THE STOCKHOLM SYNDROME
by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© January 2012, L. D. Wilson Consultants, Inc.
All information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
The Stockholm Syndrome is a curious psychological fact that many people who are abused on in hostage situations begin to side with their captors or with those who abuse and victimize them. It is called the Stockholm Syndrome because of a famous hostage case that took place in Stockholm, Sweden, in which the victim actually defended her captors in court, much to everyone’s surprise.
While it is not fully understood, it is known to affect many who have been hostages, raped, tortured or abused in various ways.
THE MECHANISMS OF THE STOCKHOLM SYNDROME
The Stockholm Syndrome seems to occur more often in the following situations:
1. Overwhelming threat to one’s life and the possibility that the threat may actually be carried out.
2. No perceived way out of the situation.
3. No other perspective possible. In other words, the person is often cut off from the outside world or other, more sane perspectives.
These facts can help us explain or understand what may occur with Stockholm Syndrome.
One explanation of the Stockholm Syndrome is that the person reverts to very early childhood responses in the face of overwhelming stress and danger. One of these responses is to attach oneself emotionally to the strongest person who is nearby. In this case, that person would be the victim’s captors, or a rapist, or an abusive parent, perhaps. This attachment is apparently an innate response of a baby that is designed to protect the baby’s life and assure its survival.
Another theory that I prefer is that the horror of the hostage situation, rape, torture or abuse is so abhorrent to the person that a switch takes place in the mind in order to make it less horrible. That switch is that the person rationalizes that the situation is not that bad, and that the abuser, torturer or rapist is actually their friend and that all is well.
This may seem bizarre, but it is a common human response to horror and adversity. It is sometimes called minimization. In fact, the victim may project the horror onto others, and protect the abuser or rapist, oddly. As with the first explanation above, this is also a survival mechanism.
It is very close to what happens in brainwashing. When a person is brainwashed, he or she is placed under stress and is rewarded in some way when the person changes their ideas to agree with the brainwasher. So in the Stockholm Syndrome, the person is placed under extreme stress, and as a way to deal with the stress, the person may switch their perspective and decide that the abuser or rapist is actually a good person and all is well. In both cases, the victim actually needs to be deprogrammed or de-brainwashed in order to face the horror and return to mental health.
MOST PEOPLE HAVE EXPERIENCED THE STOCKHOLM SYNDROME TO ONE DEGREE OR ANOTHER
In fact, most of us have been brainwashed and tortured to some degree by teachers, parents, even by doctors and other professionals. It is not that difficult to cause a person to “change their mind” and accept horror and upset as “normal” or even good.
A very common example that I encounter is that many young children hate going to school when they begin it at age 4 or 5. Parents report this to me all the time. What occurs, however, is that the parents just keep forcing the child to go to school, also telling the child that it is “for the best”. Soon, the child realizes that he or she has little choice in the matter and might as well “make the best of it”. So if you ask many 10-year-olds if they hate school, they will say no. They have twisted their minds to accept the horror they feel by deciding it is good or at least acceptable. Most adults carry this programming with them for the rest of their lives, infecting their own children and others with it.
This, in fact, is one of the “side effects” and sad outcomes of the Stockholm Syndrome. Not only is the person brainwashed and twisted, but they turn around and infect others with the same false ideas. In this way, false concepts, brainwashing, a kind of hypnotic trance state can soon infect a whole society. Soon anyone who does not “go along” is viewed as an outcast and an oddball and may be ostracized.
As an aside, this is a sad commentary on the school system in many cases, and on some parents who don’t listen to their children. I don’t believe school is good for any child today. The schools are filled with too many dysfunctional children, dysfunctional families that they live in, dysfunctional teachers, wrong information being taught, excessively lax rules about bullying, swearing, and other things your child should be shielded from, and other problems today with the school system.