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Stockholm Syndrome: Why some victims develop feelings for their abusers

Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological response where hostages or abuse victims form a bond with their captors or abusers.

Stockholm Syndrome

This paradoxical psychological phenomenon is complex and often misunderstood. Here’s an in-depth look at what Stockholm Syndrome is, how it develops, its symptoms, and some notable cases.

What is Stockholm Syndrome?

Stockholm Syndrome refers to the seemingly irrational bond that some hostages and abuse victims develop towards their captors or abusers.

The term was first used by the media in 1973 after a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, where hostages defended their captors after being released and refused to testify against them in court.

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How does It develop?

Stockholm Syndrome develops under intense, stressful conditions where the victim perceives a threat to survival at the hands of a captor.

However, it also involves small kindnesses from the captor towards the victim or periods of no abuse, alongside the following conditions:

  • The perceived threat to survival and the belief that one’s captor is willing to act on that threat
  • Isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor
  • Perceived inability to escape
  • Perceived small kindness from the captor within a context of terror

Symptoms and signs

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The main symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome include:

  • Positive feelings by the victim toward their abuser or captor
  • Negative feelings by the victim toward family, friends, or authorities trying to rescue them
  • Support of the captor's reasons and behaviors
  • Positive feelings by the captor towards the victim
  • Helping the captor in meeting their goals or seeking to please the captor

Psychological explanation

Psychologists believe that Stockholm Syndrome develops as an adaptive survival mechanism. Under threat, the victim’s emotional response might include sympathy for the captor as a way to ensure safety and survival. This psychological alliance with the captor is considered an unconscious act of self-preservation.

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Notable cases

  • 1973 Stockholm bank robbery: The origin of the term, where hostages defended the robbers after a six-day ordeal.
  • Patty Hearst: Perhaps the most famous case, Hearst was kidnapped in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army. She eventually declared her allegiance to the group and took part in their criminal activities.

Criticism and controversies

Stockholm Syndrome is not recognized as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in its DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Critics argue that the syndrome may be an oversimplification of the complex reactions of victims to trauma and fear.

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Treatment and recovery

Recovery from Stockholm Syndrome involves long-term psychological support, including therapy to address trauma, develop healthy relationships, and rebuild the victim's life.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and trauma-informed therapy approaches are often recommended.

Understanding Stockholm Syndrome is crucial for properly supporting survivors of kidnappings and abusive relationships, ensuring they receive empathetic and effective care and rehabilitation.

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