Stockholm Syndrome

What is Stockholm Syndrome?

The stockholm syndrome definition is a psychological phenomenon wherein hostages develop positive feelings to their captors. They begin to identify with them and feel for their demands. About one in every 4 hostages present with this syndrome after being in captivity for 1 year [1].

The name of the syndrome is based on where the event was first observed. It is based on a Stockholm bank robbery that occurred in 1973. Four people were held at gunpoint during the 6-day siege. These people were held at gunpoint, kept inside a locked vault, forced to wear nooses around their necks and at times will be strapped with explosives. When the police had the chance to rescue the hostages, these people fought them and took the side of their captors. After the siege, one of the released hostages have set up a fund for the legal fees of the bank robbers. This event has shocked psychologists from around the world and gave birth to what we know now as Stockholm syndrome [2, 3, 4].

A recent example of this phenomenon is the case of Natascha Kampusch. She was kidnapped in 1998 when she was 10 years old. She was kept in the cellar of her captor Wolfgang Priklopil for 8 years until she was able to escape in 2006. It was reported that she cried when she learned that her captor had perished and she even lit a candle while Wolfgang is in the mortuary [5].

Analysis of psychologists reveal that this syndrome developed as a survival strategy of the victims. Although it may be advised in order to increase the chance of survival, these victims become less cooperative during the rescue or the prosecution of the criminal. This is commonly seen in domestic abuse victims who refused to press charges or may even attack the police officers during the rescue [6].


Based on the number of events where this phenomenon has been observed, psychologists have said that the syndrome may occur if the following features are present [3, 4].

  • The captor is threatening to kill the captive or his/her family if he/she disobeys. Escape is not going to be an option and the only way to survive is to be obedient.

Stockholm Syndrome

  • The captive gets to know the captor by means of knowing what may anger or put the captor under stress.
  • When the captor shows a minor act of kindness, which may include not killing the captive, this may spark hope in the captive and may view this as a sign of friendship.
  • The captive will now start to view the captor as less threatening and possibly as a source of safety and protection instead of harm. He or she may start to view the captor as a friend in order to lessen the stress of the situation.

Individuals at Risk

Although this syndrome is initially seen in those who were kidnapped or taken as hostage, Stockholm syndrome may develop in these groups of people [1, 3, 6].

  • Victims of domestic violence
  • Members of cult
  • Abused children
  • Victims of incest
  • Prisoners in concentration camp
  • Abusive romantic relationships
  • Intimidating or controlling relationships


The following symptoms can be found in individuals who is starting to develop Stockholm syndrome [4].

  • Positive feelings of the captive towards their captors
  • Negative feelings of the captive to individuals who would attempt rescue
  • Captive understand and supports the demands of the captor
  • Failure of the captive to detach himself or herself from the captor


When a captive who had developed the syndrome towards the captor, he/she may find it hard to be away from that person. The time that they have shared together have become the shackles that ties him/her to the captor. The best treatment for this is for them to undergo therapy and to be reassured by their loved ones [1].

Psychosocial support

The importance of family support is very important for the previous victims to get over their attachment to their captors. It must be understood that what had happened can be linked to the feeling of isolation during the period. They must be reassured that they are not alone and that the family is there to provide love. They must not be pressured because it will only be met with resistance. The communication and support must always be available but not forced [1].


  1. Band Back Together. (2015). Stockholm Syndrome Resources. Retrieved from Band Back Together:
  2. Lambert, L. (2015, December 28). Stockholm syndrome. Retrieved from Encyclopaedia Britannica:
  3. Southern East Centre Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence. (2015, May 18). The Stockholm Syndrome. Retrieved from Southern East Centre Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence:
  4. Layton, J. (2006, August 29). What causes Stockholm syndrome? Retrieved from How Stuff Works?:
  5. Westcott, K. (2013, August 22). What is Stockholm syndrome? Retrieved from BBC:
  6. Carver, J. M. (2014, December 20). Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser, Page 1. Retrieved from Counselling Resource:

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