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"Men, when they receive good from whence they expect evil, feel the more indebted to their benefactor." ~ Niccolo Machiavelli
Stockholm syndrome is a psychological condition in which those who are held captive learn to sympathize with their captors. Instead of trying to escape the conditions that they are in, they become a part of the twisted psychology of those in control (Kocsis 266). It was named for the first reported incidence of the phenomena after a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. Captives were held for six days, during which time they became emotionally attached to their captors, even defending them after the ordeal was over. It is a very serious condition affecting approximately 25-30% of all hostage situation victims. People affected by Stockholm syndrome can have serious psychological repercussions for years to come, even affecting the individual for the rest of their life if not properly treated. For psychologists dealing with patients affected by Stockholm syndrome, it is important to be mindful about both the short-term and long-term effects of the patient.
Psychiatrist Frank Ochberg was credited with defining Stockholm syndrome. He stated that it is "a primitive gratitude for the gift of life," comparing it to that of an infant's gratitude to a mother (Ties). In August 1973, Dr. Nils Bejerot was sent to work as a psychiatric negotiator at during a bank robbery where the criminals had taken hostages. Police at the scene believed that the situation could only end in bloodshed (486). Luckily this was not the case. Although one of the thieves had shot at a policeman, nearly killing him, it was determined by Bejerot that the man did not intend to harm the hostages, partly because of the emotional dependency they had given him. In the case of the Stockholm bank robbery, the feeling of affection continued well after the incident had ended. One of the female bank tellers actually wound up getting engaged to one of her captors (Kohlrieser 12). It begins with the hostages developing positive feelings for their captors. Then the victims show negative feelings towards authority figures including fear, distrust, and anger towards police and other "outsiders." Hopefully the third stage of Stockholm syndrome exhibits itself which is the criminals returning the attachment of the victims and thus becoming kinder to them and less likely to harm them (Fabrique 13). Most psychologists today suggest encouraging hostages to develop symptoms of the syndrome because it statistically lessens the chance that the incidence will end in violence against the victims.
In the novel My Abandonment, which author Peter Rock asserts is based on a true story, a young girl named Caroline is discovered to have been living in a make-shift cave with her father. Father is severely mentally disturbed but Caroline believes all his paranoid ranting as truth. Caroline is a perfect example of a victim of Stockholm syndrome. In a library checking out books, young Caroline is reprimanded by her father for telling her name. "I'm not supposed to tell strangers my name" (23). The first step of her indoctrination has been to keep her as isolated as possible. Even Caroline's name is only allowed to be known to father and daughter. No one outside this pairing may be allowed in or Father's influence would waver. He has taught his child that he and he alone is the person she can rely one. No one else is to be spoken to or engaged with unless he gives her the permission to do so. This would seem the norm for a protective parent except that Caroline is discouraged from talking to the police, an emblem of authority she has been taught to fear. When Father is taken for questioning and Caroline is to follow she echoes his words that "This is a misunderstanding" (46). Caroline has only the identity her father has given her and only the information he has provided. She believes her father and takes on his beliefs and perceptions despite the contradiction between his word and her own sense of sanity and logic.
According to Nathalie Fabrique of the FBI, there are four potential conditions that can result in captives exhibiting symptoms of Stockholm syndrome. The first is when hostages begin to look at their abductors as life givers in that they do not take life, even though they are fully capable of doing so. The second condition is when the hostage feels isolated from other people. Literally separated from the outside world, the hostage becomes even more isolated. The only information they are provided with about the outside world is filtered through their captor's perceptions. The biases of that perpetrator eventually become the hostage's as well. Third, the captor threatens violence and the victim finds that their captor is less hostile if they cooperate. Existence becomes easier if they do not fight anymore. By this point they have been psychologically broken down. The last condition is kindness. When the victim starts to view their captor as exhibiting an attitude of kindness towards them, they become more dependent. Acts of perceived kindness can include not being abused or harmed; it is kindness relative to how the captive has been treated.
It is important to keep in mind the attitude of the captors towards their captives and vice versa when dealing with potential victims of Stockholm syndrome. Often, victims of the condition will not be able to assess their captors in a negative light nor will they be able to give accurate information about their experiences until time and counseling has freed them from the influence of the criminal. The FBI experts have concluded that "the intensity, not the length of the incident, combined with a lack of physical abuse more likely will create favorable conditions for the development of Stockholm syndrome" (13). When actions of violence or abuse whether they are physical or sexual, either cease or expected abuse never materializes, the victim feels gratitude for the person not inflicting these injuries. This gratitude eventually turns into a deeper perceived emotion.
The Stockholm syndrome, originally only applied to hostage cases, has recently been applied to cases of domestic violence. Like the traditional version of the condition, the Stockholm syndrome with regard to domestic issues is comprised of four conditions (McCue 20). The first is that the abuser threatens the woman's survival. Following this the woman becomes indoctrinated with the idea that she does not have the power to leave the situation. This can be physical detention and capture or, primarily, psychological. Third, the woman becomes slowly isolated from others, partly out of fear of her life situation being discovered and partly because she has become convinced that she deserves the treatment she is given and that others would misjudge the scenario. The final stage is when the perpetrator of the abuse exhibits small signs of kindness, such as apologizing for the abuse after an incident or giving the victims gifts to make up for the behavior.
Long-term effects of the Stockholm syndrome include displaced rage. This is a continuation of the misplaced distrust that is characteristic of the burgeoning syndrome itself. Instead of simply doubting authorities investigating the current case, victims can develop paranoia about authorities for a long period of time. This includes distrust of police, of psychiatrists, and in the case of children victims a distrust of their parents as well (Fabrique 20). Another long-term effect is that they begin to see their abuser as either all-good or all-bad and this black and white perspective is then how they filter the rest of the world around them and all the people they know. Consequently people that they had appreciated before the ordeal, if they have committed a small infraction can become the targets of anger. The third potential long-term effect is the loss of identity because of the ordeal. Whoever the person was before is forever altered by the psychological effects of that circumstance. Yet another long-term effect is the continued attachment between victim and victimizer. Until this spell is broken, it will be difficult to get the captive to move on from the incident because the victim will not be able to assess the situation in an unbiased light.
One of the most famous cases of Stockholm syndrome was that of heiress Patty Hearst who was kidnapped and held for ransom by the Symbionese Liberation Army in February of 1974 (Kohlrieser 12). During the time of her captivity, Hearst was the victim of physical and sexual attacks and kept in a closet for days at a time with little food or water. Her situation was bettered when she stopped fighting captors and listened to their perspectives. She became so indoctrinated by the propaganda of her captors that she wound up a member of the SLA, calling herself Tanya and participating in an armed bank robbery. Patty Hearst was arrested and many argues that she had become a willing participant in the robbery as shown on security footage where she was seen holding a gun.…[continue]
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Ultimately, most people recognized Hearst underwent intense brainwashing, and her prison sentence was eventually reduced. In fact, "she later had her sentence commuted by President Carter, after psychiatrists determined that she had developed a pseudo-identity as a survival strategy" (Card 214). Thus, the Stockholm Syndrome played a huge part in her support of her SLA captors and her eventual pardon. The Stockholm Syndrome makes absolute sense in that hostages are
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