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What Is Stockholm Syndrome? Top 3 Symptoms

* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.

With countless references to Stockholm Syndrome in songs, movies, and literature, this extraordinary condition is one of the most well-known psychological disorders, but only in very general terms. So what is Stockholm Syndrome?

For instance, you may know that it manifests in captives as sympathy for their captors, which is indeed true, but it’s actually a far more complex condition than this abridged definition accounts for.

What Is Stockholm Syndrome

For one thing, Stockholm Syndrome doesn’t necessarily apply to hostage-kidnapper scenarios exclusively, contrary to popular belief.

So, let’s focus on this fascinating psychological malady to establish what we as a species currently understand about it.

Table of Contents

Defining Stockholm Syndrome

First, let’s review why so many of us believe that Stockholm Syndrome is restricted to hostage-kidnapper dynamics.

Traditionally, this was the case, but our understanding of psychological disorders is constantly evolving, and with a subject as infinitely complex as the human mind, it will likely always be in a state of flux.

During our collective research in the field of psychology, many pre-existing disorders are found to be broader than first thought, developing in various unique scenarios as opposed to the one or two situations they applied to initially.

The current understanding of Stockholm Syndrome is that it can also manifest between victim and abuser.

Essentially, wherever a bond develops between someone experiencing trauma and the person responsible for said trauma, might fall under the Stockholm Syndrome umbrella.

Why Is It Called Stockholm Syndrome?

Stockholm Syndrome is so called because the effects associated with this disorder were first observed in captive employees of a Stockholm bank in 1973 who endured a 6-day hostage situation as the bank robbers faced off with law enforcement.

During the hostage situation, an alarming number of the captive employees developed sympathetic feelings towards their captives, and these feelings didn’t die down after the robbery was over as you might assume they would.

Rather, their sympathy towards the bank robbers endured to the extent that some refused to testify for the prosecution during the subsequent trial.

Others still actively tried to help the criminals by raising money to cover the costs of their defense.

Astonished by the bank employees’ behavior, police brought Swedish psychiatrist and criminologist, Nils Bejrot, in on the case to analyze the victims, and it was he who coined the term Stockholm Syndrome.

Does Stockholm Syndrome Have A Purpose?

Symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome are by no means random or “useless”.

Even though the individual may not be entirely conscious of their abnormal feelings towards a captor or abuser, these feelings serve a distinct purpose — They are in fact a coping mechanism.

What Is The Trigger For Stockholm Syndrome?

The general answer in our search for the cause of Stockholm Syndrome is unsurprisingly emotional stress, while the root of the behavior is slightly more elusive. Here are our best theories thus far.

Evolutionary Defense Technique

Some evolutionary psychiatrists feel there’s a strong case for Stockholm Syndrome being the result of genetics, that it’s an essential survival technique passed down through generations.

See, in early civilizations, the chances of being captured and/or killed by others were much higher than it is today, and bonding with the dominant party provided the best possible chance of escaping with your life.

Emotional Intensity

Needless to say, captive or abusive relationships cause the victim a great deal of emotional turmoil.

They may well think they could be killed or severely injured at any moment, but when the captor or abuser instead shows them some form of kindness – yet not so much as to release them – they may develop feelings of compassion towards the oppressive party.

Even if this “kindness” is simply the captor or abuser not harming the victim, the victim may develop exaggerated feelings of gratefulness and begin seeing the oppressive party as humane, or, in other words, similar to them, creating a false sense of common ground.

Does Someone With Stockholm Syndrome Know They Have It?

Stockholm Syndrome doesn’t pertain to individuals trying to befriend or help their captors or abusers in a cerebral, calculated fashion as a means of escape or as an attempt to catch the oppressive party off guard, granting an opportunity to somehow flip the power dynamic.

Strictly an emotional response, those who experience Stockholm Syndrome aren’t entirely aware of why they are feeling compassion towards their captors or abusers, which is why – against all logic – this favorable sentiment can persist once the victim is free and safe.

What Are The signs of Stockholm Syndrome?

What Is Stockholm Syndrome

There are three definitive symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome:

  • Sympathy for the goals, behaviors, and beliefs of captors/abusers
  • Disdain for authority working against captors/abusers, i.e. police or friends
  • Positive emotions connected to captors/abusers

However, there are a number of additional probable symptoms that align with those of PTSD sufferers, such as flashbacks, long-standing distrust, anxiety, lack of concentration, and loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable.

Stockholm Syndrome Diagnosis

Unfortunately, Stockholm Syndrome isn’t officially categorized as a psychological disorder in the statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) in the US, so it’s unlikely that medical professionals will offer this diagnosis.

Now, this isn’t to say they won’t recognize trauma-derived behavior in a patient, but a diagnosis of a similar, more general disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is far more likely.

Can Stockholm Syndrome Be Treated?

Being that Stockholm Syndrome is currently unrecognized by The American Psychiatric Association, there are no treatments specific to this condition, but again, medical professionals will be able to spot the symptoms and suggest a suitable course for rehabilitation.

As is the case with PTSD, Stockholm Syndrome can be treated with either therapy or a combination of therapy and medication.

The medication will help to subdue symptoms such as anxiety, while talk therapy can help people to both reduce anxiety and understand that their sympathy towards a captor/abuser was and is irrational.

Is Stockholm Syndrome Common?

Stockholm Syndrome is nowhere near as common as many believe. It’s actually a rather rare disorder, yet it’s not too surprising when more than one case crops up in relation to a single event as it did during and after the 1973 bank robbery.

It’s quite possible that once a single captive exhibits symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome, it could act as an emotional trigger for others as everyone fights for survival.

If Someone With Stockholm Syndrome Aids A Captor/Abuser, Can They Be Prosecuted?

