In the classic Disney movie called “Beauty and the Beast,” we see a beautiful romantic story between a young smart girl named Belle and a Prince who was cursed into a beast. Belle wanders into the castle of the Beast who imprisons her for it. Eventually love blossoms between them despite the odd circumstances. On paper, it’s just a classic love story but from a psychological perspective it’s a perfect example of “Stockholm Syndrome”.
What is Stockholm Syndrome?
In 1973, two bank robbers held four people, hostage, for six days in Stockholm, Sweden. After the hostages got out, they refused to testify against the robbers. Moreover, they even tried to help their captors in their defense by raising money for them. Ever since then the term “Stockholm syndrome” became associated with the cases where hostages develop a positive relationship with the one that held them captive.
It’s a rare occurrence but there are multiple cases of it. Under this condition, hostages and abuse victims come to accept the actions of their captors and abusers. In worse cases, they even defend their captor’s actions.
How to identify it?
There are three symptoms or events that are recognized as part of “Stockholm Syndrome”. (Legg, 2019)
- The victim develops an emotional or psychological connection to their captors or abusers.
- The victim develops negative feelings toward police, authority figures, or anyone who tries to rescue them. Victim sometimes refuses to co-operate against their captors or even helps their captors against the authority.
- The victim begins to perceive their captors in a humane and positive way. Victim may even believe they share the same goals and values.
Why does it happen?
For different victims of “Stockholm Syndrome”, the underlying causes are varied. Psychologists consider it as a form of “coping mechanism” that hostages build in their mind to deal with their condition. Usually, in cases of kidnapping, hostages are heavily reliant on their captors. They need them to survive so automatically they develop some form of relationship with them.
When the captors show them some kindness or share their stories, it can lead to the development of a positive relationship. Under the most severe condition, a small act of kindness might seem enormous. During such times, the victim may only see the good side of the captors, not the bad side. Sometimes, the victim even blames himself for the abuse. They do that to create a positive image of their captors which can help them cope with the situation better.
Also under a hostage situation, a victim might be quite scared and might have very little expectation from the captors. So if the captors show even a little goodwill, it automatically makes the victim think that the captor is somehow a really good person.
Lastly, victims and captors can develop a very unique emotional relationship because of the amount of time they spend together. If the victim already suffers from other emotional issues, he can find this new relationship to be something quite positive. That’s why under Stockholm syndrome victim even defends their own captors from harm.
Stockholm syndrome is considered more of a coping mechanism rather than an official mental health diagnosis. That’s why it is not recognized by the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But this condition isn’t all that rare. People in abusive relationships, children in abusive families, and even sex trafficking victims suffer from their own version of Stockholm syndrome. They feel helpless, they feel like they can’t get out of this relationship and so they develop this kind of positive image about their abuser just to feel better. Eventually, they consider the abusing as the norm and just hope for that little bit of niceties their abuser offers them. Undoubtedly, this kind of behavior is also part of Stockholm syndrome. Anybody who suffers from it should be taken to psychologists and psychotherapists as soon as possible. Through proper therapy one can understand the reality and get over their condition.
Legg, T. J. (2019, 11 11). What is Stockholm Syndrome and Who Does it Affect? Retrieved from healthline.com: https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/stockholm-syndrome#symptoms