While the psychological connection between an abuser and his victim has been documented through history, the term “Stockholm Syndrome” is rather recent.
What’s in a Name?
On August 23, 1973, Jan-Erik Olsen and another man entered a bank in Stockholm, Sweden. They strapped dynamite to the four hostages and held them in a bank vault for nearly six days. When the rescued hostages started telling their stories, many of the public were shocked at hostages’ attitudes. “In their media interviews, it was clear that they supported their captors and actually feared law enforcement personnel…[t]he hostages had begun to feel the captors were actually protecting them from police” (counselingresource.com).
From then on, the term “Stockholm Syndrome” stuck and has been applied to many scenarios where victims have shown sympathy and even affection for their abusers or captors.
Psychological Characteristics of Stockholm Syndrome
Basically, Stockholm syndrome refers to an apparent emotional bond that can develop between captors/abusers and their victims. While it’s not entirely clear why a person’s mind reacts in such a way, psychologists believe that it is motivated purely by survival. On the most primitive level, it is a way for a victim to convince his or herself that the abuser or captor is not really as bad as they appear and will eventually let release them. Some speculate that it might also be part of the “it is better to be on the right hand of the devil than in his path” mentality. The victim believes if he or she follows along with what the captor or abuser wants that they will avoid being killed, abused or threatened.
In a more common scenario than the hostage taking in Sweden, this kind of apparent irrational emotional bonding with an abuser can be seen all the time in battered women who return to their abusive husbands or boyfriends, It is important to note, however, that while the abusers and captors are typically male, the abuser may be a wife, girlfriend, mother or any other person who is in a position of authority.