Where Does the Term "Stockholm Syndrome" Come From?

A person who develops feelings for their captor suffers from Stockholm syndrome. But why is that syndrome named after the Swedish capital?

The name Stockholm syndrome came about when Swedish Janne Olsson escaped from prison in 1973 and took four bank employees hostage in a Stockholm bank. His first demand was that his prison buddy Clark Olofsson be released from prison, and allowed to join the party. The two criminals held the bank employees hostage in a bank vault for six days until police overpowered them.

You would say that such an experience doesn't go easy on you. At the very least, you would want to give your captors a good whipping. But strangely enough, the hostages turned out to have developed positive feelings for their captors after their release. Stockholm syndrome was born.

Stockholm syndrome is not an official diagnosis

Although the name has gained considerable currency since then, Stockholm syndrome is not an official diagnosis. It is more of a term used by the media to describe cases like the one above. What is the meaning of Stockholm syndrome? Researchers at the Royal Free and University College Medical School (UK) analyzed several cases and saw that the term was used when the same four things happened: victims were directly threatened, isolated, did not use an opportunity to escape, and sympathized with their captors.

How does Stockholm syndrome occur?

Psychologist and emeritus professor at the University of Cincinnati (USA) Dee Graham also studied Stockholm syndrome. She found that victims are more likely to sympathize with their captors if they feel that their lives depend on them. Friendly hostage-taker behavior also plays a role, such as if they feed their captors, or won't hurt them. In addition, victims must be completely isolated and feel they cannot escape.

What also helps: being a hostage first threatened with death, and then staying alive. Then there can be a sense of gratitude. If the victims then also learn how to respond to the behavior of their captors, and understand that being compliant keeps them alive, that is a perfect breeding ground for Stockholm syndrome. It seems that Stockholm syndrome is a coping strategy, a way to keep yourself alive.

Little research has been done on Stockholm syndrome

This is all expert speculation, by the way. Because as mentioned, Stockholm syndrome is not an official diagnosis. So you cannot determine by certain criteria that someone suffers from the syndrome, although there are certainly parallels to be found among the cases described by the media as Stockholm syndrome. But real scientific research is lacking as yet.