Stockholm Syndrome: What Is It, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that can happen in people who are living a situation of intense stress and danger, such as an abduction, a home arrest, or abuse. In these situations, the victim tends to develop a relationship with the aggressors.

Stockholm syndrome is an unconscious response due to a dangerous situation, which leads the victim to establish an emotional bond with the aggressors, in order to feel safe and calm.

This syndrome was first identified in 1973 after a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, in which the hostages developed friendship with their captors. This bond even led the hostages to visit their captors in prison, as well as affirming that there was no physical or psychological violence that could imply their lives were in danger.

Stockholm Syndrome: What Is It, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

How to identify the syndrome

Stockholm syndrome is not listed as a psychiatric disease by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and, therefore, it does not have signs or symptoms that are scientifically proven or widely studied.

However it is possible to identify this syndrome through some characteristics that can be noticed when the person is found in a situation of stress and tension where their life is at risk, such as:

  • Development of positive feelings for the aggressor;
  • Development of negative feelings about the police, authorities or others who are helping the victim to move away from the aggressor;
  • Development of emotional identification and friendship with the aggressor;
  • The belief that the aggressor has the same values ​​and goals in life.

These characteristics are triggered by feelings of insecurity, isolation and/or threat. It is a way for the subconscious to preserve life. However over time, due to the emotional bond created, small acts of kindness by the offenders tend to be amplified by people who are developing this syndrome, which makes them feel more secure and calm about the situation, disregarding the real threat they are living.

What causes the syndrome

Stockholm syndrome usually develops in situations that are life-threatening and where there are hostages. Some factors that have been identified to influence the development of this type of syndrome include:

  • Personality type and personal history of the person being held hostage;
  • Need for approval by authority figures such as boss or parents;
  • Time the victim spent with the kidnaper.

The characteristics of Stockholm syndrome are due to a response of the subconscious, and it is not possible to ascertain the real reason they occur. It is believed that those who have suffered a traumatic experience, such as abusive relationships and sexual abuse in the past, for example, are more prone to develop this syndrome.

Treatment options

There is no specific treatment for Stockholm syndrome. However it is important that psychotherapy is offered to the victim, since it can help identify the possible factor that led to the development of the syndrome, helping the person to overcome the trauma.

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References

  • LOBATO, Bruna Larissa; CARDOSO, Jéssica P.; OLIVEIRA, Gislene S.; MACIEL, Ranyelle F. A Síndrome de Estocolmo: Consequências Sociais e Jurídicas. Tese de Conclusão de Curso, 2014. Universidade Católica de Brasília.
  • SANTOS, ANTONIO D. O Síndrome de Estocolmo, a Narcose Social e a Qualidade da Democracia em Portugal. 2017. Available on: <http://repositorio.ual.pt/bitstream/11144/3403/1/O%20SINDROME%20DE%20ESTOCOLMO.Final.pdf>. Access in 09 Apr 2019
  • GÓMEZ, Andrés M. Psicopatología del Síndrome de Estocolmo: Ensayo de un modelo etiológico. Ciencia Policial. Vol 51. 1999
  • Namnyak, M. et al. Stockholm syndrome: psychiatric diagnosis or urban myth?. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 4–11, 2008
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