Stockholm syndrome

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Stockholm syndrome is a psychological phenomenon named for an incident that took place in Stockholm, Sweden.

The incident

In 1973, two prison escapees held four bank employees hostage for a total of five and a half days. The two convicts threatened to kill the hostages if a ransom was not paid, yet at the same time they did display kindness toward the hostages. The hostages began to identify with their captors and to fear the authorities who were trying to get them out. Later interviews with the hostages revealed the psychological mechanism which became known as Stockholm syndrome.

In essence it begins as a survival mechanism, where the hostages believe that the captor will not harm them if they act friendly and acquiesce. In cases of long term captivity, this sets the foundation for the captor being able to convince the hostages that their point of view or grievance is righteous. Under duress and emotional stress, the hostages are often easily convinced, and a real bond of affection forms between the captor and their victims. In doing so, the hostage goes into a state of denial of what the actual situation is. Several sub-mechanisms may occur. The hostage may come to view the actual situation as displaced from reality. He or she may begin to sleep excessively or go into a fantasy world of being miraculously rescued. The hostage may also attempt to forget the situation by keeping busy with useless work or activity. If the captors manage to create a strong enough bond with the hostages, the hostages may blame the rescuers for creating the uncomfortable situation.

In the incident after which the syndrome is named, the hostages ended up defending their captors, and two of the women are even said to have started romantic relationships with their captors. Other similar cases have seen the victims refuse to testify against the hostage takers, raise money for a defence fund, be generally uncooperative with rescuers and prosecuting authorities, as well as visit their captors in jail.

Societal Stockholm syndrome

Societal Stockholm syndrome, as proposed by psychologist Dee Graham, explains that these same mechanisms take place on a societal scale in the relationship between the people and the patriarchal government and culture. We are taught to love our country and its set of cultural norms, magnify the kindnesses and ignore the brutalities and injustices committed by our society. It is this very mechanism that ensures that people will continue to defend the status quo system or government even while it takes away more of our freedoms, and will continue to do so as it holds our children and our children's children captive. Should outsiders point out the cruelties of the system we have been indoctrinated to survive in and love, it is part of the mechanism to react toward them with fear and disdain.

Maybe the most archetypal and ancient example of the use of Stockholm syndrome took place when Yahweh bid Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. By suddenly relenting in his own tyrannical demand and accepting an animal in the place of Abraham's son, Yahweh showed himself to be a "benevolent and merciful God." This archetypal moment casts a long cultural shadow to this day.

See also