What is Stockholm syndrome?

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological condition where a kidnap victim develops positive feelings about his or her kidnapper. The name of the syndrome was coined by noted criminologist Nils Bejerot. The condition appears in a hostage when he or she feels the kidnapper is showing kindness to him or her.

The condition gets its name from the infamous bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. The robbery occurred in the Swedish bank Kreditbanken in 1973. Two armed men, Olsson and Olofsson, had held four bank employees as hostage for six days. When rescue attempts were made at the end of the sixth day, the kidnapped people sided with their captors. They tried to thwart rescue attempts. Even after the kidnappers surrendered and were sentenced to imprisonment, the captors tried to save them. They tried to raise money for the court proceedings and save their kidnappers from harsh sentences. It was also said that one of the captives secretly got engaged to one of the captors.

How common is Stockholm syndrome?

There have been many instances when Stockholm syndrome was found in abducted people. Here are some popular cases where symptoms of Stockholm syndrome had been clearly visible.

  • Heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the political outfit Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974. Later, she became a member of the group and also assisted them in bank robberies.
  • In 1998, a ten-year-old girl Natascha Kampusch was kidnapped in Austria. She came back in 2006. She had escaped when her kidnapper was unmindful. As per her own admission, she was kept locked in a cell for eight years. But she told about her abductor in golden terms.
  • In 2003, a 15-year-old girl named Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped by a self-proclaimed priest living in Salt Lake City. She came back home after nine months. Psychologists say that she could have escaped long ago if she had not identified herself with her captor.

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of Stockholm syndrome?

Some of the well-known symptoms of Stockholm syndrome are:

  • Showing admiration for the abductors
  • Resisting rescue attempts
  • Defending kidnappers
  • Trying to please abductors
  • Refusal to testify against captors
  • Refusal to run away from abductors

Symptoms of Stockholm syndrome have also been identified in the slave/master relationship, in battered-spouse cases and in members of destructive cults.

In order for Stockholm syndrome to occur in any given situation, at least three traits must be present:

  • A severely uneven power relationship in which the captor dictates what the prisoner can and cannot do
  • The threat of death or physical injury to the prisoner at the hands of the captor
  • A self-preservation instinct on the part of the prisoner

Included in these traits are the prisoner’s belief (correct or incorrect, it doesn’t matter) that he or she cannot escape, which means that survival must occur within the rules set by the all-powerful captor; and the prisoner’s isolation from people not being held by the captors, which prohibits any outside view of the captors from infringing on the psychological processes that lead to Stockholm syndrome.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you or your loved one has any signs or symptoms listed above or you have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes Stockholm syndrome?

The exact reason behind this psychological condition is very complicated. Over the years, eminent psychiatrists and criminologists have pinned down several factors. These are believed to be the causes of Stockholm syndrome. This particular condition is supposed to appear when:

  • Hostages feel their kidnapper is doing them a favor by not taking their life. This immediately makes them see their captor in a more positive light.
  • The kidnapped people are treated in a sympathetic manner by their captors. When captors provide their victims with a good living environment, the hostages begin to see them more favorably. Normally, kidnapers are expected to treat their victims very harshly. Cruel behavior generates hatred. A kinder treatment does just the opposite.
  • The captive ones are isolated from the outside world. This makes them see the viewpoint of their kidnappers. They begin to understand the circumstances that may have forced the captor to commit the crime. As a result, they try to help their kidnapper and become sympathetic to them and their causes.
  • The kidnapped people begin to develop a physical or emotional attachment with their abductors. Living together for many days can bring two different persons together. They can start sharing their common interests.
  • The abducted people develop a habit of pleasing their kidnappers. At first, this is a necessity. The kidnapped ones are forced to side with their abductors to escape harsh treatment or even murder. But when it becomes a habit, it may stay on even in the absence of the force that caused it.
  • The abducted ones develop a sort of dependence on their abductors. This especially happens when the abductors have no close family member to go back to. In case the abductor has murdered his/her relatives, the victim feels helpless and needs the abductor for food and shelter. This becomes a necessity even when there is no threat from the part of the abductor.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for Stockholm syndrome?

Please consult with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is Stockholm syndrome diagnosed?

Please consult with your doctor for further information.

How is Stockholm syndrome treated?

Stockholm syndrome is typically regarded as a condition that develops from extreme stress and fear. The most effective cure for it is counselling by psychiatrists and the love and support of family members. With loving support, expert guidance and patience, Stockholm syndrome can be rooted out after a point of time.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Stockholm syndrome?

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: March 23, 2018 | Last Modified: March 23, 2018

Want to live your best life?
Get the Hello Doktor Daily newsletter for health tips, wellness updates and more.