What is Stockholm syndrome? Definitions, history, characteristics of Stockholm syndrome and its treatment

Do you know what Stockholm Syndrome is? Suppose someone caught you and hid you somewhere; But you fell in love with the one who held you captive; That’s the Stockholm syndrome. This article discusses the definitions of Stockholm syndrome and its history and characteristics or signs. How to help a victim with Stockholm syndrome is also discussed.

What is Stockholm Syndrome?

Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which kidnapped victims develop loyalty, sympathy, or affection (sometimes even sexual attraction) for their kidnapper. The Stockholm syndrome could be taken as a viable survival strategy in which victims form an emotional bond with their captors in order to reduce the risk of harm from them or others.

The medical definition of the term Stockholm Stockholm syndrome— “Stockholm syndrome is a group of psychological symptoms that occur in some persons in a captive or hostage situation (McLaughlin, 2015).” Stockholm syndrome is also known as Survival Identification Syndrome.

Initially, Stockholm syndrome is discovered in a seemingly contradictory relationship between a hostage and their captor. It has also been observed in harmful relationships involving domestic violence, incestuous relationships, child abuse, cult membership, sports coaching, and war imprisonment.

Ten Definitions of Stockholm Syndrome by Authors and Famous Dictionaries

  1. According to Lambert, “Stockholm syndrome describes the psychological condition of a victim who identifies with and empathizes with their captor or abuser and their goals. Stockholm syndrome is rare; according to one FBI study, the condition occurs in about 8 percent of hostage victims.”

  2. Stockholm syndrome, psychological response wherein a captive begins to identify closely with his or her captors, as well as with their agenda and demands. (Lambert)

  3. According to Westcott (2013), “Stockholm Syndrome is typically applied to explain the ambivalent feelings of the captives, but the feelings of the captors change too.”

  4. According to Namnyak et al, “Stockholm syndrome’ is a term used to describe the positive bond some kidnap victims develop with their captor.”

  5. According to Eske (2020). “Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response that people often associate with infamous kidnappings and hostage situations. A person with Stockholm syndrome develops positive associations with their captors or abusers.”

  6. According to Guy-Evans (2022), “Stockholm Syndrome is a condition in which people develop positive emotions and associations with someone who is keeping them captive.”

  7. According to McLaughlin (2015), “Stockholm syndrome is a group of psychological symptoms that occur in some persons in a captive or hostage situation.”

  8. According to Collins English Dictionary, “Stockholm syndrome is a psychological condition in which hostages or kidnap victims become sympathetic towards their captors.”

  9. According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, “Stockholm syndrome is a psychological condition in which a person taken hostage sympathizes with or becomes emotionally involved with his or her captors.”

  10. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, “Stockholm syndrome is the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor.”

“Stockholm syndrome basically refers to a psychological condition in which hostages feel a sense of loyalty and emotional pull to their captors”.

The Characteristics of Stockholm Syndrome

Anyone can be susceptible to Stockholm syndrome. Stockholm syndrome is distinguished by some key features or characteristics. The major signs or characteristics of Stockholm syndrome is mentioned below—

  • Positive feelings toward the captor develop in a hostage.

  • The victim develops negative feelings toward police, authority figures, or anyone who might be trying to help them get away from their captor. They may even refuse to cooperate against their captor.

  • The victim begins to perceive their captor’s humanity and believe they have the same goals and values.

  • No previous relationship between the hostage and the captor.

  • Hostages’ refusal to cooperate with police and other government officials.

  • When the victim shares the same values as the aggressor, the hostage believes in the humanity of the captor and stops viewing them as a threat.

Historical background of Stockholm Syndrome

The phrase ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ was first coined by criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot (McLaughlin, 2015 & Westcott, 2013). Laura Lambert mentions in the Encyclopædia Britannica that the name of the syndrome originated from a botched bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. Four employees of Sveriges Kreditbank were held hostage in the bank’s vault for six days in August 1973. During the standoff, an odd bond formed between the captive and the captor. During a phone call with Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, one hostage stated that she fully trusted her captors but feared she would be killed in a police assault on the building (Westcott, 2013). After release the employees appeared to have formed an emotional bond with their captor, telling various reporters that they saw the police as their enemy and not the bank robber. They also stated having had positive feelings toward the criminal (McLaughlin, 2015).

