needs for survival and the victim’s life itself.
  • The hostage endures isolation from other people and has only the captor’s perspective available. Perpetrators routinely keep information about the outside world’s response to their actions from captives to keep them totally dependent.
  • The hostage taker threatens to kill the victim and gives the perception of having the capability to do so. The captive judges it safer to align with the perpetrator, endure the hardship of captivity, and comply with the captor than to resist and face murder.
  • The captive sees the perpetrator as showing some degree of kindness. Kindness serves as the cornerstone of Stockholm syndrome; the condition will not develop unless the captor exhibits it in some form toward the hostage. However, captives often misinterpret a lack of abuse as kindness and may develop feelings of appreciation for this perceived benevolence. If the captor is purely evil and abusive, the hostage will respond with hatred. But, if perpetrators show some kindness, victims will submerge the anger they feel in response to the terror and concentrate on the captors’ “good side” to protect themselves.
In cases where Stockholm syndrome has occurred, the captive is in a situation where the captor has stripped nearly all forms of independence and gained control of the victim’s life, as well as basic needs for survival. Some experts say that the hostage regresses to, perhaps, a state of infancy; the captive must cry for food, remain silent, and exist in an extreme state of dependence. In contrast, the perpetrator serves as a 'mother' figure protecting the 'child' from a threatening outside world, including law enforcement’s deadly weapons. The victim then begins a struggle for survival, both relying on and identifying with the captor. Possibly, hostages’ motivation to live outweighs their impulse to hate the person who created their dilemma.

The FBI's theories about Stockholm Syndrome development are not, however, perfectly representative of the opinions of other psychologists who have studied the subject.[citation needed]

Psychoanalytic explanations

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological shift that occurs in captives when they are threatened gravely but are shown acts of kindness by their captors. Captives who exhibit the syndrome tend to sympathize with and think highly of their captors. When subjected to prolonged captivity, these captives can develop a strong bond with their captors, in some cases including a sexual interest.

Psychiatrist Frank Ochberg, widely credited with Stockholm Syndrome's psychiatric definition, describes it as "a primitive gratitude for the gift of life," not unlike that felt by an infant.[7]

According to the psychoanalytic view of the syndrome, this tendency might 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.[8]

Notable examples

  • Mary McElroy was kidnapped and held for ransom in 1934 and released by her captors unharmed. She described the incident as a positive one and, when her captors were apprehended and given harsh sentences (including one death sentence), McElroy defended them. According to reports, she suffered from feelings of guilt concerning the case which compromised her mental and physical health. She took her own life in 1940.
  • Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974. After two months in captivity, she actively took part in a robbery they were orchestrating. Her unsuccessful legal defense claimed 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 President Bill Clinton on January 20, 2001 (among his last official acts before leaving office).
  • Jaycee Lee Dugard was abducted at age 11 by Phillip & Nancy Garrido at a school bus stop in 1991 and was imprisoned at their residence for 18 years. In August 2009, Phillip brought Nancy & Jaycee (who was living under the alias "Alyssa") along with two girls that Garrido fathered with Jaycee during her captivity, to be questioned by Garrido's parole officer after he noticed some suspicious behavior. She did not reveal her identity when she was questioned alone. Instead, she told investigators she was a battered wife from Minnesota who was hiding from her abusive husband, and described Garrido as a "great person" who was "good with her kids". Dugard has since admitted to forming an emotional bond with Garrido with great guilt and regret.[9]

Lima syndrome

An inverse of Stockholm syndrome called "Lima syndrome" has been proposed, in which abductors develop sympathy for their hostages. It was named after an abduction at the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru in 1996, when members of a militant movement took hostage hundreds of people attending a party in the official residence of Japan's ambassador. Within a few hours, the abductors had set free most of the hostages, including the most valuable ones, due to sympathy.[10][11]

