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:
- 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
- The presence of a small kindness from the abuser to the victim.
- Isolation from other perspectives.
- Perceived or real inability to escape from the situation.
Stages in the Development of Stockholm Syndrome:
- "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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.