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What Is Stockholm Syndrome? 7 Symptoms of This Psychological Phenomenon

* 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.

In this comprehensive article, we delve into the intriguing concept of Stockholm Syndrome and its relevance in hostage situations and abusive relationships. Our aim is to provide you with a deep understanding of this psychological condition, its origins, and its impact on individuals experiencing it. Through a meticulous analysis of real-life cases, expert insights, and references to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), we shed light on the complexities of Stockholm Syndrome, challenging existing notions and offering fresh perspectives. Join us on this enlightening journey as we unravel the depths of this fascinating psychological phenomenon.

What is Stockholm Syndrome?

Stockholm Syndrome refers to a psychological response observed in some individuals who have been subjected to abusive or traumatic situations, often within the context of a hostage or abusive relationship. The term originated from a bank robbery that took place in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1973, where hostages developed an emotional bond with their captors.

The Dynamics of Stockholm Syndrome

Captor-Victim Relationship in Hostage Situations

In hostage situations, captors often employ various tactics, including isolation, threats, and occasional acts of kindness, to exert control over their victims. Over time, the victims may develop emotional attachments and perceive their captors as complex individuals with both positive and negative qualities.

Stockholm Syndrome in the Context of Domestic Violence

The Dynamics of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence involves a pattern of abusive behaviors, typically occurring within intimate relationships, where one person seeks to gain power and control over the other. The cycle of abuse can include physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse, creating a toxic and manipulative environment for the victim.

Stockholm Syndrome as a Survival Mechanism

In the context of domestic violence, Stockholm Syndrome can emerge as a survival mechanism for the victim. The constant exposure to fear, intimidation, and manipulation can lead the victim to develop positive feelings or emotional attachments to their abuser. This response serves as a coping mechanism to alleviate the distress and maintain a semblance of safety.

Manipulation and Control in Domestic Violence

Abusers in domestic violence situations often employ various manipulative tactics to maintain control over their victims and reinforce the Stockholm Syndrome dynamic. These tactics can include isolating the victim from their support network, undermining their self-esteem through constant criticism, and exerting control over their daily activities. By alternating between abusive behaviors and moments of affection or remorse, the abuser perpetuates confusion and further deepens the emotional bond with the victim.

Recognizing Stockholm Syndrome in Domestic Violence

Signs and Symptoms

It is crucial to recognize the signs and symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome within the context of domestic violence to effectively address and support victims. Stockholm Syndrome can be seen as a coping mechanism in traumatic situations. Victims may subconsciously align their emotions with their captors or abusers, believing that it increases their chances of survival or mitigates harm. 

Several psychological processes contribute to the development of Stockholm Syndrome. These include:

1. Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions, such as rationalization and justification, occur when individuals reinterpret their captor’s actions to reduce cognitive dissonance. Victims may perceive small acts of kindness or occasional positive interactions as genuine displays of care, overshadowing the negative experiences.

2. Positive Feelings Toward the Abuser 

Victims may display empathy, sympathy, or even love for their abusers, justifying their actions or making excuses for them.

3. Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonding refers to the strong emotional bonds that form between victims and their captors or abusers due to shared traumatic experiences. The shared adversity creates a sense of camaraderie and connection, further reinforcing the bond.

3. Fear and Anxiety of Leaving

Despite the abusive circumstances, victims may experience intense fear or anxiety at the thought of leaving the relationship or reporting the abuse.

4. Isolation and Withdrawal

Victims often become socially isolated, cutting off contact with friends, family, and support networks due to the abuser’s manipulative tactics.

5. Dependence on the Abuser

​ Due to the emotional bond and manipulation, victims may develop a strong dependency on their abusers for their emotional well-being and sense of security.

6. Self-Blame and Guilt

Victims may internalize the blame for the abuse, believing they somehow provoked or deserve the mistreatment.

7. Perception of Danger in the Outside World

Victims may develop an irrational belief that the abuser is their sole protector and that the outside world poses a greater threat.

What Is Stockholm Syndrome

Real-Life Cases: Patty Hearst, Mary McElroy, and Natascha Kampusch

Several notable cases exemplify the complexities of Stockholm Syndrome. One such case is the story of Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. In 1974, she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a left-wing terrorist group. Despite her affluent background, Patty began to sympathize with the SLA’s cause, even participating in their criminal activities.

Another well-known case is that of Natascha Kampusch, an Austrian woman who was abducted at the age of 10 and held captive for over eight years. Despite enduring extreme physical and psychological abuse, she formed a complex emotional bond with her captor.

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.

These cases, among others, highlight the intricate psychological mechanisms at play in Stockholm Syndrome and the profound effects it can have on individuals’ lives.

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.

Controversies and Criticisms

While Stockholm Syndrome has been widely recognized and documented, it remains a topic of debate among psychologists, mental health experts, and law enforcement professionals. Critics argue that it may not be a distinct mental health condition but rather a manifestation of other psychological responses to trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or trauma bonding. The American Psychiatric Association and the Federal Bureau of Investigation acknowledge the phenomenon but have not included it as a specific psychiatric diagnosis in the latest editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

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.

Breaking the Cycle of Stockholm Syndrome and Domestic Violence

It is crucial to recognize the complexities of Stockholm Syndrome and the challenges faced by individuals who have experienced it. For victims of abusive relationships or hostage situations, seeking support from healthcare providers, mental health professionals, and organizations specializing in domestic violence or trauma recovery is essential. Understanding the psychological connection and trauma bonds can help victims and their families navigate the healing process.

Building healthy relationships and breaking free from the cycle of abuse requires time, effort, and access to resources. Therapeutic interventions, counseling, and support from loved ones play a vital role in helping victims of Stockholm Syndrome regain their autonomy and develop new coping mechanisms.

Seek Professional Support

Breaking free from the cycle of Stockholm Syndrome and domestic violence requires professional assistance. Victims should seek support from qualified professionals, such as therapists, counselors, or advocates specializing in domestic violence. These professionals can provide guidance, safety planning, and therapeutic interventions to help victims regain control over their lives.

Establish a Supportive Network

Building a strong support network is crucial for individuals affected by domestic violence and Stockholm Syndrome. Encouraging victims to reach out to trusted friends, family members, or support groups can provide a vital network of emotional support, validation, and understanding. Supportive individuals can help victims recognize their worth, offer practical assistance, and provide a safe space for healing and growth.

Safety Planning and Legal Protection

Safety planning is an essential step for individuals seeking to break free from abusive relationships. Victims should develop a personalized safety plan that includes strategies for immediate safety, documentation of abuse, and securing legal protection through restraining orders or other legal measures. Advocacy organizations and domestic violence hotlines can provide guidance on safety planning and available legal options.

Rebuilding and Healing

Rebuilding one’s life after leaving an abusive relationship requires time, patience, and self-care. Victims should prioritize self-healing through therapy, engaging in activities they enjoy, and focusing on personal growth. Learning about healthy relationships, boundaries, and self-empowerment is instrumental in overcoming the effects of Stockholm Syndrome and cultivating a fulfilling future.


In conclusion, Stockholm Syndrome is a captivating and complex psychological phenomenon that arises in hostage situations and abusive relationships. Through the examination of real-life cases, the exploration of psychological processes, and references to relevant research, we have shed light on the development and dynamics of this phenomenon. While controversies exist, the study of Stockholm Syndrome contributes to our understanding of the unconscious emotional responses and coping mechanisms individuals may employ in traumatic circumstances.

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