Is There Recovery From Stockholm Syndrome?

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Stockholm syndrome is not a recognized psychological diagnosis, but rather, an attempt to explain the symptoms appearing in some individuals who are held captive.The American Psychiatric Association does not include Stockholm syndrome in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

When people are placed in a situation where they no longer have any control over their fate, feel intense fear of physical harm and believe all control is in the hands of their tormentor, a strategy for survival can result which can develop into a psychological response that can include sympathy and support for their captor’s plight.

Why the Name?

The name Stockholm Syndrome was derived from a 1973 bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, where four hostages were held for six days.

Throughout their imprisonment and while in harm’s way, each hostage seemed to defend the actions of the robbers and even appeared to rebuke efforts by the government to rescue them.

Months after their ordeal had ended, the hostages continued to exhibit loyalty to their captors to the point of refusing to testify against them, as well as helping the criminals raise funds for legal representation.

A Common Survival Mechanism

The response of the hostages intrigued behaviorist. Research was conducted to see if the Kreditbanken incident was unique or if other hostages in similar circumstances experienced the same sympathetic, supportive bonding with their captors. The researchers determined that such behavior was very common.

Other Famous Cases

On June 10, 1991, witnesses said they saw a man and a woman abduct 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard by a school bus stop near her home in South Lake Tahoe, California.

Her disappearance remained unsolved until on August 27, 2009, when she walked into a California police station and introduced herself.

For 18 years she was held captive in a tent behind the home of her captors, Phillip and Nancy Garrido. There Ms. Dugard gave birth to two children who were ages 11 and 15 at the time of her reappearance.

Although the opportunity to escape was present at different times throughout her captivity, Jaycee Dugard bonded with the captors as a form of survival.

More recently, some believe Elizabeth Smart fell victim to Stockholm Syndrome after her nine months of captivity and abuse by her captives, Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee.

Patty Hearst

Another more famous case in the U.S is that of heiress Patty Hearst, who at age 19 was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Two months after her kidnapping, she was seen in photographs participating in an SLA bank robbery in San Francisco. Later a tape recording was released with Hearst (SLA pseudonym Tania) voicing her support and commitment to the SLA cause.

After the SLA group, including Hearst, was arrested, she denounced the radical group. During her trial her defense lawyer attributed her behavior while with the SLA to a subconscious effort to survive, comparing her reaction to captivity to other victims of Stockholm Syndrome. According to testimony, Hearst was bound, blindfolded and kept in a small dark closet where she was physically and sexually abused for weeks prior to the bank robbery.

Natascha Kampusch

In August 2006, Natascha Kampusch from Vienna was 18 years old when she managed to escape from her kidnapper Wolfgang Priklopil who had kept her locked in a small cell for more than eight years.

She remained in the windowless cell, which was 54 square feet, for the first six months of her captivity. In time, she was permitted in the main house where she would cook and clean for Priklopil.

After several years of being held captive, she was occasionally allowed out into the garden. At one point she was introduced to Priklopil’s business partner who described her as relaxed and happy. Priklopil controlled Kampusch by starving her to make her physically weak, severely beating her, and threating to kill her and the neighbors if she tried to escape.

After Kampusch escaped Priklopi committed suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming train. When Kampusch learned that Priklopil was dead, she cried inconsolably and lit a candle for him at the morgue.

In a documentary based on her book, “3096 Tage” (3,096 Days), Kampusch voiced sympathy for Priklopil.

She said, “I feel more and more sorry for him—he’s a poor soul”

Newspapers reported that some psychologists suggested Kampusch may have been suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, but she does not agree. In her book, she said the suggestion was disrespectful of her and did not properly describe the complex relationship that she had with Priklopil.

What Causes Stockholm Syndrome?

Individuals can apparently succumb to Stockholm Syndrome under the following circumstances:

  • Believing one’s captor can and will kill them.
  • Isolation from anyone but the captors.
  • The belief that escape is impossible.
  • Inflating the captor’s acts of kindness into genuine care for each other’s welfare.

