What is Stockholm Syndrome?

Stockholm syndrome describes a psychological phenomenon wherein captives who have no control over their fate and are who are experiencing intense fear of physical harm, develop sympathetic and supportive feelings toward their captors. The term was coined after a 1973 bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, where the bank robbers held four bank employees captive for six days. Astonishingly, each hostage seemed to rebuke the government’s efforts to rescue them. Even after the ordeal ended, the captives refused to testify against their captors in court, and even engaged in fund raising efforts to assist the criminals in gaining strong legal representation.

Such behavior is generally considered irrational and paradoxical in light of the danger the captives are faced with. Psychologists believe that captives can develop Stockholm syndrome if the following conditions are met:

  • Belief that the captors can and will kill them.
  • Isolation from anyone but the captors.
  • Belief that escape is impossible.
  • Misinterpreting and inflating token acts of kindness from the captors into genuine care or concern for the hostages’ welfare.

In a bid to survive the life-threatening ordeal, captives will seek to please their captors in almost any way possible – agreeing completely with their captors’ likes and dislikes. After three or four days however, the psychological shift usually takes effect. The captives develop Stockholm syndrome and begin to honestly sympathize with their captors.