Stockholm Syndrome

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The Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response sometimes seen in an abducted hostage, in which the hostage exhibits loyalty to the hostage-taker, in spite 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.
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Stockholm Syndrome


Stockholm Syndrome was given its name following a hostage situation in Stockholm, Sweden when following the end of the hostage crisis, the hostages identified with and supported their captor.

It is a coping mechanism used by many victims of physical, mental, and sexual abuse. It is a way of forgetting or dissociating from the pain, terror and feelings of helplessness that one experiences at times of extreme trauma. By focusing on the mannerisms, face, odor, voice, etc. of the abuser the victim begins, unconsciously, to express sympathy for the abuser by mimicking the abuser's facial expressions, mannerisms, etc. By expressing compassion in this way, the victim may be able to avoid additional harm or death.

This coping mechanism can become maladaptive, however, when the former victim continues to focus on the abuser and has difficulty expressing anger towards the aggressor and minimizes what was done to him or her.

There are four factors that must be present in order for Stockholm Syndrome to develop:

  1. There must be a perceived or real threat to one's physical or psychological survival and the belief that the abuser will carry out the threat.
  2. The presence of a small kindness from the abuser to the victim.
  3. Isolation from other perspectives.
  4. Perceived or real inability to escape from the situation.

Stages in the Development of Stockholm Syndrome:

  1. "Identification with the Abuser." The victim dissociates from his or her pain and feelings of helplessness and terror by subconsciously beginning to see the situation and world from the abuser's perspective. During this stage the victim will begin to agree with the abuser and his or her own personality, opinions, and views will fade into the background.
  2. By doing this the victim begins to learn how to appease and please the abuser, which may keep him or her from being hurt or worse. Similarly, this tactic can be used to manipulate the abuser into being less dangerous, at least for a little while.
  3. After a while the victim will begin to realize that his or her abuser is human. At this point he or she will begin to see the abuser as not all bad. Some abusers may even share personal information in an effort to bond with the victim and to promote pity rather than anger.
  4. This bonding, in turn, will lead to conflicting feelings (e.g., rage and pity) and illogical concern for the abuser may begin and the victim may even ignore his or her own needs.
  5. Once the traumatic event has ended, however,the victim must again learn not to dissociate from his or her emotions and must learn not to focus on the abuser. This can be a very difficult transition for the victim to make.

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