Whether a victim aiding a captor or abuser does so under the influence of Stockholm Syndrome or not is irrelevant in the eyes of the law, as in either case, they’re under duress and would not be acting in such a way of their own volition in normal circumstances.

If a victim committed a serious crime in aid of their captive/abuser, such as murder, there would undoubtedly be a thorough investigation carried out by the authorities and medical professionals, but if the victim is found to have been psychologically unstable, jail time seems unlikely.

Case Studies

Patty Hearst

Patty Hearst, who was abducted by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974, is one of the most well-known cases of what was once thought to be Stockholm Syndrome (SLA).

The 19-year-old Patty Hearst reportedly gave up her family, took on a new name, and even assisted her captors in robbing banks while she was being held captive. She was later detained, and during her trial, she used Stockholm Syndrome as a justification.

Mary McElroy

Mary McElroy, 25, was shackled to the walls of an abandoned farmhouse in 1933 by four men who kept her at gunpoint and demanded payment from her family.

She apparently failed to identify her captors at their trial and had openly professed affection for them when she was freed. She visited her kidnappers when they were in prison even though she felt that they should be punished.

What Forms Of Abuse Can Trigger Stockholm Syndrome?

Any form of abuse can potentially trigger Stockholm Syndrome, be it emotional, physical, or sexual in nature, but individual differences and situational specifics determine how likely it is that a victim will develop symptoms.

Can the term “Stockholm Syndrome” be used in other contexts?

While Stockholm Syndrome is frequently linked to hostage victims or kidnapping situations, it can also apply to a variety of different situations or connections.

Abusive relationships

Stockholm Syndrome may be more prevalent among victims of domestic abuse, particularly those with their parents or love partners.

Since the abusive parent may frequently threaten or physically hurt their child, but they may also display kindness that might be mistaken for love or affection, abuse can be highly perplexing for youngsters.

The child and their abusive parent could develop a strong emotional attachment to the point where it shields the abuser for a very long period.

According to research, those who are abused may form emotional links to their abuser, which means that the abuse—whether it be physical, emotional, or sexual—can continue for years (Cantor & Price, 2007). The victim of abuse may grow to feel sympathetic or sympathetic over time.

It has been discovered that in abusive romantic relationships, the victim of the abuse may be reluctant to report the violence and may even try to prevent the authorities from apprehending their partner.

Domestic abuse victims frequently claim to still love their abusers or offer justifications for their behavior after the relationship has ended. Many could classify this as a variant of Stockholm Syndrome, and the terms trauma bonding and Stockholm Syndrome are frequently used interchangeably.

Trauma bonds occur when someone is loyal to someone who has repeatedly mistreated or abused them and continues to feel bound to them even after the relationship has ended.

It is stated that people who are in abusive romantic relationships are being emotionally held captive, even though they are not physically being held captive, as is the case in hostage-captor scenarios.

Stockholm Syndrome is regarded to be similar to trauma ties, but trauma bonds are thought to be distinct from it since, in cases of trauma bonds, it is likely that the person entered the relationship and developed a strong attachment to the other person before the abusive behavior started.

While it can be claimed that for something to be labeled Stockholm Syndrome, the victim must be kidnapped against their will, and the captor is almost always a stranger.

An investigation investigating the possibility of a connection between Stockholm Syndrome and sex trafficking was conducted (Karan & Hansen, 2018).

The researchers looked into the diaries of Indian women who worked as sex workers. Several conditions that are linked to Stockholm syndrome are described in the study’s narratives, including:

  • perceived dangers to one’s bodily and mental survival.
  • perceived goodwill from a client or the trafficker
  • separation from the rest of the world.
  • a sense of being unable to flee.
  • Some of the ladies admitted that they had once dreamed of having children with their trafficker or client.

Abusive Athletic Coaches

A 2018 study revealed that Stockholm Syndrome can occur in sports, which may seem implausible (Baschand & Djak, 2018).

The researchers claimed that victimizing young athletes by abusive sports trainers can exacerbate Stockholm Syndrome.

By convincing themselves that their coach has their best interests in mind, the athletes may put up with the emotional abuse and push themselves through difficult workouts or severe conditions.

The athletes may even understand how hard the coach has worked or defend the abuse they have received by persuading themselves that it is necessary for their training.

Final Thoughts

The complexity of Stockholm Syndrome is indicative of just how mysterious the human psyche is and how much we still don’t know about ourselves, but what we do know is that this disorder is a powerful coping mechanism tied to extreme emotional distress.

It may well be an evolutionary defense mechanism or a strange overcompensation that sees us jump from one side of the emotional spectrum to the other in response to a captor/abuser’s acts of “kindness”, but it could just as well be neither of these things.

As research continues, we’ll unveil more about this storied disorder and the implications it has for mankind.

If you need a crisis hotline or want to learn more about therapy, please see below:

For more information on mental health, please see:

If You Need A Crisis Hotline Or Want To Learn More About Therapy, Please See Below:

  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) – 1-800-656-4673
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
  • NAMI Helpline (National Alliance on Mental Illness) – 1-800-950-6264

For More Information On Mental Health, Please See:

  • SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) SAMHSA Facebook, SAMHSA Twitter, SAMHSA LinkedIn, SAMHSA Youtube
  • Mental Health America, MHA Twitter, MHA Facebook, MHA Instagram, MHA Pinterest, MHA Youtube
  • WebMD, WebMD Facebook, WebMD Twitter, WebMD Instagram, WebMD Pinterest
  • NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), NIMH Instagram, NIMH Facebook, NIMH Twitter, NIMH YouTube
  • APA (American Psychiatric Association), APA Twitter, APA Facebook, APA LinkedIN, APA Instagram

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