Stockholm syndrome is a psychological disorder named after a robbery in a bank located in the city of Stockholm in Sweden. During the robbery, four hostages were taken and kept under check constantly for a period of four days. However, by the end of the incident, the four people who had been held at gunpoint were seen to have sympathy and positive feelings for the robbers.
In this robbery, the development of positive feelings, sympathy, and concern in the hostages for the robbers were then linked to Stockholm syndrome. This mental health condition is very rare and is usually associated with constant exposure to physical and mental abuse.
However, some experts have suggested that the disorder may be the reason for the formation of many abusive cults and groups. There have been a number of famous incidents of people developing sympathetic feelings for their kidnappers and abusers following the 1973 Stockholm robbery.
For instance, the case of Elizabeth Smart, who was a teenager from Utah showed clear signs of the disorder. After being kidnapped in 2002, Smart was found by the police after weeks-long investigation. However, the teenager showed more concern and was even seen to be worried about her kidnappers after being found.
Overall, the prevalence of the condition though is still uncommon. Stockholm syndrome is currently only used for the identification of certain reactions of people who have been a part of violent and abusive situations. To this day, there is no proper treatment for Stockholm syndrome.
According to the forensic psychologist, Steven Norton, Stockholm syndrome is not yet considered to be a proper mental disorder and is not officially diagnosed by most psychologists. Secondly, the disorder is also not a part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is an official handbook for the identification of all mental and behavioral issues used by psychiatrists and psychologists.
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While the lack of research and a low percentage of the syndrome’s prevalence makes it impossible for the disorder to be listed in DSM-5, the majority of the health professionals and even law enforcement agents widely recognize Stockholm syndrome and are aware of its symptoms.
In accordance with the current research on the disorder, a person who develops Stockholm syndrome is likely to develop a connection with the people who have taken him hostage or kidnapped him. In addition, the person has eventually become emotionally dependent on the captors.
Norton explains that this happens because the victims become more depressed and scared overtime. In the process, the may also start caring less about themselves and may expect the kidnappers to care for them
An FBI law enforcement bulletin from 1999 states that people who develop Stockholm syndrome usually have positive sentiments for their captors but may be afraid and display negative feelings for law enforcement agents like the police. Secondly, they may actually feel that the police actions will hurt them and the captors are their protectors.
Till now, there are no signs that are specifically associated with the syndrome and there are no standard characteristics for it either. This is because many symptoms of Stockholm syndrome resemble those of other mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
Experts are not sure what causes Stockholm syndrome to develop in the first place. Some explanations for the syndrome state that the victims may develop it due to feeling like they cannot escape the situation or may need to show positive psychological traits including both being dependent and compliant to avoid potential abuse.
While the investigation on the disorder is still ongoing, the good news is that it is becoming more and more recognized which means the medical community has started to look at it more thoroughly. Since a few explanations have come up, it is possible that treatment for Stockholm syndrome may be developed in the near future.