The Stockholm Syndrome Explained.

The Stockholm Syndrome was originally developed to explain the phenomenon of hostages bonding with their captors. The name refers to a bank holdup in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973 when four people were held hostage for six days by two men. The hostages and their captors bonded with each other and the hostages actually came to see their captors as protecting them from the police. One was even reported as later becoming engaged to one of the captors. 

Subsequent research found that such a reaction had occurred in all the "hostage" groups studied, including cult members, battered women, incest victims and physically or emotionally abused children. Researchers have concluded that this seems to be a universal phenomenon which may be instinctive and thus play a survival function for hostages who are victims of abuse.

There is no universally accepted definition of the Stockholm Syndrome but it has been suggested that it is present if one or more of the following is observed:

a. positive feelings by the captive towards his/her captor.
b. negative feelings by the captive toward the police or
 authorities trying to win his/her release.
c. positive feelings by the captor towards his/her captive.

It has been found to occur in circumstances where there is:

a. a perceived threat to survival and a belief that the captor is willing to carry out that threat.
b. a perception by the captive of some small kindness from the captor within the context of terror.
c. isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor.
d. perceived inability to escape.

The following explanation has been put forward for the phenomenon.

The abuser (or captor) terrifies the victim, who cannot escape, by threatening his or her physical or psychological survival. As a result of being terrified the victim needs nurturance and protection. Being isolated from others, the victim must turn to the abuser for this if s/he turns to anyone. If the abuser shows the victim some small kindness this creates hope in the victim, who then ignores her rage at the terror-creating side of the abuser (because this rage would be experienced as overwhelming) and bonds to the positive side of the abuser. With the hope that the abuser will let him or her live, the victim works to keep the abuser happy. In trying to determine what will keep the abuser happy, the victim's own needs, feelings and perspectives must take second place and s/he unconsciously takes on the world view of the abuser. The victim sees the abuser as the "good guy" and those trying to win his/her release (e.g. police or therapists) as the "bad guys", as this is the way the abuser sees things. Over a period of months or years, the victim's entire sense of self may come to be experienced through the eyes of the abuser. The victim may have extreme difficulty leaving the abuser, if the opportunity arises, because s/he no longer sees a reason to do so.

For victims of sexual abuse, their families and therapists, the Stockholm Syndrome is useful in explaining the victim's experiences, current "symptoms" and the relationship between victim and abuser. It can help remove the tendency of the victim to blame him or herself for "allowing" the abuse to continue or for "causing" the abuse. It can also help to make sense of the ways in which the victim's perceptions of themselves and the abuser can be distorted, by explaining those distortions in terms of the Syndrome and making clear their origins as an instinctive survival function.

The following are some common ways in which the victim's view of their situation can become distorted, with the corresponding explanations in terms of the Stockholm Syndrome:

a. The victim denies the abuser's violence against him/her and focuses on his positive side.

Explanation: An unconscious attempt to find hope (and thus a way to survive) in a situation in which s/he would otherwise feel powerless and overwhelmed.

b. The victim feels shame for abuse done to him/her.

Explanation: Reflects the victim having taken the abuser's perspective (namely, that s/he caused the abuse and therefore it was deserved).

c. The victim resents outsiders' attempts to free him/her from the abuser.

Explanation: The victim knows that the abuser is likely to retaliate against him/her for any disloyalty shown, so s/he resists others' attempts to free her or to hold the abuser accountable for the abuse.

d. The victim identifies with the "victim" in the abuser.

Explanation: This represents the projection of the victim's own victim status onto the abuser. It enables the victim to feel sympathetic and caring towards the abuser.

 e. The victim believes s/he deserved the abuser's violence.

Explanation: This represents an attempt to feel that s/he controls when and whether the violence/abuse is done and thus permits him/her to believe s/he can stop the abuse.
f. The victim rationalises the abuser's violence against him/her.

Explanation: An attempt to maintain a bond with the abuser (and thus hope of survival) in the face of behaviour (abuse) that would otherwise destroy that bond (hope).

g. Victim uses abuser-as-victim explanation to account for the abuse.

