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Stockholm Syndrome: When Hostages Feel Attached to Their Captors

An attachment between the hostage and their captor? It's possible / Photo by: Master1305 via Shutterstock

 

Feeling affection for one’s kidnapper may happen in the most unlikely circumstances. Such was the case of the four bank employees Elizabeth Oldgren, Kristin Enmark, Sven Safstrom, and Birgitta Lundblad who were held hostage in 1973  by the gunmen Jan-Erik Olson and Clark Olofsson. Instead of resenting the robbers who had threatened them and trapped them in a vault, they had gained their loyalty.

Even a few months after the hostage crisis, they did not want to witness against them. They even raised money to defend them in court.

Origins of the Stockholm Syndrome

As stated by History, Olson was a prisoner who had escaped from his cell. He had broken into the bank Kreditbanken which was located in Stockholm, Sweden. After the attempted robbery, he shot one of the police who had trailed him. Then, for six days, on August 23 to 28 1973, he threatened four bank employees with guns and kept them in the main vault of the bank. It was within this duration that the bank employees had formed an attachment with their captors. When their kidnappers showed them little acts of kindness, such as giving one of them a jacket when one of them was shaking from coldness and comforting another one for not being able to contact their family, they started sympathizing with them.

During the negations with the police, Olson made many demands from them which included: a huge amount of money in Swedish and foreign currency, the release of his friend and a former fellow prisoner, Olfsson and a getaway car. Moments later, the police complied with his demands. They brought Olfsson with them, the $700,000 he asked, as well as a blue Ford Mustang. The only demand that the police did not give in to was to let them leave together with their hostages.

 

 

On the second day of their captivity, the hostages had become so close to their captors that they had begun addressing them by their first name. In a strange turn of events, they became more frightened by the police who were trying to rescue them than their kidnappers.

The police comissioner who was permitted to enter the premises to examine the well-being of the captives observed that they had a “relaxed relationship” with their abductors while they were defensive towards him. Based on these observations, he assured the press that the gunmen would not do anything to hurt the bank employees. This dramatic incident took over the news, not just in Sweden but also worldwide.

It was on the sixth day, however, the police decided to take a more forward approach. The authorities placed a hole in the bank through which they leaked teargas. This attack made the captors finally surrender. The hostages were requested to come out before their abductors, but they vehemently declined as they tried to shield them. When they headed to the vault’s doorway, the hostages and captors hugged, kissed and shook hands. As the police arrested the kidnappers, two of the female hostages begged the authorities not to hurt them because they did not cause them any harm.

This is the story of how the Stockholm Syndrome, a peculiar psychological condition, came to be. It has been over 40 years since this unusual event has taken place, but behavioral psychologists still consider the condition coined from it as a mystery.

What Is Stockholm Syndrome?

Psych Central refers to Stockholm Syndrome as “the trauma bond between the captor and the hostages in which the hostages feel positive feelings for the person that is causing them harm.” It was a condition first recorded by the criminologist Nils Bejerot. A hostage may develop this when their kidnapper shows them compassion.

In a study conducted by the FBI, it was estimated that 8% of people who have been part of hostage situations have exhibited symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome.

 

Stockholm Syndrome / Photo by: 271 EAK MOTO via Shutterstock

 

Causes and Risk Factors

According to Prime Health Channel, the several potential causes of this condition are feeling that the kidnapper has shown them mercy by not killing them, being treated sympathetically by their abductors, being isolated from the outside world, forming a physical or emotional bond with their captors, developing the habit of pleasing their kidnappers and developing a dependency on their kidnappers.

Epainassist.com says that the people who are likely to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome are: children who have experienced abuse, battered or abused women, victims of incest, individuals who have been members of a cult, those who became prisoners of war, people who were involved in controlling relationships, captives of concentration camps and those who have been part of criminal hostage situations.

Symptoms

For an individual who is affected by Stockholm Syndrome, the following symptoms may manifest:

1. Defending their abductors

2. Expressing affection and admiration for one’s captors

3. Not wanting to testify against their kidnappers

4. Not wanting to escape from their abductors

5. Trying to please their captors

6. Not wanting the police to save them

 

 

Famous Cases

In accordance with the examples provided by ThoughtCo, some of the most well-known cases of Stockholm Syndrome were the ones that involved Patty Hearst, Natascha Kampusch and Jaycee Lee Dugard.

Patty Hearst (1974)

A year after the Stockholm robbery, the heiress Patty Hearst was abducted by the group Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). After a couple of months, she had joined them and helped them in carrying out their robberies.

Natascha Kampusch (1998)

In Austria, a ten-year-old girl by the name of Natascha Kampusch was kidnapped by Wolfgang Priklopil in 1998. Priklopil made her stay in a windowless cell for eight years. In 2006, she was able to run away from her kidnapper. When he was no longer able to keep her in the cell, he killed himself by getting run over by a train. Kampusch expressed her grief upon learning about his death saying that he’s “a poor soul.”

Jay Lee Dugard (1991)

It was reported in 1991 that Philip and Nancy Garrido abducted Jay Lee Dugard near a bus stop in California. Her captors had kept her inside a tent for 18 years. Even though Dugard had many chances to escape, she had become attached to her captors in order to survive.

 

Treatment

People who have developed Stockholm Syndrome as a way to coexist with their abductors are advised to get referred to a psychiatrist for counseling. Family members are encouraged to love and support the patient, provide them with proper guidance and be treat them with understanding to help them heal from this condition.

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