Last updated date: 07-Jun-2023

Originally Written in English

Where Does The Term 'Stockholm Syndrome' come from?


    Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which individuals who are subjected to abusive or coercive situations develop a psychological bond and show sympathy or affection towards their captors or abusers. Although the term originated from a bank hostage incident in Stockholm, Sweden, it has since been applied to various other situations characterized by power imbalances and manipulation.


    What is Stockholm Syndrome?

    Stockholm Syndrome

    Stockholm syndrome refers to a psychological phenomenon where hostages or abuse victims develop an emotional bond or positive feelings towards their captors or abusers. The term originated from an incident in 1973, when hostages held during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, seemed to form an unexpected bond with their captors.

    Common characteristics of Stockholm syndrome include the following:

    1. Positive feelings towards captors: Victims may develop sympathy, empathy, or even romantic feelings towards their captors, perceiving them as complex individuals with good intentions.
    2. Identification with captors: Hostages may adopt the perspective of their captors, justifying their actions or forming an alliance with them. They may begin to defend or protect their captors from outside intervention.
    3. Emotional dependency: Hostages may become emotionally dependent on their captors for their survival and well-being. They may seek approval or validation from them, leading to a distorted sense of attachment.
    4. Fear of rescue or authorities: Victims may resist or avoid attempts at rescue, often due to a fear of the consequences or harm that may befall them if they betray or disappoint their captors.

    It is important to note that Stockholm syndrome is not universally experienced by all individuals in hostage situations or abusive relationships. The phenomenon is complex and can vary in its intensity and manifestation. It is a psychological response that can occur in specific circumstances, but it does not negate or justify the abusive or harmful actions of captors or abusers.


    How did Stockholm Syndrome get its name?

    Stockholm syndrome derived its name from an incident that took place in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1973. The term was coined by the media and later adopted by psychologists to describe the psychological phenomenon observed during the event.

    The incident involved a bank robbery that took place in the Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg square in Stockholm. Four employees of the bank were taken hostage by two robbers who demanded a large sum of money and a getaway car. The hostages were held captive for six days in a bank vault.

    During the ordeal, an unexpected emotional bond appeared to develop between the hostages and their captors. Despite being subjected to threats, intimidation, and physical harm, some of the hostages showed sympathy and defended their captors' actions. They even refused assistance and demonstrated a reluctance to cooperate with the authorities during rescue attempts.

    The media coverage of the incident brought attention to this perplexing phenomenon, leading to the term "Stockholm syndrome" being coined to describe this specific psychological response exhibited by hostages. It has since been studied and analyzed by psychologists to better understand the complexities of the relationship between captors and their victims in certain situations.


    What causes Stockholm Syndrome?

    The exact causes of Stockholm syndrome are not fully understood, and it is believed to stem from a complex interplay of psychological, social, and situational factors. Several potential contributing factors have been suggested:

    1. Perceived Threat to Survival: In hostage situations or abusive relationships, victims may perceive their captors or abusers as a significant threat to their survival. This perceived threat can trigger a survival response that leads to a psychological bond with the captor as a means of self-preservation.
    2. Isolation and Dependency: Victims may experience isolation from external support systems, such as family, friends, or authorities. This isolation can intensify their emotional dependency on the captor or abuser, as they become their main source of interaction, validation, and survival necessities.
    3. Small Acts of Kindness: Captors or abusers occasionally displaying small acts of kindness or sparing the victim from severe harm can create a confusing emotional dynamic. Victims may interpret these gestures as signs of goodwill or even develop gratitude towards their captors, leading to a mixed emotional response.
    4. Cognitive Dissonance: In order to reduce cognitive dissonance, the psychological discomfort caused by holding conflicting beliefs or feelings, victims may subconsciously develop positive feelings or attitudes towards their captors. This can create a sense of internal consistency by aligning their thoughts and emotions with their circumstances.
    5. Defense Mechanisms: Victims may engage in defense mechanisms, such as denial or rationalization, to cope with their traumatic situation. These mechanisms can influence their perceptions, leading them to develop positive feelings towards their captors as a way to alleviate fear, anxiety, or helplessness.