In popular culture

  • The most well-known (if infrequently acknowledged) victim of this syndrome is the female protagonist in the story of Beauty and Beast. In the original version of the tale, the girl is captured by the beast and asked daily at dinner-time whether or not she loves him.
  • The song Adopduction on Les Savy Fav's album Go Forth details the fictional account of a kidnapped victim developing an attachment to an eccentric couple holding him hostage.
  • The term Helsinki syndrome has been used erroneously to describe Stockholm syndrome, popularized by the movie Die Hard.[12]
  • In the 19th episode of season 5 (Folie à Deux) of The X-Files, Mulder erroneously uses the term Helsinki Syndrome instead of Stockholm Syndrome after being rescued from a hostage situation where he had seen a monster.
  • In the 1987 movie Overboard Dean Proffitt (played by Kurt Russell) takes advantage of Joanna Stayton (Goldie Hawn), who is in an amnesiac state, by claiming her out of a local hospital as his wife. While in Dean's captivity, Joanna embraces the role as housewife and mother of Dean's kids.
  • In the film Dog Day Afternoon, which is based on true events, two men rob a small bank and hold the staff hostage in a matter of 12 hours. Throughout the whole ordeal, the hostages develop an affinity for the robbers.
  • In the Denzel Washington movie, John Q, his character John Quincy Archibald takes a hospital emergency room hostage. By the end of the movie, several hostages root for him to get a much needed heart transplant for his son (showing signs of Stockholm syndrome calling him "a very good man").
  • In the season 3 episode "The Gang Gets Held Hostage" of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Sweet Dee has Stockholm Syndrome towards the McPoyles, which the gang continuously points out to her.
  • In the 1994 movie The Chase Davis Hammond (played by Charlie Sheen) abducts LA heiress Natalie Voss (Kristy Swanson) in an attempt to a 25 year prison sentence from a wrongful conviction for armed robbery. While on the run, Natalie comes to sympathize with Davis and the two engage in an sexual encounter. Eventually Voss herself turns criminal and intervenes in Davis' apprehension by police and successfully carries the two the final leg of the trip across the Mexican border.
  • In the "Bond movie" The World Is Not Enough, James Bond deduces that Elektra King, the female antagonist in the movie is affected by Stockholm Syndrome.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Blame it on Lisa" Homer is kidnapped and his captors say that he has developed Stockholm Syndrome.
  • In the British television series Spooks, an agent Lucas North suffers from severe Stockholm Syndrome; even after being repeatedly tortured then confined alone for eight years.
  • In the course of the novel Bel Canto, all captives taken hostage by terrorists develop a deep sympathy with their captors.
  • In the anime Black Lagoon, the recently captured character Rock asks himself if he is feeling Stockholm Syndrome after smoking and talking to one his captors, Dutch.
  • In the first Metal Gear Solid game, Solid Snake comments that Otacon's affection for Wolf "sounds like Stockholm Syndrome."
  • The story tag of the 2010 Bollywood and Kollywood movie, Raavan or Raavanan is based on Stockholm Syndrome.
  • In the Futurama episode, "Insane in the Mainframe", Bender cries out to his captor, Roberto: "Don't kill me yet! I'm starting to come down with Stockholm Syndrome... handsome."
  • There is a band and several albums and songs called "Stockholm Syndrome".
  • The Web comic, Basic Instructions, references Stockholm Syndrome when describing Beauty and the Beast, in a December 2008 strip.
  • In The Phantom of the Opera, Christine Daae is kidnapped by the Phantom. During her time in his underground lair, she displays the beginnings of Stockholm Syndrome (incidentally, the character is of Swedish origin) and begins to feel sorry for him. Later in the novel, she actually protects him from being discovered by other characters and refuses to betray him.
  • In the popular web series Red vs Blue, the Meta and Agent Washington kidnap Frank DuFresne, also known as Doc to the soldiers, who claims he hasn't developed Stockholm Syndrome yet (though later in the series, he saves Agent Washington from falling of a cliff).
  • Used in Immortal Technique's song "Stronghold Grip" off of the album The 3rd World "You got Stockholm Syndrome, and that's why i hate y'all, cause you be bigging up the industry while they rape y'all..."
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Suddenly Human , Dr Beverley Crusher is heard to suggest that a then unidentified teenage human male the ship has just rescued may possibly be suffering from 'Stockholm Syndrome identified centuries ago' when the teenager is so desperate to return to the aliens who had abducted him years earlier and is showing an assimilation of their cultural traits, identifying devoutly with the reputedly ruthless aliens instead of humanity. Despite the crews efforts to reassimilate the boy back into humanity, and discovering signs of healed physical trauma received during his long alien captivity, they are forced to return him to the aliens and his adopted alien 'father' after he rejects Captain Picard's paternal overtures by attacking him.
  • In the movie The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Cheryl Dempsey is kidnapped and tortured sexually, physically, and psychologically by her captor. During her imprisonment, she becomes increasingly obedient. After being rescued, Cheryl gives an interview where she says she believes her captor loves her and will return shortly to collect her. Soon after the interview, she commits suicide and in a note states her undying love for her "master".
  • In the Japanese game and series Togainu No Chi, the character Kau had been beaten and degraded into submission of his now master Abrbitro but now displays signs of Stockholm Syndrome, proving himself to be rather loyal to the man who will beat him if he does something wrong, but may treat him better if he does something right and has slowly developed a sort of love for his master who he now has grown to depend on.
  • In the novel Rage, written by Stephen King (under the pen name Richard Bachman) a disturbed high school senior named Charlie Decker takes a room of his classmates hostage after shooting two teachers. The students (with the exception of one) eventually approve of Charlie's actions and eventually create a kind of psychotherapy group and open up one by one to the class and Charlie. When the one student, whose name is Ted, opposes Charlie and doesn't open up to the class, the other students beat and assault the boy into a coma. After Charlie is taken in by the authorities and put into a mental hospital, the students send Charlie a yearbook that they all have signed.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 de Fabrique, Nathalie; Romano, Stephen J.; Vecchi, Gregory M.; van Hasselt, Vincent B. (July 2007). "Understanding Stockholm Syndrome". FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin (Law Enforcement Communication Unit) 76 (7): 10–15. ISSN 0014-5688. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
  2. "'Stockholm syndrome': psychiatric diagnosis or urban myth?" (in London, UK.). Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Hampstead Campus. Royal Free and University College Medical School. 2007 November 19.. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
  3. G. Dwayne Fuselier, “Placing the Stockholm Syndrome in Perspective,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, July 1999, 22-25.
  4. Nils Bejerot: The six day war in Stockholm New Scientist 1974, volume 61, number 886, page 486-487
  5. Ochberg, Frank "The Ties That Bind Captive to Captor", Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2005
  6. Thomas Strentz, “Law Enforcement Policy and Ego Defenses of the Hostage,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, April 1979, 2-12.
  7. "The Ties That Bind Captive to Captor"
  8. N. Kato, et al. 2006, Ptsd: Brain Mechanisms and Clinical Implications Springer Publishers ISBN 4431295666
  9. Allen, Nick (November 5, 2009). "Jaycee Lee Dugard showed signs of Stockholm syndrome". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved May 24, 2010.
  10. PTSD. Springer Science+Business Media. 2006. ISBN 4431295666. "This phenomenon, now termed the 'Lima syndrome,' is an attachment opposite to the 'Stockholm syndrome.'"
  11. "Africa Politics". International Press Service. July 10, 1996. Retrieved 2009-05-08.

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