Victims of Stockholm Syndrome generally suffer from severe isolation and emotional and physical abuse demonstrated in characteristics of battered spouses, incest victims, abused children, prisoners of war, cult victims and kidnapped or hostage victims. Each of these circumstances can result in victims responding in a compliant and supportive way as a tactic for survival.

I was held captive by my parents in a room in their Hotel and was the victim of a paedophile ring for fourteen years. I was allowed out periodically and allowed to roam the streets and beaches of our village. I always came back. I do not blame my parents, nor do I hate them for what happened and still grieve for their deaths. I have been diagnosed with Stockholm Syndrome and told a full recovery from my Complex PTSD will be impossible until I address it too. The grooming techniques they used were very expert and it’s proving difficult to break the bond even thirty-five years later. I know what they did was horrific and wrong but just somehow I can’t blame either them or the abusers. I  blame myself and that is where the self-harm comes in. It is so self-destructive. Stockholm Syndrome is notoriously difficult to treat. I am using EMDR and am making slow but steady progress with the support of a family partner and family.

2 comments

  1. My husband said I need to talk to people about what happened to me. But I don’t know how. My mom married my step dad when I was eight. Today a man from my work told me how he was sexually abused and I’m just coming to terms that I have Stockholm syndrome and as I told him that the family services came to my house my step dad Frightener me and everything looked so perfect on the outside and his crying and my mom and every time id try to confront my mom she’d cry and he would say he was going to stay at motel the police never came back to check on us and I was trying to talk about things because my husband says I need to try but then the guy at work was like trying to tell me of like worse cases to “put it in perspective” the thing is I barely even said anything and no one knows what to say to me but reading you’re story was helpful and I told my husband about it and he said to reach out because I didn’t leave my family until I was twenty so for twelve years I was sexually abused. I stopped talking to everyone because I was the crazy person again. Come to find out five years later my mom admits to knowing about it. There is so much more and I’m so exhausted in my head. I’ve made money and now I can’t function and have no money and no health insurance. It’s taking so long to get help and I’ve gotten help before but it’s such a vicious cycle and my memories are filled with horror and distrust. I can hardly remember my own name and my husband says sometimes it’s like fifty first dates. All I can say is for what you’ve been through I’m so sorry and people say that to me and i awkwardly say it’s okay but it’s not okay i only say that because i can’t get comfortable in own skin and honestly don’t know what else to say. My step dad is sick and no one is helping him I heard long ago and I, like you, feel confused at myself feeling sad for him. He’s the only dad I had growing up my real dad wasn’t there .. And the minipulation my mind is so broken. I’ve just turned into not being able to cope with the world. I wish I could take your pain away. Thanks for posting you’re story and sharing. It helps probably more people than you know because I probably never would have commented well I actually for years I haven’t. But nothing is working and my husband is so supportive but says I need community that relates for such a long time of trauma endurance. He was sexually abused by his babysitter and so he’s really understanding and I’m so grateful he’s in my life. I just want to get better. He’s suffering now, watching me wither away and not by choice, I’m trying so hard but… my tricky little mind.

    • Hi Jay, thanks for getting in touch and reaching out. That is very brave of you to do that and tell your story. It is horrible when you have been so terribly abused as a child and still feel a bond with the abuser. It is so confusing. I hope the article on Stockholm Syndrome that I also wrote on the blog (which you can find using the search engine) may help you. I totally understand where you are coming from because I suffer from it too. I am still grieving my Mother who organised the paedophile ring that abused me for fourteen years and she died three years ago!!! How bizarre is that? I still love her after everything that she did. It might help you to join the Youwillbearwitness Facebook group which is for Child Abuse Survivors. It is a closed and private group which is for support, information and discussion. You will meet like minded people and receive much needed support. Here is the link https://www.facebook.com/groups/277914119721153/. Hope you join so we can talk more. All the best for the future. Don’t hesitate to contact me again. Erin

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin