Stockholm Syndrome: All You Need to Know About This Psychological Response

Last Update on March 19, 2024 : Published on March 19, 2024

Our minds are like a maze of complex twists and turns. Sometimes, I can’t seem to understand how the human mind works, but then there are days when I marvel at this organ’s strength. What I love best about this is that the human mind shows – and has shown time and again – strength and resilience in the face of adversity.

Stockholm syndrome is one example of this mental strength. This psychological response portrays a perplexing phenomenon where a hostage or, in simpler terms, an abuse victim, develops a psychological attachment to their captors or abusers, respectively.

Today, we’re taking a more theoretical look into the depths of Stockholm Syndrome, its characteristics, where it came from, and its effects on our society.

What is Stockholm Syndrome?

Stockholm syndrome is not a formally recognized or clinically represented mental health disorder or a syndrome; it’s more of a psychological response that can be characterized by the victim’s emotional attachment to their abuser or captor. This manifests as a paradoxical blend of positive feelings like sympathy, gratitude, and even at times, affection towards the abuser amid a situation of fear and control.

This strange paradox, however, doesn’t happen in every abusive situation. Strangely enough, psychologists often consider Stockholm syndrome to be a coping mechanism of sorts. Something to help the victim feel an illusion of control over the trauma of the situation.

Stockholm Syndrome, the term, emerged in 1973, following a dramatic bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. During a six-day standoff, the hostages began to show a strange loyalty towards their captors, even helping them with police negotiations. The confused law enforcement officers and psychologists coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome”.

What’s Behind Stockholm Syndrome?

While the exact cause of Stockholm Syndrome is unknown, several factors might contribute to this psychological response. One is survival. In any life-threatening situation, developing a connection with your abuser can be perceived as a means to increase the chances of survival. The second could be limited contact. Restricted contact with the outside world can also make the abuser the primary source of social interactions, creating a skewed sense of dependence and eventual gratitude.

Another thing that can cause this sense of connection with the abuser is the identification with the abuser. To cope with the overwhelming power imbalance, a victim may unconsciously adopt the abuser’s perspective, justifying their actions and even defending them against the authorities.

The symptoms of Stockholm syndrome can look a lot like;

  • The victim developing positive feelings towards their abuser
  • The victim developing negative feelings towards authority figures such as law enforcement officers
  • The victim beginning to perceive the abuser’s motives and believing in their goals

Real-Life Examples of Stockholm Syndrome

 One such real-life Stockholm syndrome example can be Natascha Kampusch. In 1998, the 10-year-old Natascha was kidnapped and kept in a dark room. The kidnapper held her captive for more than eight years and during those years, he responded with kindness towards Natascha but also threatened her with death. Natascha escaped, and her kidnapper committed suicide. At the time, it was reported that Natascha was “inconsolable”.

Stockholm Syndrome in Modern Society

While the first thing that comes to your mind after hearing “Stockholm Syndrome” is kidnapping and hostage situations, in modern society, Stockholm syndrome looks more subtle.

Research suggests that abuse victims can develop strange emotional attachments with their abuser. Sexual and emotional abuse can last for years and because of it, a victim may develop feelings – positive ones closer to even sympathy – for their abusers.

In the case of child abuse, abusers are more threatening towards the child and to avoid their abusers getting agitated, the victims remain complaint. Child abusers can show kindness, as we saw in the case of Natascha, which can confuse the child.

A more common modern interpretation of Stockholm syndrome can be seen in the way sports coaching is carried out. As a sportsperson, you can build skills and relationships with others. Sadly, some relationships there can turn negative quickly. Harsh coaching can become abusive which can lead to an athlete telling themselves that this behavior from the coach is for their betterment.

Understanding Stockholm Syndrome is important as it erases the misconception that victims are responsible for their situation. This can hinder their healing and discourage them further from seeking help. Knowing the signs and impact of Stockholm syndrome can help law enforcement officers and mental health professionals approach such situations with sensitivity and give a safe space for recovery and healing.

Recognizing Stockholm Syndrome and its impact can also help dispel myths surrounding this psychological response and foster a more supportive and empathetic environment for victims.

Treatment For Stockholm Syndrome

Treating Stockholm syndrome might not work like a miracle cure, but starting the treatment can help in the recovery process, nonetheless. Therapies that can help address the aftereffects of Stockholm syndrome include;

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This approach can help a victim identify their distorted thinking patterns and develop coping mechanisms to deal with the trauma in a safe setting and effectively.
  • Trauma-focused therapy: Another approach is trauma-focused therapy, wherein the victims process the traumatic experience in a safe and controlled environment under the guidance of a trauma therapist.
  • Support Groups: To cope with the aftereffects of Stockholm syndrome, the victim can also join support groups where they can connect with others who have experienced similar situations. These kinds of support groups can provide a sense of validation and belonging.

Wrap Up…

Stockholm syndrome is a complex psychological response and presents a strange overlay between our psyche and the need for survival. While it’s not a recognized mental illness or disorder, this psychological phenomenon can shed light on the profound impact of trauma and the coping mechanisms our mind engages with to cope with unimaginable situations.

Understanding the symptoms and reaching out for support can be important in creating a safe path toward healing and recovery from the trauma.

I hope this article helped you understand what Stockholm syndrome is and how it impacts our trauma response. Let us know your thoughts about this article in the comments section below.

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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