Explanation: This represents an effort to see the abuser in a positive light so as to maintain the bond (since the bond provides the victim with the only hope of surviving).

h. The victim feels hatred for that part of him/her which the abuser said led to the abuse.

Explanation: To improve chances of survival, the victim internalises the abuser's perspective, including the reasons given for the abuse.

i. The victim fears the abuser will come to get him/her, even if he is dead or in prison.

Explanation: The victim knows the abuser is willing to "get" him/her because he has done so at least once before. The victim remains loyal in anticipation of his return.


Anonymous said...

Please contact me.
I can't go through this alone.

Like Dust said...

It has taken seven years of counseling and a few strong friendships to escape and abusive relationship. Feelings of love and affection for my abuser persist despite gaining much knowledge on the effects of abuse and things like the Stockholm Syndrome. How might one extinguish or recover from this?

Anonymous said...

I know it's a year and a half late, and I don't know your situation in any way. I just felt the need to say something here.

You're never alone. Even if you feel alone. Even if what's happened to you is overwhelming and makes you break inside, you are strong. You can do this. Find someone you trust. A counsellor, a friend, family. Talk to them. It makes it better.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this!!! My best friend is dealing with all the above. Since November we have gradually gotten her to finally go to counseling. It's making it worse for her. What do you recommend for revovery. They are diagnosing her with bo-polar and the meds are making her worse. She will only give the therapist so many details because she is scared. We need help

Anonymous said...

Hi Rogelia64, I just wanted to reply and let you know that it got worse for me first before it got better. I had 5 years of therapy in the end, and went through dark times as I worked through the trauma from childhood. All I can say is that if your friend sticks with therapy and works through this, even if it is little bits at a time, she will get better. It is a difficult journey, and it is going to be tough, but please persevere. It sounds as though she has good friends, and it can be frustrating looking in when she looks as though she is in self-destruct mode. My husband was my rock through my troubled times, and sometimes it just helps to know someone is there, which it sounds as though you are doing - well done, as it will mean alot to your friend even if she doesn't recognise it right now. They might need to try different meds as the ones I was put on first made me much worse. Take care, and I hope you get the support you need too as you help your friend.

Anonymous said...

I am new to the name of the syndrome but suspect that is is at least part of why I still have feelings of love for my verbally abusive ex husband. My counselor thought I was just crazy to have any feelings for him. Are there any specific steps that can help those of us in this situation break free?

Anonymous said...

Can u please clarify what therapeutic approach is considered most helpful for stolkholm syndrome even after the escape? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This site is an important beginning to the overwhelmingly crushing hold Stockholm Syndrome has on most of the world. Every woman who is conservative, religious, and participating in the patriarchy has it. Every person of color who embraces a religion that is based on a system of oppression, it is everywhere. Until we admit that it is the most prevalent condition on Earth, we have no hope of healing.

Anonymous said...

My mother is a narcissist. I'm in the moment where I can admit it but I'm confused at the same time and believe otherwise that she is not though she was diagnosed by professionals. My father told me the other day and I was actually relieved at first only to see her as a monster the next day.. but then I began thinking maybe he was lying or starting problems. I don't know what to believe. Yes she has mentally..verbally..psychologically and physically abused me.. but come what parent doesn't do that to there children? She loves me but..UGH I'M SO CONFUSED AND I DON'T KNOW WHATS RIGHT OR WRONG.. OR WHAT TO BELIEVE ANYMORE BUT AT THE SAME TIME I KNOW IT'S TRUE- BUT IT'S NOT.. This fits well but I'm so confused..

Anonymous said...

Even very bad people do normal (good) things.

Even good people sometimes do bad things.

The difference between evil person and good person is this.
When good person does bad he/ she learns from his/hers mistake. Never does them again, gets psychological help , goes to police and gives themself up...
When bad person does evil things they either don't know it's evil because their perception if unhealthy or they dont care.

Dru said...

It's a horrible thing to see the lies my Son now believes even after telling me his abuser is still using the drugs that makes the abuser violent n rage for hours. I know it is about staying alive but my heart hurts. Son taken while I was at the Court House just 4 days free the abuser got out of a mental hosputal. No help for my Son or me and I don't feel my prayers are being heard.