    Examples of Stockholm Syndrome

    Several notable cases have been cited as examples of Stockholm syndrome. Here are a few:

    1. Stockholm Bank Robbery (1973): The incident that gave the syndrome its name involved the hostage-taking at Kreditbanken in Stockholm, Sweden. During the six-day ordeal, some of the hostages displayed sympathy and defended their captors' actions. They even resisted rescue attempts and expressed concern for their captors' well-being.
    2. Patty Hearst (1974): Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a radical militant group. Over time, Hearst developed a bond with her captors and participated in their criminal activities, including bank robberies. She later claimed that she acted out of fear for her life, but her actions raised discussions of Stockholm syndrome.
    3. Natascha Kampusch (1998): Natascha Kampusch was kidnapped at the age of 10 and held captive in a concealed underground chamber in Austria for over eight years by Wolfgang Přiklopil. Despite the traumatic experience, Kampusch developed an emotional attachment to her captor, even after her eventual escape in 2006.
    4. Elizabeth Smart (2002): Elizabeth Smart, a teenager from Utah, was abducted from her home by Brian David Mitchell and held captive for nine months. Smart's captors exerted control over her through manipulation, threats, and psychological abuse. Despite the traumatic circumstances, Smart's behavior during her captivity displayed elements associated with Stockholm syndrome.

    These cases illustrate the complex dynamics of Stockholm syndrome, where victims form unexpected emotional connections with their captors or abusers, often exhibiting behaviors that seem contradictory to their own well-being or rational self-interest.


    What are the symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome?

    Symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome

    Stockholm syndrome is not officially recognized as a clinical diagnosis, but there are common symptoms or behaviors associated with the phenomenon. These can include:

    1. Positive feelings towards captors or abusers: Victims may develop sympathy, empathy, or even affectionate feelings towards their captors or abusers. They may view them as complex individuals with good intentions or perceive them as protectors.
    2. Emotional bonding: Victims may form an emotional bond with their captors or abusers, seeking approval or validation from them. They may display a desire to please their captors and may defend or protect them from outside intervention.
    3. Identification with captors or abusers: Victims may begin to adopt the perspective of their captors or abusers, justifying their actions or forming an alliance with them. They may adopt similar beliefs or exhibit loyalty towards their captors, even in the face of negative consequences.
    4. Fear or distrust of authorities or rescuers: Victims may develop a fear of authorities or individuals attempting to rescue them. They may resist rescue attempts, hide information, or actively defend their captors or abusers out of a belief that their captors are the only ones who can provide safety or protect them.
    5. Cognitive distortions or rationalizations: Victims may engage in cognitive distortions, such as minimizing or rationalizing the abusive behavior or creating positive narratives about their captors or abusers. This helps reduce the psychological dissonance caused by the conflicting emotions they experience.

    It is essential to remember that not all individuals in abusive situations will exhibit symptoms of Stockholm syndrome, and the intensity and manifestation of these symptoms can vary from case to case. Factors such as the duration and severity of the abuse, power dynamics, and individual psychological characteristics can influence the development of these symptoms.


    How is Stockholm Syndrome diagnosed?

    Stockholm Syndrome diagnosed

    I apologize for any confusion caused by my previous response. As mentioned earlier, Stockholm syndrome is not recognized as an official clinical diagnosis, and there are no specific diagnostic criteria or standardized assessments for it.

    However, mental health professionals may assess individuals who have been involved in hostage situations or abusive relationships and exhibit symptoms associated with Stockholm syndrome. Diagnosis, in such cases, typically focuses on related mental health conditions, such as trauma-related disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other anxiety disorders.

    To diagnose these conditions, mental health professionals use established diagnostic criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) or other relevant diagnostic guidelines. They conduct thorough assessments that may involve interviews, observations, and psychological evaluations to determine if an individual meets the criteria for a specific mental health condition.

    During the assessment process, the professional will evaluate the individual's symptoms, distress levels, functional impairments, and the impact of their experiences on their overall well-being. They will also consider the context and dynamics of the abusive situation or hostage experience.

    While Stockholm syndrome may be a descriptive term used to understand certain psychological responses, it is important to remember that it is not a recognized psychiatric disorder or an official diagnosis. Mental health professionals primarily focus on identifying and addressing the specific mental health conditions that may arise from such traumatic experiences.


    How is Stockholm Syndrome treated?

