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What is Stockholm syndrome?

Q: What exactly is the Stockholm syndrome and why is it caused?

A:The Stockholm Syndrome was originally developed to explain the phenomenon of hostages bonding with their captors. The name refers to a bank holdup in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973 when four people were held hostage for six days by two men. The hostages and their captors bonded with each other and the hostages actually came to see their captors as protecting them from the police. One was even reported as later becoming engaged to one of the captors. Subsequent research found that such a reaction had occurred in all the hostage groups studied, including cult members, battered women, incest victims and physically or emotionally abused children. Researchers have concluded that this seems to be a universal phenomenon which may be instinctive and thus play a survival function for hostages who are victims of abuse. There is no universally accepted definition of the Stockholm Syndrome but it has been suggested that it is present if one or more of the following is observed:

  • positive feelings by the captive towards his/her captor.
  • negative feelings by the captive toward the police or authorities trying to win his/her release.
  • positive feelings by the captor towards his/her captive.
It has been found to occur in circumstances where there is:
  • a perceived threat to survival and a belief that the captor is willing to carry out that threat.
  • a perception by the captive of some small kindness from the captor within the context of terror.
  • isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor.
  • perceived inability to escape.


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