Psychology and Psychiatry

Stockholm syndrome

Stockholm syndrome - this phrase describes an unusual psychological phenomenon, manifested in the inadequate response of the object of attack on his abuser. In other words, it is an unconscious defensive connection arising from a traumatic event (abduction, threat of violence, hostage taking) between the invader and the defending party. Such a connection can be mutual sympathy or one-sided. Due to a strong emotional experience, the victim has a feeling of sympathy towards the aggressor. They are trying to find an excuse for the actions of the invaders. Often this leads to the adoption of hostage ideas of the aggressor.

What it is

The described phenomenon is a psychological state that begins when the individual experiences the traumatic precedent of being a hostage. It arises when sympathy for the invaders awakens from the victims. Often, hostages identify themselves with the "occupiers."

With the long-term interaction of the objects of attack and the attacking side in the psyche and the behavioral response of the hostages, there is a reorientation, called the Stockholm syndrome, which is an instrument of psychological defense, formed unconsciously. However, he is often recognized by the victim himself. The considered syndrome takes place on two tiers - mental and behavioral. At the level of mental processes, this mechanism is implemented with the help of identification, whitening of the criminal and his acts, forgiveness. This allows preserving the integrity of the “I” as a personality structure, including will, love for one’s own person and self-esteem. At the behavioral tier, the hostage manifests acceptance, humility, assistance to the invader, fulfillment of requirements, increases the chance of a positive reaction, reduced by violent acts, refusal to kill, and readiness to negotiate. This increases the likelihood of survival, preservation of health for the object of violence.

Thus, in simple terms, the Stockholm syndrome is an unusual psychological phenomenon, denoting the emergence of sympathy for the torturers in the victim.

The described phenomenon is remarkable not only by incomprehensible sympathy for the aggressors arising from the abducted individuals, but also by their special behavioral response - there are often cases where the victims themselves interfere with their own release.

Scientific figures who studied the analyzed phenomenon suggest that this syndrome is not a mental paradox, not a disorder in the traditional sense, but a normal reaction of the human body to serious traumatic events.

For the emergence of this phenomenon of the psyche requires the following conditions:

- the presence of the torturer and the victim;

- The benevolent attitude of the torturer to the prisoner;

- the emergence of a special attitude towards the aggressor in the abducted subject - the justification and understanding of his actions;

- gradual replacement of fear by the hostage with affection and compassion, strengthening of such emotions as the risk atmosphere increases, when neither the invader nor his victim feel security (sharing the danger brings them together).

The main danger of this phenomenon lies in the transformation of the hostage's behavioral response. The victim commits actions against their own interests, for example, preventing law enforcement agencies from detaining the invaders. There are precedents when, during the implementation of anti-terrorism measures by special units, captured subjects warned the aggressors about the appearance of liberators, and often even blocked the terrorist with his own body. In other cases, the terrorists could hide among the victims and no one exposed them incognito. As a rule, such an obsession, called the Stockholm syndrome, disappears after the terrorists kill their first victim.


The key condition for the formation of the described syndrome is the existence of a situation of interaction between an individual or a group of subjects with aggressors that limit their freedom and are capable of causing violence. The controversial behavioral response of the victim manifests itself in political or criminal terrorist acts, military operations, abduction, family or religious dictatorship.

The humanization of the interaction between the aggressor and the defending party is due to the following reasons.

People subjected to physical violence, observing coercion from the side, inherent manifestation of humane attitudes. Fear of death, injury, pain is a stimulus that motivates behavior.

A language barrier or a cultural barrier may increase the likelihood of the emergence of this syndrome or, conversely, hinder the formation of the described painful attachment. Different culture, speech, religion are subconsciously perceived by hostages as justifying factors of the brutality of terrorists.

Psychological literacy, expressed in the knowledge of methods of survival by both participants of the situation, increases the humanization of the relationship. The mechanisms of psychological influence on survival are actively involved.

The analyzed syndrome is more often observed in communicative subjects with the ability to empathize. Diplomatic interaction often changes the actions of the invaders, thereby increasing the chances of survival of their hostages.

The duration of the traumatic situation is also a condition for the birth of this pernicious bond. Stockholm syndrome begins within a couple of days from the moment of the active actions of the invader. Long-term interaction makes it possible to better know the torturer, to comprehend the causes of violent acts and to justify them.

There are such symptoms of Stockholm syndrome as:

- unfeigned admiration for the invaders;

- resistance to rescue activities;

- protection of the thief;

- the desire to please the criminals;

- disagreement on giving evidence against terrorists;

- refusal to escape from the torturers when such a chance appears.

The considered fatal dependence arises when the object of attack does not possess the means in order to protect itself; it takes an inert position. The behavior of the kidnapper is determined by a specific goal, as a result of which he is often embodied in accordance with the planned plan or according to the usual scenario, the result of which depends precisely on torture, oppression, and degradation of the hostages.

The desire to humanize relationships is found in the victim’s attempts to make fruitful contact. Therefore, such a subject begins to provide medical or domestic assistance to the invader, to initiate a personal conversation, for example, on the subject of family relationships, the reasons that prompted him to take the criminal path.

History of the origin of the term

The forensic scientist N. Beyert is considered the creator of this term. He assisted in the release of four bank employees in 1973, captured by escaped prisoners in the city of Stockholm. The five days of the conclusion of office workers served as a promise for the emergence of this term, denoting the psychological phenomenon of the fatal relationship of the object of attack and the aggressor.

