Frequently Asked Questions:
What is the 'Stockholm Syndrome'?
- In 1973, four Swedes held in a bank vault for six days
during a robbery became attached to their captors, a phenomenon dubbed
the Stockholm Syndrome. According to psychologists, the abused bond to
their abusers as a means to endure violence.
- Psychological Responses to Terrorism
by Rev. Fr. Charles T. Brusca
At 10:15 A.M. on Thursday, August 23rd, 1973 the "Sveriges Kreditbank" of Stockholm, Sweden was rocked by sub-machine gun fire.(1) "The party has just begun", announced a 32 year old prison escapee named Jan-Erik Olsson. "The party", indeed, continued for some 131 hours, or five and a half days, as Olsson held four of the bank's employees hostage in an 11 by 47 foot vault until late in the evening of August 28th.
While the "Sveriges Kreditbank" robbery itself may not have been of world shattering importance, later interviews with the four hostages yielded surprising results -- results that have been confirmed in numerous other "hostage situations" in the years that followed. Even though the captives themselves were not able to explain it, they displayed a strange association with their captors, identifying with them while fearing those who sought to end their captivity. In some cases they later testified on behalf of or raised money for the legal defense of their captors. The Swedish location of the "Sveriges Kreditbank" gave its name to this mental aberration as "The Stockholm Syndrome".
Long-term psychological study of this and similar hostage situations has defined a fairly clear and characteristic set of symptoms for the Stockholm Syndrome:
The captives begin to identify with their captors. At least at first this is a defensive mechanism, based on the (often unconscious) idea that the captor will not hurt the captive if he is cooperative and even positively supportive. The captive seeks to win the favor of the captor in an almost childlike way.
The captive often realizes that action taken by his would-be rescuers is very likely to hurt him instead of obtaining his release. Attempts at rescue may turn a presently tolerable situation into a lethal one. If the bullets of the authorities don't get him, quite possibly those of the provoked captor will.
Long term captivity builds even stronger attachment to the captor as he becomes known as a human being with his own problems and aspirations. Particularly in political or ideological situations, longer captivity also allows the captive to become familiar with the captor's point of view and the history of his grievances against authority. He may come to believe that the captor's position is just.
The captive seeks to distance himself emotionally from the situation by denial that it is actually taking place. He fancies that "it is all a dream", or looses himself in excessive periods of sleep, or in delusions of being magically rescued. He may try to forget the situation by engaging in useless but time consuming "busy work". Depending on his degree of identification with the captor he may deny that the captor is at fault, holding that the would-be rescuers and their insistence on punishing the captor are really to blame for his situation.
1. Information on the robbery and subsequent psychological analysis of the victims may be found in Frank M. Ochberg & David A. Soskis, eds., Victims of Terrorism, Boulder Colorado: Westview Press, 1982.
Is the 'Stockholm Syndrome' used to describe reactions to traumas other than hostage situations?
- The Stockholm Syndrome: Not Just For Hostages
by Dee L.R. Graham, Edna Rawlings, Nelly Rimini
The Stockholm Syndrome is an emotional attachment, a bond of interdependence between captive and captor that develops 'when someone threatens your life, deliberates, and doesn't kill you.' (Symonds, 1980) The relief resulting from the removal of the threat of death generates intense feelings of gratitude and fear which combine to make the captive reluctant to display negative feelings toward the captor or terrorist. In fact, former hostages have visited their captors in jail, recommended defense counsel, and even started a defense fund. It is this dynamic which causes former hostages and abuse survivors to minimize the damage done to them and refuse to cooperate in prosecuting their tormentors.
"The victims' need to survive is stronger than his impulse to hate the person who has created his dilemma." (Strentz, 1980) The victim comes to see the captor as a 'good guy', even a savior. This condition...occurs in response to the four specific conditions listed below:
o A person threatens to kill another and is perceived as having the capability to do so.
o The other cannot escape, so her or his life depends on the threatening person.
o The threatened person is isolated from outsiders so that the only other perspective available to her or him is that of the threatening person.
o The threatening person is perceived as showing some degree of kindness to the one being threatened.
