STOCKHOLM SYNDROME – Bonding with Captors: True Stories of a Psychological Phenomenon
In the spring of 1998, a ten year old girl was abducted on her way to school by two men in Donaustadt, Vienna. She was held captive by a sexual predator for eight years before finally making a daring, impromptu escape from her makeshift prison in her captor’s cellar. When she heard the news that her former captor had committed suicide, she mourned his loss as though she were grieving the death of an old friend.
In the fall of 2001, a British journalist was captured by Islamic terrorists and held captive for eleven days at their compound in Afghanistan. During her ordeal, she rightly believed that any moment could be her last. Terrorist prisoners rarely ever see freedom again following their capture, so when they uncharacteristically agreed to release her from captivity, she immediately fled home without hesitation. Upon her arrival on home soil, she converted from Christianity to Islam as a way to honour those who held her hostage.
These bizarre instances, whilst rare, are a psychological phenomenon known as Stockholm syndrome.
It is a trope we’ve seen in movies and TV shows a thousand times before. A beautiful women will be taken prisoner by hostile forces, only for a genuine affection between hostage and captor to manifest. Usually, there is an underlying narrative in these types of stories which always result in good triumphing over evil, perhaps in the form of the hostile captor seeing the error of his ways and setting his prisoner free. Or, in some stories, the hostage is simply manipulating their captor in order to aid their eventual escape.
However, the reality of these circumstances is never quite so simple.