    Treating individuals who have experienced Stockholm syndrome or similar psychological responses in abusive or hostage situations typically involves addressing the underlying trauma and associated mental health conditions. The treatment approach may include the following:

    1. Trauma-focused therapy: Therapy modalities such as trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), or prolonged exposure therapy can be effective in processing and resolving trauma-related symptoms. These therapies help individuals confront and process their traumatic experiences, manage distressing emotions, and develop coping strategies.
    2. Safety and support: Establishing a safe and supportive environment is crucial in the treatment process. This may involve ensuring physical safety, providing resources for emotional support, and connecting individuals with appropriate support networks, such as support groups or survivor organizations.
    3. Psychoeducation: Providing information and psychoeducation about the dynamics of abusive relationships, the effects of trauma, and the nature of Stockholm syndrome can help individuals gain insight into their experiences. Understanding the psychological mechanisms at play can assist in reducing self-blame and increasing self-compassion.
    4. Empowerment and boundary-setting: Empowering individuals to regain a sense of control and autonomy is important. Therapeutic interventions can focus on rebuilding self-esteem, developing assertiveness skills, and setting healthy boundaries in relationships.
    5. Addressing co-occurring mental health conditions: If individuals have co-occurring mental health conditions such as PTSD, anxiety disorders, or depression, appropriate treatment approaches specific to these conditions may be incorporated into the therapy plan.
    6. Collaborative approach: A multidisciplinary approach involving mental health professionals, including therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers, may be necessary to provide comprehensive care. Collaboration with other professionals, such as law enforcement or legal advocates, can also be beneficial in ensuring ongoing safety and support.


    What’s the Prognosis for People With Stockholm syndrome?

    The prognosis for individuals who have experienced Stockholm syndrome can vary greatly depending on various factors, including the severity and duration of the abusive or hostage situation, the individual's support system, their resilience, and the effectiveness of treatment interventions. Here are some factors that can influence the prognosis:

    1. Timing of intervention: The earlier the intervention and support, the better the chances of recovery. Prompt access to mental health services and support can help individuals process the trauma and develop healthier coping mechanisms.
    2. Treatment engagement and adherence: Active engagement in therapy and adherence to recommended treatment interventions can significantly impact the prognosis. Willingness to explore and address the underlying trauma, develop new coping strategies, and engage in self-care practices can contribute to positive outcomes.
    3. Presence of co-occurring mental health conditions: If there are co-occurring mental health conditions such as PTSD, anxiety disorders, or depression, addressing these conditions alongside the effects of Stockholm syndrome is crucial. Effective treatment of co-occurring disorders can improve overall functioning and well-being.
    4. Support system: The presence of a strong support system, including family, friends, or support groups, can positively impact the prognosis. Having understanding and supportive relationships can aid in the healing process and provide ongoing support.
    5. Individual resilience and coping skills: The individual's inherent resilience and ability to develop adaptive coping skills can contribute to a more positive prognosis. Resilience can help individuals navigate the challenges of recovery and rebuild their lives after the traumatic experience.


    Does Stockholm syndrome apply only to hostage situations?

    While Stockholm syndrome was originally observed and named in the context of hostage situations, the concept has been expanded to encompass other abusive or coercive relationships. It is not limited solely to hostage scenarios. The underlying psychological dynamics of Stockholm syndrome can potentially manifest in various situations characterized by a power imbalance, manipulation, and psychological control.

    Stockholm syndrome-like responses have been identified in cases of domestic abuse, cults, human trafficking, child abuse, and other similar circumstances where individuals are subjected to prolonged periods of abuse, control, or captivity. These situations involve the victim forming an emotional bond or connection with their abuser or captor, displaying behaviors that may seem contradictory to their self-interest or well-being.



    In conclusion, Stockholm syndrome is a psychological phenomenon observed in certain individuals who develop an emotional bond or sympathy towards their captors or abusers. While it was originally named after a bank hostage situation in Stockholm, Sweden, the concept has been expanded to encompass other abusive or coercive relationships.

    Treatment for individuals who have experienced Stockholm syndrome or similar responses typically involves trauma-focused therapy, safety planning, psychoeducation, empowerment, and addressing co-occurring mental health conditions. The prognosis can vary depending on various factors, including the severity of the situation, timely intervention, treatment adherence, support systems, individual resilience, and coping skills.