In an article Adorjan et al (2012) claim that after the Stockholm police asked Swedish criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot for analyzing the victims’ reactions to the 1973 bank robbery and their status as hostages, he coined the term ‘Stockholm syndrome’.

First of of all Nils Berejot took the incident as brainwashing and he termed/named it ‘Norrmalmstorgssyndromet’ (after Norrmalmstorg Square, where the attempted robbery occurred), which translates as “the Norrmalmstorg syndrome”; it was later renamed to “Stockholm syndrome”. Psychiatrist Frank Ochberg coined the term to help with hostage situations.

Treatment of Stockholm syndrome

Due to not much research, it is not yet possible to find out the treatment of this complex mental problem. However, psychiatrists follow the strategy of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Counseling services are also provided to the victim. Apart from this, other psychotherapies are also applied to help the person return to normal life.

Finally, it is not included as a mental illness but is a complex mental condition. Which can harm both individuals and society. So the right care at the right time is very important for a person who has gone through such a situation.

How to Help Who May Have Stockholm Syndrome

Understanding the psychology behind Stockholm syndrome can help you figure out how to help someone who has it. Stockholm syndrome is a victim’s reaction to trauma that involves numerous social dynamics. Conformity, groupthink, deindividuation, romantic love, and fundamental attribution error are examples of social dynamics.

The following steps to help victims of Stockholm syndrome is inspired by an article by Stines (2018).

Take help of psychoeducation

The help of psychoeducation can be taken to help a victim who is a member of Stockholm syndrome. Through psychoeducation one can discuss his or her own condition. And when a victim finds out about his condition, he will take his defense.

Apply the Socratic method (Question-answer method)

Ask the victim how they feel, what they are thinking, how they perceive the situation, and what they think needs to happen next.

Pay attention

Listen to the victim and do not be judgemental in listening to them, as they process what has happened and their relationship with the offender, and use your own reflection to express concern and validation.

No advice

The victims must be given the freedom to choose for themselves. Keep in mind that one of the most common ways to overcome abuse is to give the victim the freedom to make their own decisions.

Address the cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance can result from being in a manipulative relationship. The victim’s intuition has been harmed, and they might be perplexed about reality as a result. Encourage them to trust themselves by confirming their truth and assisting them.

Identify the underlying need

Stockholm syndrome sufferers may dedicate themselves to a cause or an unspoken desire. They might develop an unhealthy over-identification with the offender in an effort to satisfy a need inside of themselves. Assist the victim in identifying the underlying need that the abusive relationship connection is attempting to satisfy. The victim can start making better decisions once they comprehend why they are so committed to the relationship.


  1. Adorjan, M., Christensen, T., Kelly, B. & Pawluch, D. (2012). Stockholm Syndrome as Vernacular Resource.The Sociological Quarterly. 53 (3). 454-474. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1533-8525.2012.01241.x

  2. Collins English Dictionary. Definition of ’Stockholm syndrome’. HarperCollins Publishers. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/stockholm-syndrome

  3. Eske, J. (2020). What is Stockholm syndrome?. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/stockholm-syndrome
  4. Guy-Evans, O. (2022). What is Stockholm syndrome?. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/Stockholm-syndrome.html
  5. Lambert, L. (n/a). Stockholm syndrome. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/Stockholm-syndrome
  6. McLaughlin, C. M. (2015. Fear or Love: Examining Stockholm Syndrome in the Elizabeth Smart Kidnapping case. Honors Theses. 72. Salem State University. https://digitalcommons.salemstate.edu/honors_theses/72

  7. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. 

  8. Namnyak, M., Tufton, N., Szekely, R., Toal, M., Worboys, S. and Sampson, E.L. (2008). ‘Stockholm syndrome’: psychiatric diagnosis or urban myth?. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 117. 4-11. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0447.2007.01112.x

  9. Stines, S. (2018). Why Stockholm Syndrome Happens and How to Help. GoodTherapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/why-stockholm-syndrome-happens-and-how-to-help-0926184

  10. Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

  11. Westcott, K. (2013). What is Stockholm syndrome?. BBC News Magazine. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22447726

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