Stockholm Syndrome (With 5 Chilling Examples)

Stockholm syndrome – A psychological response where a captive identifies with his or her captors, as well as their demands. This strategy is formed as a survival technique and it is generally considered dangerous to the victim. According to the FBI Hostage Barricade Database System, it shows 8% of victims display evidence of Stockholm syndrome.

Where did Stockholm syndrome originate from?


The origin of Stockholm syndrome derives from a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973; there were 4 hostages that were held for 6 days. Throughout the 6 days, the hostages were defending their captor’s actions. Months after the incident the hostages were loyal to their captors and even refused to testify against them in court, helping them to raise funds for legal representation.

Who coined the term Stockholm syndrome?

Dr. Frank Ochberg

The phrase Stockholm syndrome was coined by a criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot. In the 1970’s Dr. Frank Ochberg defined the syndrome for the FBI and Scotland Yard. At the time Dr. Frank worked with the US National Task Force on Terrorism and Disorder to help them with strategies in hostage’s situations.

The basic criteria of Stockholm Syndrome by DR. Frank is:

“First people would experience something terrifying that just comes out at them out of the blue. They are certain they are going to die.”

“Then they experience a type of infantilization – where, like a child, they are unable to eat, speak or go to the toilet without permission.”

“The hostages experience a powerful, primitive positive feeling towards their captor. They are in denial that this is the person who put them in that situation. In their mind, they think this is the person who is going to let them live.”

This is why the hostage takes a primitive gratitude for the gift of life, and such as being given food. According to sources, Dr. Frank believes cases of Stockholm syndrome are rare.

Views of Stockholm Syndrome by other experts

Anna Freud, the daughter of the famous Sigmund Freud was a psychologist in the 20th century and her observation of Stockholm syndrome was the identification with an aggressor or the way a person copes with fear by transforming oneself from the threatened person to the threatening one.

She considered Stockholm syndrome as a defense mechanism to give power in a situation which is likely to be terrifying.

Hugh McGowan who was in the New York Police Department for 35 years also said he rarely encountered Stockholm syndrome cases.

Hugh was the commanding officer and chief negotiator of the Hostage Negotiation team that was set up in April 1973.  He said, “I would be hard pressed to say that it exists, sometimes in the field of psychology people are looking for cause and effect when it isn’t there.”

“Stockholm was a unique situation. It occurred around the time when we were starting to see more hostage situations and maybe people didn’t want to take away something that we might see again.”

Hugh did acknowledge that Stockholm syndrome did gain popularity for bringing psychology and policing together in the field of hostage negotiating.

The bond between captor and hostage only takes days to form and it proves the victim’s desire to survive is bigger than to hate for the person who creates the situation. The hostage also becomes hypervigilant to the needs and demands of their captors and makes psychological links between their captor’s happiness and their own.

There is a negative attitude when then authorities threaten the relationship between the hostage and the captor. A negative attitude is powerful where the hostage is of no need to the captor’s and only use them as leverage, especially in cases of political hostages.

According to some sources, there is a link between brainwashing and Stockholm syndrome and in some cases, the causes and symptoms are the same. In 1982, Thomas Robbins and Dick Anthony studied a similar condition called destructive cult disorder their study concluded that the potential risks of brainwashing were high. They say brainwashing’s media attention during this time resulted in the reception of Stockholm syndrome as a psychological condition.

There are no accepted diagnostic criteria to identify Stockholm syndrome; it is also called the terror bonding or trauma bonding. It is not in either of the two psychiatric manuals, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the International Statically Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.

Who gets Stockholm syndrome?

During the many years of study, psychologists have expanded their understanding of Stockholm syndrome and include victims of:

Domestic Violence Victims – It is when a woman have a dependency on her partner and stay with him while he abuses her, she would rather feel empathy than anger.

Cult Members – People build strong and unbreakable relationships with cult leaders and shut off all reason of rationality and the freedom of thought.  Because people have a longing to believe and have a sense of belonging they, would defend their leader to the death.

Prisoners of War – They go through the post-traumatic stress and feel grateful to their captors for sparing them from death rather than for the police for helping them.

Procured Prostitutes – These girls are sexually exploited by their pimps and endure years of mental and sexual abuse, they become dependent on the pimps and do not turn against them out of skewed misplaced affection.

Abused Children – When parents emotionally and physically abuse their children, the children will act protective of them and would not speak out about or would lie about their situation.

What causes Stockholm syndrome?

The exact reason for the condition is complicated and through the years many different physiatrists and psychologists have put together several causes of Stockholm syndrome.

