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Stockholm Syndrome

When we hear the term Stockholm Syndrome, we associate it with captivity. It is the strong emotional tie between the captor and the captive during detention. The term became known after a failed bank robbery in central Stockholm, Sweden in 1973.


On 23 August 1973, Jan-Erik Olsson attempted to rob Kreditbanken, a local bank in Norrmalmstorg. The Swedish police responded immediately and two of them went inside. But Olsson opened fire at the police injuring the hand of one policeman.

Olsson ordered the other policeman to sit on a chair and sing something. Then he took four people as hostages. He demanded the following as ransom: (1) the presence of his friend Clark Olofsson, (2) 3 million Swedish kronor, (3) two guns, (4) bulletproof vests, (5) helmets, and (6) a car. Olsson and Olofsson held the hostages captive from 23 August to 28 August in one of the bank’s vaults.

On 26 August, the police drilled a hole into the main vault from the apartment above. From this hole, the police took a picture of the hostages with Olofsson. The said picture circulated in the news. Olsson fired through this hole and threatened to kill the hostages if the police would attempt any gas attack.

But on 28 August, the police used gas to attack and after half an hour, Olsson and Olofsson surrendered. None of the hostages sustained permanent injuries.

But what was strange was none of these hostages would testify against Olsson and Olofsson in court. Instead they began raising money for their captors’ defense.

The Trial

Both Olsson and Olofsson were charged, convicted, and sentenced to extended prison terms. Olsson was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The hostages claimed they were more frightened of the police than the robbers during their six days of confinement. They sympathized with their captors, which has led to academic interest in the matter.

The police asked criminologist Nils Bejerot for help with analyzing the event. At that time, the idea of brainwashing was not a new concept. Bejerot called the hostages’ reactions “Norrmalmstorgssyndromet” (Swedish), [translated as The Norrmalmstorg Syndrome]. The term later became known around the world as the Stockholm Syndrome.

Aftermath and Unanswered Questions

Stockholm syndrome became an topic of debate in behavioral science. The public expected fear and disdain towards the captors. Yet, the captives’ reaction was the opposite. Why?

According to psychologists, here are the events that lead to Stockholm Syndrome:

  • The absence of a previous captor-captive relationship.
  • The captive’s change of feelings from hostile to positive feelings towards the captor.
  • The captive’s belief in the humanity of the captor and begins to see the captor as no threat.
  • The captive’s refusal to cooperate with police and other government authorities.

Many law enforcers doubt the legitimacy of this condition. They believe that it is a result of survival instincts. The captive’s need to survive is stronger than his impulse to hate the captor. It becomes a form of defense mechanism of the ego under stress.

The Patty Hearst kidnapping in 1974 and Yvonne Ridley’s captivity in 2001 are other examples of the Stockholm Syndrome. Even the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast exemplifies this kind of behavior.

Stockholm syndrome is not limited to kidnappings or hostage instances. The captor-captive relationship has extended to a variety of situations. This includes domestic or child abuse, human trafficking, incest, war imprisonment, political terrorism, cult membership, slavery, and prostitution.

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