After the described case, all sympathies of the victims to their tormentors are attributed to the manifestations of this syndrome.

In the summer of 1973, a fugitive, Ulsson, captured the Stockholm Bank. Capture he made independently, wounding one guard. In his possession were three female employees and one man. Ulsson's requirement was to deliver a Olofsson’s casemate to the bank. At the same time, the victims themselves called the current prime minister demanding to fulfill the condition set by the criminal.

Between the attackers and the victims quickly began a conversation. They shared personal details of their daily life. When one of the employees froze, Olofsson shared his own jacket with her. He consoled another worker, busy with unsuccessful attempts to get through to relatives.

After a few days, law enforcement agencies made a hole in the ceiling, taking a picture of Olofsson and the captured citizens. Ulsson noticed these actions, threatening to deprive the life of bank employees when committing a gas attack.

On the fifth day, the policemen conducted a gas attack, as a result of which the attackers decided to surrender. Captured employees were rescued. The released hostages reported that the invaders did not fear them, they were afraid of a police assault.

The tool for the protection of the psyche, referred to after the events described above by the Stockholm syndrome, is based on the birth of the hope of the captured subject that, subject to the unquestioning fulfillment of the demands of the criminals, they will show leniency. As a result, prisoners seek to demonstrate that in order to make it easier to put up with the situation that has arisen, they try to logically justify the actions of the invaders, to provoke their approval.

Domestic Stockholm Syndrome

The analyzed phenomenon can also be realized at the household level, being the second most common type of the described syndrome. It usually appears in the dominant family relationships. When within the cell of a society one partner commits inappropriate acts against the second (constant humiliation, ridicule, mockery, violence), Stockholm syndrome is born. Despite the suffering due to bullying, the object of attack becomes accustomed to constant humiliation and gradually begins to justify the actions of a loved one.

Often, a similar situation can be found in families where the spouse suffers from excessive alcoholic libations, as a result of which the devout is regularly beaten. The spouse, in his turn, frantically protects the sadist, motivating his actions by the fact that he has temporary difficulties, he is tired. Often such young ladies can even find the cause of violence in their own person. After all, the faithful humiliates and taunts the spouse only because the soup is slightly salted, and the pork is fatty.

The peculiarity of the manifestation of this variation of the syndrome is found in the fact that the injured party not only protects his tormentor, but also later misses the tyrant when the relationship is broken.

This phenomenon is due to the inclusion of a protective mechanism based on humility and the acceptance of the existing situation when it is impossible to eliminate the factor that causes pain.

If an abused individual does not immediately leave his tormentor, for example, due to the absence of such an opportunity, does not break off all contact with him, then the psyche tries to find other options for salvation. If you couldn’t avoid a stressful situation, then you’ll have to learn to coexist and get along with the tyrant who is hurting. As a result, the victim gradually begins to learn the reasons for the actions of his own tormentor. She is interested in trying to understand the tyrant, penetrating sympathy for the executioner. After that, even the most irrational is made rational. An outsider is unlikely to understand why the sufferer will not leave the house, where he is humiliated, mocked. It's simple, the victim imbued with sympathy for the torturer, understanding, as a result, seeks to save him, whitewash, help.

Treatment of the Stockholm syndrome mainly consists of psychotherapeutic assistance. With a light course of the described phenomenon, the methods of semantic transformation of attitudes and persuasion are applied. The psychotherapist explains the mechanisms responsible for the emergence of an adaptive behavioral response, talks about the unreasonableness of such a relationship.

Successfully applied cognitive-behavioral psychotherapeutic methods (changing ideas about the torturer, combined with the development and subsequent implementation of behavioral patterns that allow you to leave the victim's position) and psychodrama (aimed at restoring the victim’s critical attitude to the behavior of the thief).

Life examples

The history of forensic science can count many cases of manifestation of the Stockholm syndrome among abducted subjects or in everyday relationships.

The most famous precedent was the culprit of the occurrence of the term in question - the seizure of bank employees in the city of Stockholm.

No less famous is another incident involving the abduction in 74th year of the radical terrorists by the heiress of newspaper capitalist Patricia Hearst. The case described is famous for the fact that, after her release, Patricia joined the ranks responsible for the kidnapping of a radical left-wing guerrilla force. In addition, the victim of the Stockholm syndrome even participated in bank robberies together with "colleagues" in the organization.

Another outstanding episode is the capture of Natasha Campus. A ten-year-old girl was abducted by a former technician V. Priklopil and held for more than eight years by force. Due to a successful coincidence of circumstances, the hostage managed to escape, after which Priklopil, pursued by the police, committed suicide. Natasha admitted that she sympathized with her own tormentor and was upset by the news of his death. In addition, she described her torturer as a sympathetic and good person, told that he groomed her more than her parents.

A famous case included in the annals of criminology is the seizure of the self-proclaimed priest of fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart. The abducted girl returned home after 9 months of imprisonment. Psychologists claim that the victim had many chances to escape, which she did not use because she was in love with the kidnapper.

Eleven-year-old Jasie was caught by a Garrido couple on their way to the school bus. This couple held the child for eighteen years. At the age of fourteen, Jayce Duguard gave birth to a daughter from a torturer, and after three years, another. After the arrest of four maniacs, the girl tried to conceal a crime, concealed her own name, came up with legends explaining the origin of her daughters.