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Stockholm Syndrome: love in captivity or disease?

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The name of the syndrome is derived from a botched bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. In August 1973 four employees of Sveriges Kreditbank were held hostage in the bank’s vault for six days. During the standoff, a seemingly incongruous bond developed between captive and captor. After this, psychologists and experts assigned the term “Stockholm syndrome” to the particular paradoxical behaviour of the hostages.

The Stockholm syndrome has a story behind it. It all began with a bank robbery that was initiated in August 1973 at the Norrmalmstorg Square in Stockholm, Sweden and it historically became the first live criminal event in Sweden to be covered live on television.

stock The North-Eastern Chronicle

Jan-Erik Olsson, a convicted criminal who had disappeared while on furlough from prison had held up a bank and taken four hostages. During the ensuing negotiations, Swedish Minister of Justice granted Olsson’s demand to allow Olsson’s former cellmate and friend Clark Olofsson to be brought from prison to the bank.

When the outside world was worried about the four hostages inside which included three women and one man, the scene inside the bank was completely different. Olsson showed a very compassionate behaviour with the hostages and delivered them with their needs, he also allowed one of them to call their family to inform them that they were safe. Eventually, the hostages bonded with their captors and tried to protect them despite their repeated threats to kill them all.

After a stretch of 5 days, the Police finally mounted a tear gas attack into the crisis, and the robbers surrendered and were sentenced to 10 years for the robbery. But the paradoxical actions of the hostages led to a great deal of academic and public interest in the case. This led researchers to dig into the topic.

Since then, Stockholm Syndrome has been spotted in various situations, not just hostages and kidnapping but also in victims of sexual abuse, human trafficking, discrimination, terror and political and religious oppression as well.

A person who develops Stockholm syndrome often experiences both physical and psychological effects of post-traumatic stress. Psychologically and emotionally, the person may experience nightmares, insomnia, flashbacks, a tendency to startle easily, confusion, and face difficulty in trusting others, aggression,depression or hopelessness.

woman looking out window 1 The North-Eastern Chronicle

Physically, the person may experience an increase in effects of pre-existing conditions; development of health conditions due to possible restriction from food, sleep, and exposure to outdoors.

Stockholm syndrome is commonly linked to high profile kidnappings and hostage situations. Aside from that, regular people may also develop this psychological condition in response to various types of trauma. Though most people in hostage situations do not feel Stockholm Syndrome, the occurrence of capture compassion is quite rare.

Many psychologists and medical professionals consider Stockholm syndrome as a coping mechanism, or a way to help victims handle the trauma of a terrifying situation. Despite being well known, however, Stockholm syndrome is not recognized by the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

These feelings typically happen because of the emotional and highly charged situation that occurs during a hostage situation or abuse cycle. For example, people who are kidnapped or taken hostage often feel threatened by their captor, but they are also highly reliant on them for survival. If the kidnapper or abuser shows them some kindness, they may begin to feel positive feelings toward their captor for this “compassion.”

Interpretation in popular culture

Stockholm Syndrome has been covered by popular culture like movies and series. The 2003 television film ‘Norrmalmstorg’, is loosely based on the events, a fictionalized version of the robbery is told in ‘Stockholm’, a 2018 Canadian film.

In the popular Netflix series, Money Heist, a hostage named Monica is shown to have transformed from an innocent working-class woman to a member of Professor’s gang. The gang that held her and many others hostage at The Royal Mint of Spain. She falls in love with Denver who is one of the gang members and she gets named Stockholm during the second robbery (inspired by the Stockholm Syndrome).

monika The North-Eastern Chronicle

If you feel, you or someone you know has developed Stockholm syndrome, you can find help. In the short term, counseling or psychological treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder can help alleviate the immediate issues associated with recovery, such as anxiety and depression. Long-term psychotherapy can further help with recovery.

Psychologists and psychotherapists can teach you healthy coping mechanisms and response tools to help understand what happened, why it happened, and how to move forward. Reassigning positive emotions can help in understanding what happened wasn’t the fault of the victim.

Visuals by : Rahul Haloi

Article by Neelchandra Roy, The North-Eastern Chronicle

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