The Stockholm Syndrome
Airplane hostages have been
known to sympathize with their captors and become emotionally attached
in one case even get married. So what is the Stockholm Syndrome and what
causes an emotional attachments with the very people who threaten their
The Name "Stockholm
In 1973, four Swedes held in a bank vault for six days during a robbery
became attached to their captors; a phenomenon dubbed the Stockholm Syndrome.
According to psychologists, the abused bond to their abusers as a means
to endure violence. The most notorious instance came when heiress Patty
Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, and after some
months, re-christened herself "Tanya" and joined their ranks.
The Stockholm Syndrome is an emotional attachment, a bond of interdependence
between captive and captor that develops 'when someone threatens your
life, deliberates, and doesn't kill you.' (Symonds, 1980) The relief resulting
from the removal of the threat of death generates intense feelings of
gratitude and fear that combine to make the captive reluctant to display
negative feelings toward the captor or terrorist. In fact, former hostages
have visited their captors in jail, recommended defense counsel, and even
started a defense fund. It is this dynamic, which causes former hostages
and abuse survivors to minimize the damage done to them and refuse to
cooperate in prosecuting their tormentors. "The victims' need to survive
is stronger than his/her impulse to hate the person who has created the
dilemma." (Strentz, 1980) The victim comes to see the captor as a 'good
guy', even a savior. This condition...occurs in response to the four specific
conditions listed below:
- A person threatens to
kill another and is perceived as having the capability to do so.
- The other cannot escape,
so her or his life depends on the threatening person.
- The threatened person
is isolated from outsiders so that the only other perspective available
to her or him is that of the threatening person.
- The threatening person
is perceived as showing some degree of kindness to the one being threatened.
It takes only 3-4 days for
the characteristic bond of the Stockholm syndrome to emerge when captor
and captive are strangers. After that, research shows, the duration of
captivity is no longer relevant.
Many airlines include as part of training a briefing or provide reading
materials to crew regarding the Stockholm Syndrome. To understand the
Stockholm Syndrome, you must understand the effects of sensory deprivation.
Imagine if you can, being forcibly removed from your daily life (with
all its familiar environments, routines and social interactions) and put
in a strange place from which you cannot escape. Your only interactions
are with your captors, whose behavior can be capricious - that is, beyond
your ability to understand why or when they may choose to do something
for you, with you or to you. They may withhold food and/or water, in order
to raise its value to you in order to receive your compliance with their
demands. You may be left in complete silence or darkness with nothing
to do, nowhere to go. You may not be allowed to talk or interact with
This is important knowledge
to have if ever one was to be in the precarious position of a hostage.
Some believe that awareness of the possible emotions will reduce the chances
of it happening whilst others argue that no amount of preparation can
stop the Stockholm Syndrome from occurring due to the extreme emotional
changes from fear to relief.
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