The victim feels grateful to their captors for sparing their life and it makes them see the captor in a positive light.

When a person is in an uneven power relationship and there is only one person in charge.

Self-preservation is a motivator for the victim.

Acts of goodwill and kindness from the captor generate a sense of empathy from the victim.

When the victim is isolated from the outside world they begin to understand the circumstance that has motivated the captor to commit the crime, and would sometimes try to help their captors.

Victims can form physical and emotional attachments to their captors as a result of living together for many days and can even start to share the common interest and ideas of the captor.

The victims can develop a habit of pleasing their captor, and at first, it is a necessity but, when it becomes a habit they continue even after their captor is captured by the police.

When a victim has no family members to go back to they develop a sense of dependence on their captors, the victim feels helpless and are in need of food and shelter.

With no way out and no chance of survival, the victim needs to build a relationship of trust with their captor.

What are the Symptoms of Stockholm syndrome?

The victims can resist rescue from the authorities, which makes it difficult to capture the captors as the victims would often help them escape.

Sometimes it is difficult to put the captors in prison as the victims refuse to testify against them.

A Victim refuses to run away from the captors and would rather choose to stay with them and feel the rest of the world has turned against them.

Victims become attached and develop love and admiration towards their captors.

Victims do not believe they have been emotionally abused and therefore will not accept therapy or help.

The Physical and Psychological Effects of Stockholm syndrome

Cognitive: Confusion, blurred memory, refusal accepting reality, recurring flashbacks.

Emotional: Lack of feeling, fear, helplessness, hopelessness, aggression, guilt, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Social: Anxious, irritable, cautions, estrangement.

Physical: Increase of pre-existing conditions, development of health conditions due to restrictions of food, sleep or exposure to the outdoors.

What is the treatment for Stockholm syndrome?

Stockholm syndrome develops from acute stress, fear and separates the victim from their relatives and loved ones. The victims need medical counseling from a psychiatrist and continual love and support from their friends and family. With the correct attitude and support, Stockholm syndrome can be beaten.

Examples of famous Stockholm syndrome cases:

Mary McElroy

Mary McElroy- image Source :

Mary McElroy 25 was kidnapped in 1933; she was the daughter of Kansas politician Henry McElroy.

Mary was taken while having a bubble bath when her captors pointed a sawed-off shotgun at her and ordered her to get dressed. They took her to a farmhouse where she was chained up. They demanded 60 thousand dollars for her release. Mary was held for 34 hours when her father and the captors agreed on 30 thousand dollars for her release.

Mary was released unharmed near Millburn Golf Course. Three of the four men were captured. Walter McGee was sentenced to death, George McGee received life in prison and Clarence Click received 8 years in prison. Mary said they cared well for her they, even gave her flowers. Mary publically sympathized with them when they were sentenced. She asked her father to reduce Walter’s sentence to life imprison, and he did.

Mary was so guilt-ridden about their sentences that she continued to visit them during their prison sentences and brought them gifts. After her parents died her mental state collapsed and on the 21st of April 1940 she committed suicide by shooting herself in the with a pistol. Her suicide letter said, “My four kidnappers are probably the four people on earth who don’t consider me an utter fool.”

Colleen Stan

Colleen Stan – Image Source:

In 1977, 20-year-old Colleen Stan hitchhiked to a friend’s party in California. Colleen was picked up by a husband and wife Cameron and Jan Hooker, Colleen accepted the ride as she felt safe when she saw the baby seat in the back.

Cameron drove to a deserted area, held a knife at Colleen’s throat, raped and tortured her. Cameron built Colleen a coffin which she lived in for 22 to 23 hours a day. She was renamed K and was repeatedly called a piece of furniture, he told her he worked for ‘The Company’ and that they would hurt her if she did not obey him.

To test her loyalty he handed her a gun and told her to pull the trigger, she did but there were no bullets in the gun. After four years, in 1981 he took her to visit her family for one night. Colleen did not tell her family anything and went back to her coffin and sexual abuse. After 8 years of mentally and physically abusing Colleen, Jan had a change of heart and helped Colleen escape.

Cameron was captured by police and charged with kidnapping and torture and received 104 years in prison on the 22nd of November 1985.

Patty Hearst

Patty Hearst – image source Wikipedia

The California newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974. At the time Patty was 19 years old. After 2 months of being captured, she helped them rob a bank in San Francisco. Later a video emerged where she denounced her family and went under a new name Tania. She had sympathy for her captors and voiced her support for the SLA cause.

