Analysis / Stockholm Syndrome


Some psychologists suggest Stockholm Syndrome has its roots in childhood identification with a powerful parent.

It's also speculated to be a remnant of something that evolved in humanity's tribal past — women and children captured in raids, if they were able to switch allegiance to that of their captors, survived longer and reproduced.

Another theory is that under extreme stress, people interpret even the most basic acts of preservation as a rewarding event, such as the chance to drink water or use the bathroom — even if it is in irrelevant amounts or it comes from the person who's causing said stress to begin with.


In Real Life, there are specific conditions for the Stockholm Syndrome to kick in.note  The two most important are:

  1. The situation takes a long time to be resolved and
  2. The captor must show the captive some form of kindness.

Keep in mind that since Stockholm is a mental condition, the conditions are subject to interpretation by the captive. They may for example, interpret simple conventional acts, like the same person bringing food, as kindness. News of how the negotiations are going can also be interpreted as kindness. The isolation may only last a day or two, but to the captive it feels like a long time.

After looking into cases involving the Stockholm Syndrome, some psychologists have summed up the necessary conditions for triggering the Stockholm Syndrome into four:

  1. The captive is otherwise isolated with little to no interaction with anybody but their captor(s).
  2. The captor(s) has full power over the victim's freedom and life in the duration of isolation.
  3. The isolation lasts for a relatively long period of time, or the victim feels that it lasts for a long period of time.
  4. The captor(s) has shown the captive some form of kindness to the victim in the duration of isolation, or some act that the victim interprets as kindness — in the mind of a captive desperate to survive, the simple act of not killing them can be interpreted this way.

(Note that there are still questions about whether is it necessary for the captor(s) to even present themself to the victim during conditions 2 and 4 in order to trigger the syndrome.)

Another common factor is that, if negotiations seem extremely long and drawn out, or if a kidnapping victim feels the police aren't really trying to find them, the captive will begin to feel frustration and some resentment towards the people trying to rescue them — and the captor often has similar feelings towards the same party. Sharing their frustrations in conversation may become a bonding point between captor and captive, and a feeling of camaraderie may form — obviously, both want the situation to be over as quickly and with as little difficulty on either part as possible.

A common misconception is that it is impossible to develop Stockholm Syndrome if you know about it. The logic is that if ignorance is not present, there is a high chance that a captive will be able to resist any affection. The truth is that, while it may help delay the onset, it won't make it impossible. Stockholm Syndrome develops when the captive interprets some of the captor's actions or lack of specific actions as kindness. Those actions and avoided actions can include not killing anyone, not hurting anyone, staying one's hand before an act of violence, telling the captives how negotiations for their freedom are going, actively trying to keep everyone calm, or even a brief conversation (especially one where the captor's side of the story is voiced).

Because the process is entirely subconscious on the captive's part, it is unlikely they will realize they are developing Stockholm Syndrome, so even if they know about it, the captive is not immune. In fact knowing about it and believing you are immune may increase the risk because you may feel more comfortable around your captors. However, if the captive knows how Stockholm Syndrome develops, that person would be more capable of actively resisting it through various methods, and perhaps trying to make their captors succumb to a little Lima Syndrome themselves — deliberately encouraging their captor to tell their side of the story, or prompting gradual interaction between captor and captive — although actively trying to make your captor feel sympathetic for you is risky, as you may unwittingly succumb to Stockholm Syndrome in the process, or alternatively somebody could get shot.

Additionally, if you're planning to kidnap somebody — I mean, write about kidnapping somebody — one way to encourage this in your captives is to be their sympathetic jailor for several days running, until they are accustomed to you, then swap out for a day to a random, less sympathetic jailor. Then come back, preferably with a reason that blames the "rescuers". They'll be very glad to see you again. Again, be careful or you'll fall prey to Lima Syndrome if it fails.note