Victims' Observed Strategies for Survival
Victims have to concentrate on survival, requiring avoidance of direct, honest reaction to destructive treatment. Become highly attuned to pleasure and displeasure reactions of victimizers. As a result, victims know much about captors, less about themselves. Victims are encouraged to develop psychological characteristics pleasing to captors: dependency, lack of initiative, inability to act, decide, think, etc. Both actively develop strategies for staying alive, including denial, attentiveness to victimizer's wants, fondness for victimizer accompanied by fear, fear of interference by authorities, and adoption of victimizer's perspective. Hostages are overwhelmingly grateful to terrorists for giving them life. They focus on captor's kindnesses, not his acts of brutality. Battered women assume that the abuser is a good man whose actions stem from problems that she can help him solve. Both feel fear, as well as love, compassion and empathy toward a captor who has shown them any kindness. Any acts of kindness by the captors will help ease the emotional distress they have created and will set the stage for emotional dependency of Counterproductive Victim Responses
Denial of terror and anger, and the perception of their victimizers as omnipotent people help to keep victims psychologically attached to victimizers. High anxiety functions to keep victims from seeing available options. Psychophysical stress responses develop.
Excerpts from, Domestic Violence Response Training Curriculum, November 1991, by Jeri Martinez
How well does the 'Stockholm Syndrome' describe the behaviour of Israelis being surrounded by a huge hostile Arab/Muslim world?
After 50 years of unending conflict, most Israeli Jews seem to have
concluded that the burden of maintaining their nation is just too
difficult to bear. The country's secular leftist elites--who control
education, culture, the news media, and the government--blame the Jews
for the Arabs' desire to destroy Israel, and the majority seems to be
afflicted with the "Stockholm syndrome": though the victims of Arab
hate, they identify with their oppressors.
George E. Rubin, in Commentary Magazine, May 2000
- "[Many] supporters [of the Oslo peace process] -- like so many
distraught battered wives -- simply cannot be persuaded that there is
no romance, there is no peace process. And despite Arafat's cynicism,
contempt and hostility they cannot be persuaded that their man Arafat
-- their 'peace partner' -- is a gangster and a liar who is just no
darn good. The whole situation is both sad and dangerous. This kind of
irrationality is bad enough in a relationship between two private
people. It can be disastrous if it dominates the national security
policy-making of a state."
- Douglas Feith, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
- How true this is today of the many, many Israelis who fiercely defend the peace process and the right of the
Palestinian Arabs to a state inside Israel despite the risk it poses to the Jews. Who can blame them? After
living their lives in a sea of hatred, daily hearing the threats to complete what Hitler began, repeatedly--every
year, every month, sometimes every day--seeing Jews killed at the hands of the threat-makers; they now are
offered hope in a different future. Who can blame them for grasping at it with both hands, or for slapping away
those who question "the peace"?
- Stan Goodenough, Canadian Friends of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem
- "The deception often worked because the Jews wanted to be deceived. They needed to have hope."
- Paul Johnson, in his book "A History of the Jews"
- Ashkenazi "Friareem": The Stairway to Heaven
The State of Israel, surrounded by the Arab world which on a daily basis threatens its destruction and on no fewer than three separate occasions has planned for and carried out full-scale attempts, lives in a state of perpetual fear and anxiety. It is quite understandable that elements in its population have tried to appease, and even identify with the Arab victimizers. This psychological response, a derivative of the Stockholm Syndrome, is not some random artifact, but an evolved survival mechanism. Historically, those that tried to appease aggressors were more likely to be spared, and those who truly identified with the aggressors, and suppressed the instinct for self-defense, personal liberty and self-respect, might be seen as being most deserving of all. Not all aggressors are made equal, however, and some do not respond well to groveling.
Ashkenazim, Jews from the European Diaspora, seem to have evolved such a strategy of appeasement as a means to pacify their Christian overlords. This strategy was often successful, as the Christians largely had no Edenistic motive for Jewish extermination. The Jewish communities would simply hand over their accumulated material possessions and agree to having been sinful, having been 'bad'. Such appeasement carried with it the hope of a better future, a utopian vision where the abusers would ultimately reciprocate love. A cultural, and perhaps even biological predisposition toward identification with those one feared, and self-indictment, was rewarded by survival, and its greater reproductive opportunities, during the 100 generations of the Diaspora.
Mizrakhim, Jews of the Arab/Muslim Diaspora, have not evolved such a strategy to cope with abuse [with certain exceptions]. Some have interpreted this observation as evidence that less abuse was directed at this group of Jews. However, there is substantial evidence suggesting that Dhimmis were brutalized often at the level of Ashkenazim, especially in the last 500 years. The difference between the two traumatized communities is that, for the Arabs/Muslims, self-indictment is a sign of weakness, as an exposed neck made for an easier target, and a quicker route to Paradise. Mizrakhim defended their communities when defense was possible, and tolerated such abuse only as a way to survive as a community long enough to find a means of defending against the abuse.
