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Stockholm Syndrome- Empathy with the Captors!

A strange incident happened on the 23rd of August 1973 when Jan Erik Olsson, a prisoner on leave, entered Kreditbanken, a bank at Norrmalmstorg in the central Stockholm, with the intention of holding up the bank. In this bid, he held four bank employees as hostages and demanded that his friend Clark Olofsson be brought there, along with US$730,000. In the end, both Olsson and Olofsson were arrested, charged and convicted. What was strange about this incident is that after six days of captivity (August 23rd to 28th August), the hostages actually resisted the rescue. They even refused to testify against their captors and in fact, raised money for the legal defense of Olsson and Olofsson. The victims became emotionally attached to the robbers. This gave rise to a new term called the “Stockholm Syndrome”.

Kreditbanken

What is Stockholm Syndrome?
Psychiatrist and criminologist Nils Bejerot assisted the Swedish police during this Norrmalmstorg robbery and he coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome”. It refers to the paradoxical condition when the hostage admires and becomes emotionally close to his captors. This kind of adulation seems to be irrational during normal conditions. The syndrome occurs primarily because of a few situations like:

  • The hostages feel that the captors have given them life by not killing them since they are in control of the situation.
  • The captives are isolated from the rest of the world and are dependent upon the perpetrator’s views and perspectives.
  • The hostages feel safer by succumbing to the demands and wishes of the captors.
  • The captives feel that the perpetrators are showing some degree of kindness towards them.

hostage

The Explanation
There is a psychological explanation behind this syndrome. The captives are under grave condition but are shown acts of kindness by the captors. This makes the hostages sympathize with them and even develop strong bond with the perpetrators. The captives are like infants, totally dependent upon their “mother-like” captors. In return, the hostages feel indebted to the captors for not killing them. Psychiatrist Frank Ochberg, describes the feeling as “a primitive gratitude for the gift of life…”

Other interesting cases of Stockholm Syndrome

  • In 1934, Mary McElroy was kidnapped but released unharmed. She described the incident as a positive one and even defended her kidnappers. She felt so guilty as her captors were given harsh sentences that she committed suicide.
  • In 1991, Jaycee Lee Dugard was abducted from the bus stop and held captive for 18 years. In the end, when she was brought home, Jaycee did not reveal the identity of her abductors and in fact, formed an emotional bond with them.
  • Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army for two months. At the end of those two months, she herself joined the group and took part in the robbery.

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