Stockholm syndrome, the phenomenon in which victims display compassion for and even loyalty to their captors. It was first widely recognized after the Swedish bank robbery that gave it its name.
For six days in August 1973, thieves Jan-Erik Olsson and Clark Olofsson held four Stockholm bank employees hostage at gunpoint in a vault.
When the victims were released, their reaction shocked the world: they hugged and kissed their captors, declaring their loyalty even as the kidnappers were carted off to jail.
Though the precise origin of the term Stockholm syndrome is debated, it is often attributed to remarks during a subsequent news broadcast by the Swedish criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot, who had assisted the police during the robbery. The following are viewed as the conditions necessary for Stockholm syndrome to occur.
The building where Kreditbanken was at Norrmalmstorg, Stockholm, Sweden. In Kreditbanken the Norrmalmstorgsdrama took place and the Stockholm syndrome was "created".
- Hostages who develop Stockholm syndrome often view the perpetrator as giving life by simply not taking it. In this sense, the captor becomes the person in control of the captive’s basic needs for survival and the victim’s life itself.
- The hostage endures isolation from other people and has only the captor’s perspective available. Perpetrators routinely keep information about the outside world’s response to their actions from captives to keep them totally dependent.
- The hostage taker threatens to kill the victim and gives the perception of having the capability to do so. The captive judges it safer to align with the perpetrator, endure the hardship of captivity, and comply with the captor than to resist and face death.
- The captive sees the perpetrator as showing some degree of kindness. Kindness serves as the cornerstone of Stockholm syndrome; the condition will not develop unless the captor exhibits it in some form toward the hostage. However, captives often misinterpret a lack of abuse as kindness and may develop feelings of appreciation for this perceived benevolence.
- If the captor is purely evil and abusive, the hostage will respond with hatred. But, if perpetrators show some kindness, victims will submerge the anger they feel in response to the terror and concentrate on the captors’ “good side” to protect themselves. In cases where Stockholm syndrome has occurred, the captive is in a situation where the captor has stripped nearly all forms of independence and gained control of the victim’s life, as well as basic needs for survival.
- Some experts say that the hostage regresses to, perhaps, a state of infancy; the captive must cry for food, remain silent, and exist in an extreme state of dependence. In contrast, the perpetrator serves as a 'mother' ﬁgure protecting the 'child' from a threatening outside world, including law enforcement’s deadly weapons. The victim then begins a struggle for survival, both relying on and identifying with the captor. Possibly, hostages’ motivation to live outweighs their impulse to hate the person who created their dilemma.
- But as critics of Stockholm syndrome maintain, these captives were the exceptions. According to a 2007 FBI report, 73% of victims displayed no signs of such affection for their abductors. Nonetheless, crisis negotiators often actually try to encourage captor-hostage bonding by telling perpetrators about the victims' families or personal lives. Being viewed as a fellow human being, the theory goes, may be a victim's best hope for staying alive.
Popular Stockholm Syndrome Cases
There have been many instances when Stockholm Syndrome was found in abducted people. Here are some popular cases where symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome had been clearly visible.
Heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the political outfit Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974. Later, she became a member of the group and also assisted them in bank robberies.
In 1998, a ten year old girl Natascha Kampusch was kidnapped in Austria. She came back in 2006. She had escaped when her kidnapper was unmindful. As per her own admission, she was kept locked in a cell for eight years. But she told about her abductor in golden terms.
In 2003, a 15-year-old girl named Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped by a self-proclaimed priest living in Salt Lake City. She came back home after nine months. Psychologists say that she could have escaped long ago if she had not identified herself with her captor.
The Norrmalmstorg Robbery
On August 23, 1973, Jan Erik "Janne" Olsson, on leave from prison, walked into a branch of Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg, central Stockholm. He was wearing sunglasses and an afro wig. Pulling out a machine gun and firing it in the air, he shouted in English: "The party has only started". Police were called in immediately, two of them went inside, and Olsson opened fire, injuring one policeman. The other was ordered to sit in a chair and "sing something". He started singing "Lonesome Cowboy". Olsson then took 4 people as hostages. He demanded that his friend and old cellmate Clark Olofsson be brought there, along with 3 million Swedish Krona (US$3 million at today's value), two guns, bullet-proof vests, helmets and a fast car.
Myths of the Norrmalmstorg Robbery
The most widely publicized myth about the robbery, or rather about the Stockholm syndrome, was that one or both robbers became engaged to their captives. This is simply not true, and may stem from the language barrier: the phrase "engagera sig i någon" in Swedish, does not mean "to become engaged to someone", but rather "to care deeply about someone" (this sort of resemblance between two words in different languages that are not synonyms is known as a false friend).
As stated above, Kristin Ehnemark and Clark Olofsson became friends, and Jan Olsson married one of his female admirers, but there were no engagements between anyone present during the events.