With the resurrection of the Jewish homeland, now behind the lines of the Arab empire, the Ashkenazim are faced with a different kind of oppression, one for which their Diaspora experience has ill-prepared them. Their strategy of appeasement is understandably confusing to their Mizrakhi brothers who know that appeasement is impossible when Paradise through Jihad is the goal. But the Ashkenazim are driven by a response to aggression molded by 100 generations of appeasement and self-indictment in order to placate those one feared - a response which is subconscious and instinctual, and not easily conquered.
Due to perhaps related circumstances, the Ashkenazim also distinguish themselves in Israel by being the most educated and wealthiest segment of the population. This status has given them disproportionate control over the decision-making processes, through which their instinct for appeasement dominates Israeli foreign policy. The Arabs have seized upon this opportunity to fool the Ashkenazim into thinking that what the Arabs desire is material: more land, more money, more water, more weapons, etc. History has taught most Mizrakhim something different; that material appeasement only serves to tilt the balance of power in the Arab favor, increasing the likelihood of more Jewish massacres, and therefore Muslim ascension to Paradise. This is a concept which most western-oriented people, since they tend to assume that their own system of ethics is universal, find difficult to comprehend, and therefore more likely to reject on an emotional level.
Israel's survival, therefore, depends on individual Mizrakhi advancement and on massive trauma therapy and educational efforts directed primarily at survivors of the European Diaspora both inside and outside of Israel. Because the goal is desirable and just, we encourage you to join us in the parallel pursuit of both of these strategies.
"We have witnessed a phenomenon which probably has no parallel in history; an emotional and moral identification by the majority of Israel's intelligentsia with people openly committed to our annihilation."
- Aharon Megged, Israeli novelist
- Excerpt from "Jews, Israelis and the
Psyche of the Abused"
by Dr. Kenneth Levin
in The Outpost, December, 1996 and January, 1997
"Subject to persecution over many centuries, Jews have inevitably developed, and displayed in their communal life, psychological stigmata of the chronically oppressed.... Generally ignored...is a fundamental psychological response to abuse that has figured prominently in Jewish communal history not only in the Diaspora but also in Israel, among Jews living under very different social and political conditions.
This response is one widely noted and studied in children subjected to early abuse and other traumas: An inclination to blame themselves for their misfortune. A recurrent theme in such children's comprehension of their trauma is that bad things have happened to them because they have been 'bad'.
...A similar tendencey to assume responsibility for their misfortunes and to cling to unrealistic images of transforming their predicaments by reforming themselves is a common theme among peoples subjected to abuse, and nowhere more so that among the Jews. That is, the varying responses of individual Jews and of Jewish communities to the bigotry and oppression encountered over the centuries have included a persistently recurring one of taking to heart the indictments of their persecutors and seeing self-reform as the path to relief.
....Indeed, so powerful has been this impulse among Jews that it has not only put its stamp on life in the Diaspora but has also proved to be a potent social and political factor in Israel, among Jews no longer living as a minority or sharing the millennia-old vagaries of life in exile.
....The mimicking by Israelis of the anti-Israeli litanies of the nation's enemies has become a prominent theme not only in particular political circles, but even more dramatically, among Israeli writers, artists, and academics.
...The self-indictment and the accompanying delusions about the wonderful things that will flow from penance and reform require not only distorting or denying realities of the present. They also require ignoring or distorting the past, creating a myth of Jewish original sin, in order to define and sustain the self-indictment....An extreme form of the indictment...is that the Jews colonized Arab land, and Israel's existence is itself sinful. A less extreme and more popular form, commonly mouthed by mainstream politicians, is that the Jews have a right to their state but that there was, in its creating, an inevitable injustice done to the other people who occupy this 'one land belonging to two peoples,' and that the Jewish sin lies in Israel's not sufficiently recognizing this other claim."
- Dr. Kenneth Levin is a Historian and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
- From the point of view of political analysis, what is of interest is the psychology of the enemies of life and the fascination they can exert.
- Jacques Givet, "The Anti-Zionist Complex"
- RELATED SECTIONS:
- WWW RESOURCES:
- BOOKS & PRINTED MATERIAL:
- The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege, by Kenneth Levin
[VIEW BOOK HERE]
- Captive Continent: The Stockholm Syndrome in European-Soviet Relations, by Philip Pilevsky
[VIEW BOOK HERE]
- Terrorists, Victims and Society: Psychological Perspectives on Terrorism and its Consequences, by Andrew Silke
[VIEW BOOK HERE]
- It Could Happen To Anyone: Why Battered Women Stay, by Alyce D. LaViolette, Ola W. Barnett
[VIEW BOOK HERE]
- Terrorism: Strategies for Intervention, by Harold V. Hall
[VIEW BOOK HERE]
- The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege, by Kenneth Levin