Patty was arrested in 1975 and in her testimony, she said she was bound, blindfolded and kept in a small dark closet where she was physically and sexually abused weeks before the bank robbery. Her lawyer said she suffered from Stockholm syndrome and her actions were a subconscious effort to survive. She did receive a 7 year sentence which was later commuted and she was presidentially pardoned by Bill Clinton. Patty is the granddaughter of publisher William Randolph Hearst.

Natasha Kampusch

Natasha Kampusch – image Source Pintrest

On the 2nd of March 1998, 10-year-old Natasha from Vienna was kidnapped by two men while walking to school. After exhausting efforts of the police, they could find any trace of Natasha. She was held in a soundproof, windowless cellar beneath the garage of Wolfgang Priklopil. After a while, she was permitted to the main house to cook and clean for Wolfgang. He left her alone in the house when he went to work.

Wolfgang controlled her by being nice to her and then to beat, rape and starve her to ensure she would be weak. To ensure she would not try to escape he rigged all the doors and windows with explosives; they would have breakfast together every day and would sometimes take walks in the garden.

Natasha remained Wolfgang’s captive for 8 years and in August 2006, when she was 18 she voluntarily walk away from him. Once Wolfgang heard she was in police protection he knew he would go to prison and decided to avoid prison by jumping in front of a moving train, he died instantly.

When Natasha heard about his death she cried inconsolably and lit a candle at the morgue for him, she said: “I feel sorrier for him, he’s a poor soul.”

She sat at his coffin for hours and years after her ordeal she still carried a photo of him in her wallet. Natasha is often one of the examples used when one studies for psychiatry in the division of Stockholm syndrome. She would often lash out against people labeling her under Stockholm syndrome as she said they did not understand her relationship with Wolfgang.

Elizabeth Smart

Elizabeth Smart – image Source Wikipedia

On the 5th of June 2002 Elizabeth 14, was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City Utah. She was taken into the woods by Brian Mitchell where he and his wife Wanda Barzee made Elizabeth undress. In a ceremony held by him and his wife he got married to Elizabeth and raped her, and for nine months she was their captive while they moved across the country. They chained her to trees and starved her for days at a time while he raped her repeatedly. Brian made her into a submissive prisoner who followed orders well.

Elizabeth would go to the shops, talk to police officers and to the library without revealing her identity. The three of them lived in California but, they decide to move back to Utah where they were recognized and Brain and Wanda was arrested.

After a while and with a lot of convincing Elizabeth did eventually testify against them, Brian received life in prison and Wanda 15 years. Elizabeth did say that she could have escaped if she wanted to but she did not take the opportunity.

The Cleveland Captives

During 2002 and 2004, Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, and Gina DeJesus all went missing. They were taken by Ariel Castro and were held in a house in a Cleveland suburb.

Ariel had a daughter with Amanda and forced Michelle to have 5 miscarriages by beating her. The three women had formed a strong bond and Michelle helped Amanda to deliver her baby with no medical equipment or expertise.

One day in 2013, after being missing for 10 years Amanda phoned the police to report herself and the other two women found.

Elizabeth Fritzl

Elizabeth Fritzl

Her father Joseph held her captive under the family home in a dungeon-like basement for 24 years; she was 18 when he took her captive. Joseph fathered seven children with her; during these years he repeatedly raped, beat her and left her for days without food. Joseph took 3 of her 7 children away from her which she never saw; they lived in the house above where he and his wife raised them.

Elizabeth had to take care of 4 children and had to give them her food so that they could eat. She endured heavy beatings from Joseph when she protected them because he wanted to rape them. There were no windows and her children never saw sunlight before they were released and they were restricted to two small rooms. After pleading with her father to seek medical help for one of her children they were found and her father was arrested and received life in prison.

Jaycee Lee Dugard

Jaycee was 11 when she was taken from her home; her stepfather witnessed the kidnapping but, was unable to catch up to the car and even with the police searches they could not find her. Jaycee was taken by Phillip Garrido, he forced her to live in a shed in his yard which he shared with his wife Nancy. Phillip repeatedly raped Jaycee and his wife also took part in abusing her.

Phillip fathered two children by Jaycee who was born without any medical help and she had to homeschool them through educational television programs.

When she was older she helped Phillip and Nancy with their business by answering calls and emails.

After 18 years the police spotted her, it took some time and grilling from the police before she revealed her identity. Jaycee believed her relationship to Phillip was like a normal marriage and many people believe she was silent out of fear her children.


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