Stockholm Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when hostages or otherwise unwillingly held people develop a bond with the kidnapper or abuser. In a hostage situation, Stockholm syndrome occurs when a captive starts to identify emotionally with the abuser or kidnapper and develops a good feeling for them. 

This article will be even more exciting and relatable for you if you have seen movies like Highway or Beauty and the Beast. 

It is a coping mechanism wherein the victim starts sympathizing with the kidnapper. Apart from hostage situations, Stockholm Syndrome is found in child abuse situations, sports abuse, relationships, and human trafficking. Psychologists believe that this mechanism helps weaken the pain and trauma and helps the victims survive their days in captivity. 


The phenomenon gets its name from a robbery incident that took place in a Sveriges Kredit bank in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973. During their six-day captivity, the employees of the bank being robbed became extraordinarily sympathetic towards their captors. Even after they were set free, they refused to testify against the robbers and also helped raise money for them. Psychologists closely associated with this case coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome” when they realized that the employees had developed a certain emotional connection and affection towards the criminals. 

What Causes Stockholm Syndrome

Why do some captives develop bonds while others don’t? A hostage identifying with his or her criminal is not something we see every day. Therefore, what causes this behaviour has been a keen interest of psychologists ever since it became a thing. 

Psychologists who have studied this in detail suggest that creating an emotional bond with their captive increases the victim’s chances of survival and gives them hope. Moreover, a certain trust towards their perpetrator makes their situation slightly more believable. 

Why some victims develop the syndrome as a result of some quite interesting events. When the kidnapper threatens to kill the victim and eventually doesn’t, they start feeling a sense of Gratitude towards them ultimately turns into affection. When the threat of death is removed, they begin to believe that the kidnapper has given them a second chance at life, allowing them to develop positive feelings for themselves. They might think that they have to protect the criminals from the authorities to protect themselves. 

Some of the conditions where the victim develops Stockholm Syndrome are-

  • When the hostage and the kidnapper are together most of the time. Being in the same room and in close contact, even with a captor sometimes leads to the development of a close personal bond. Sharing a space with someone in a poor situation leads to closeness.
  • The hostage situation lasts for several days.
  • Gestures of kindness- the hostages consider even the smallest acts of sympathy, such as providing food or water in the middle of a horrible circumstance, to be acts of kindness. All they need is a little hope and even small acts of kindness by kidnappers at that moment. Dependence on the hostage takers for basic needs.
  • They associate with the reason why the captivators did what they did. They start psychologically associating with the cause of the criminal’s behavior and begin sympathizing with them. 
  • The kidnappers do not harm the victims and take away the threat of taking away their lives. 

Symptoms Of Stockholm Syndrome

How can you tell if a person has Stockholm Syndrome? Apart from showing a positive feeling toward their captor, people who have the syndrome show the following symptoms-

  • Understanding of the captor’s reasons and beliefs
  • After released they support the kidnapper
  • Negative feelings towards the authority or police
  • Not trying to engage in activities that can set them free
  • Resisting help from someone who is trying to rescue them

Psychologists suggest that many symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome are similar to those of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). 

These are- 

  • Nightmares
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Flashbacks
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of emptiness and loneliness
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities


Stockholm syndrome is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used to identify mental illnesses. Psychologists closely study the symptoms of victims of any kind of abuse to diagnose the psychological phenomenon. 


Returning from a traumatic situation can be very challenging, and victims of such situations can have trouble adjusting to daily life. 

Psychotherapy and talk therapy can help people readjust and cope. Therapy can address specific symptoms of the syndrome and help people overcome them. Moreover, it teaches better coping mechanisms and ways to overcome trauma. The therapist can help you refocus your attitudes towards the perpetrators and the situation. Therapy also makes the victim understand that he or she used the bond as a survival mechanism, which is no longer needed. 

Also, medications are used when symptoms are serious, long-lasting, or affect the person’s daily life.

Situations Where Stockholm Syndrome Can Develop 

Child abuse- the small minds of abused children frequently see close contact with an abuser as a pleasant and emotional bond. Abuse may be an extremely confusing situation for a child. The child’s loving attitude frequently protects the abuser from punishment.

Sports– the occurrence of Stockholm Syndrome in sports is more than one might assume. Sports coaches often exploit young athletes and engage in harsh training practices. When the athlete starts sympathising with the coach and his or her reasoning, it becomes a case of Stockholm Syndrome.

Abusive relationships- situations of physical abuse, sexual, or emotional abuse show that the abused sometimes develops a kind of emotional attachment towards the abuser. This becomes the reason for the abuse lasting for a long time since the victim might stop resisting it. 

Sex trafficking – victims of human trafficking depend on their abusers for necessities like food and water. In such terrifying situations, when these basic needs are met, they are misinterpreted as acts of kindness and care. They develop a feeling of attachment due to this and may also try to protect the abusers.

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