Stockholm syndrome is a common yet rarely reported syndrome that can occur as a result of the hostages or victims started bonding positively with their captors or abusers. It’s a type of psychological response that can develop over some time. From weeks to years of captivation, hostages or victims develop a bond as a result of severe stress or when there are threats to their psychological or physical wellbeing.
In August 1973, during a robbery incident that took place in Stockholm, Sweden. A bank robbery, with four employees of the Sveriges Kreditbank, was held hostage for around six days. During this captivation, a bond was between the hostages and captors. However, this is not a mental illness in itself but a coping defense mechanism that is used by different individuals during different traumatic events. It is also very much associated with people then further developing with PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder).
According to several FBI cases, around 8% of victims use such coping mechanisms. There have been several movies that have had one or the other characters show such symptoms or syndromes. However, particularly, they do not define it, do show signs which the audience finds fictional because it’s portrayed in media differently or normalized. Hollywood movies like King Kong (2005), V for Vendetta (2005), Elle (2016), and other Bollywood movies like Highway (2014). However, none of the new editions of DSM-V recognize this coping mechanism.
These coping mechanisms not only occur or are limited towards kidnapees or hostages but can also be experienced in everyday situations. Research shows individuals stay longer in an abusive relationship when they develop positive responses towards the abuser. This relationship can be any form of abuse including, emotional, sexual & physical. It is also observed over the years that individuals adapt to the different coping mechanisms as the scope of survival. In situations that involve children, these are more often seen with kindness and a learning technique of reinforcement in the form of behaviors and obeying the abuser and not upset them. Children pick up such approaches faster compared to adults.
There is a lot of on-going research on the causes for the same. However, experts have identified a few of them:
- When the captors act humanely.
- When there is face to face contact and some conversation for the bond to be formed.
- When there is a threat to their psychological or physiological wellbeing
- Develop positive thoughts or attitudes towards their captors or abusers.
- Feeling empathetic or pity for them
- Refuse to help police personnel or anyone in authority in giving information about the abusers.
- Hesitant to leave them when the chance path of escape exists.
Most of the time occurs as a result of trauma bonding following by flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety. For a few years, this syndrome was observed or studied with victims that were part of high-profile cases. A recent study conducted in 2020, seen that among victims who suffered some domestic violence.
Psychologists and Counselling psychologists for the short term start with therapy to treat PTSD and help assign positive coping mechanisms with different emotions. Though this takes time alongside treating anxiety and sometimes depression, it is as effective in individuals with these symptoms. Long-term psychotherapy is also another approach to help the individual and their loved ones to recover from any narratives or events.
The bottom-line to this illness is that this does not always happen to all the hostages, victims, or anyone under any abuser. However, the probability of it occurring is high and can be sometimes not considered important because of the positive reactions and responses. If you or your loved ones experienced this or experiences this, it is better to consult a psychologist to rule out any coping mechanism. In some cases, the opposite of this coping mechanism is observed in the behaviors of the abusers or captors. It is popularly known as Lima syndrome.