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When put through a frightening and traumatic experience along with fear, anger is also felt. "Why is this happening to me?", "what is wrong with these people?", "do they really think this is right?", are some questions asked, as an expression of anger towards the antagonists or foes. In hostage situations, the hostages are of course, frightened and fearful of their captors, wary about their intentions in a continuous state of tension and there is some or a lot of anger towards their captors, as to why they have taken them hostage. This is normal human behavior - fear and loathe that which attacks you.

What is Stockholm Syndrome?

But with Stockholm syndrome, such emotions take a twist. When a hostage is finally free from his/hers captors, when the tense and volatile situation of negotiations, threats of violence and death, are finally all over, he/she should be relieved and jubilant at being alive. However, people who suffer from this syndrome act in the exactly opposite manner. They sympathize with their captors, they are completely converted to the kidnapper's cause and agree completely with what just occurred, that they were perfectly right in taking people hostage. Most Stockholm syndrome sufferers end up defending and supporting their captors, in legal proceedings and through incarceration. Sometimes they end up falling in love with their captors or feel guilty that they could not defend them or save them.

Officially this psychological condition is a puzzler, all hostage situations do not result in such behavior. In fact, according to the FBI, approximately 27% of hostage victims display this syndrome. In a group of hostages, maybe 1 out of 15 might exhibit such behavior, maybe none or maybe all. Stockholm syndrome is not restricted to hostage situations. Victims of abusive relationships can also be sympathetic or support their abusers. This is especially true in the case of battered or physically abused women and children. Even though they have been abused physically, verbally or sexually, they understand and sympathize with their abusers, will defend or justify their actions and some at a point, return to live with them. Sometimes, they blame themselves for creating such violence in their abusers, that they need such discipline and rules to control themselves. Stockholm syndrome can be observed in any relationship where one figure is dominant or in charge, like an incestuous relation, cult followers, prisoners of war and abused children or women.

Causes

What can cause such a contrasting and confusing change in expected behavior? There is no certain or confirmed cause but possible reasons are:
  • Being in an abusive relationship where one person is solely in charge and his/hers word is law
  • The threat or idea of violence or death, where the hostage's life and death lies in the kidnapper's hands and there is an implied impression that the kidnapper will do him or her harm
  • Small and unforeseeable acts of kindness or goodwill, that endear the kidnapper to the hostage
  • Isolating the hostage and discussing or enforcing the kidnapper's ideals and beliefs, that they are right and everyone else is wrong
  • With no way out and no chance of survival, there is no other choice other than to believe and trust the captor
Symptoms

Below are some of the common symptoms or signs, illustrated with various cases:

1. Feelings of friendship, love and attachment towards their captors
Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped at age 11 and was a hostage for nearly 18 years. She has 2 children with her captor and never made an attempt to escape from him. She even lied and tried to defend her captor, when questioned. She admitted to having a deep emotional bond with him but on being reunited with her family, has moved on and since then condemned his actions.

2. Feelings of fear towards law enforcement or rescue officers, basically anyone trying to separate them from the captor
The titular Stockholm syndrome case, where a Swedish bank was held hostage for 131 hours by 2 gunmen. After the ordeal was over, the 4 hostages were more terrified by the police and their actions, than that of their captors and sympathized with their kidnappers actions.

Other symptoms include:
3. Believing in their captor's reasons for kidnapping and supporting them
4. Feelings of guilt and remorse at being released and their captors in jail
5. Will not accept help or therapy to get over the issue

This type of trauma based behavior is still being analyzed and studied. Treating such a condition involves a complete support system, both professionally and from loved ones. Sufferers need psychiatric help in getting rid of their fear of outsiders and moving on with their lives. They need to stop sympathizing with their captors and instead focus on and be more involved in familial ties and friends. On the whole, a hostage situation is a very traumatic and stressful situation, so undergoing that sort of ordeal and escaping alive is bound to take a toll on anyone's mental health. But with the correct attitude and care from their loved ones and a firm resolve to overcome their fear, Stockholm syndrome can be beaten.