The Stockholm syndrome is very much real and imbues many relationships in the society, extending far beyond the context of bank heists. The syndrome covertly acts as an interpersonal glue in equity-lacking relationships where the dynamics between two persons are summed up as dominant vs recessive.
By the definition, a Stockholm syndrome refers to condition in which hostages develop a psychological alliance, in some cases a romantic feelings for their captors during the thrall (Jameson,2010). The bond forms during their intimate time together, but is considered irrational in light of the danger — as much as the case of ‘traumatic bonding’ , which is based on continuing cycles of abuse lead by intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment (Dutton & Painter,1981). The Stockholm syndrome is moreover portrayed as a psychological defense mechanism often seen among abuse victims, battered women, incest and cult survivors, a condition that flourishes under extreme conditions (Jeremiah & Methuselah,2014).
The key concept here is ‘irrational’ bonding, empathy and sympathy formation towards captor. Research findings support the notion that irrational beliefs in the mentally unstable individuals include low frustration tolerance, self-humiliation and negative emotions, furthermore serving as predicament of higher rates of perceived stress. In addition, studies found that cognitive variables, such as inconsistent control strategies, manifested in avoidance or excessive security seeking behavior, misinterpretation of maltreatment, and negative beliefs about the environment were found to be a significant predictors of the PTSD severity (Murdock,2012; Walsh et al.,2015; Dunmore et al.,2001). ‘Irrational’ implies the mental unsoundness and emphasizes the utterly illogical nature of phenomenon (contrary to reason),such as the incidence of facilitating emotional attachment to the captor — which rationally poses a threat to one’s wellbeing. This is very prominent in the cases of domestic abuse, where bystanders often fail to act and help victims, due to the mere observational fact that victims are not asking for help, nor are they attempting to leave their abuser.
What I want to say is that Stockholm syndrome extends beyond hijacking contexts, representing rather a feature of human mind to identify with abuser, more or less serving a purpose of coping or defense mechanism, and the instance of developing affection for the captor in context of hostage situation is too specific and overtly paradoxical for people to comprehend, thus the condition got a label ‘Stockholm syndrome’.
This state of self-deception is toxic in the long-run,as any other defense mechanisms which people exercise outside of acute adaptive time-frame. It is very prominent among the victims of abuse, although laic would say that the victim just ‘enjoys the attention’, it is completely wrong interpretation of the behavior where the victim takes an active part in victimization of self. As said it is a part of self-deceptive defense mechanism, where the subject,so to speak, ‘trips’ her/himself into irrational explanation for perpetrator’s behavior-or blames him/herself for it, thus providing the excuse for the punishment, executed by the perpetrator. In case of minors, especially young children, where their cognitive development is still in process and abstract thought needs some decade to unfold, the abusive experience cannot be fully integrated, even understood in terms of good or bad. This is the reason why children often employ the defense mechanisms such as imagination, dissociation and repression(Klufts,1995; Fisler&Kolk,1995; APA,2019) ; the feelings of trauma are too powerful and overwhelming to cope with, thus escapism is the only viable option.
Moreover, there is an instance of political Stockholm syndrome, in form of ‘colonial mentality’, referring to internalized oppression as a consequence of transgenerational effects of colonialism which instigate collective state of depression and anxiety in post-colonial times. For instance, Fanon (1965) proposed that colonialism’s systematic repudiation and pervasive denial of colonized group’s humanity often leads to self-doubt, identity confusion and feelings of inferiority among the victims. Moreover, Memmi (1965) via observing Tunisia and Algeria in context of colonization, noted that colonized person may eventually adopt an identity which is consistent with the colonizers’ stereotyped perceptions of the colonized. In addition, this process combined with inferior connotations attached to their cultural and ethnic features, grows into intense desire of the colonized individual to distance him/herself from such mythical, stereotypical and inferior identities, attempting to become as much like the colonizer as possible(Freire,1970). In response to this, oppressors rape and exploit by the virtue of their power, impose their dominance, and in the lack of resistance, as much as understanding of the victims’ position, their oppressive libido expands. Some (Western) scholars explain,or so to speak –euphemize this type of (oppressed) behavior and un-compromised cultural unity, in terms of ‘syncretism’; (forced) amalgamation of different religions, cultures and traditions, opposing schools of thought and viewpoints, with aim of fighting the common (propagated) enemy.
Comparing the so-called Stockholm syndrome and the aforementioned instance of abuse, the similarity is uncanny. Now, what I want to propose is that the relationship between individuals doesn’t need to be extreme and violent for discussed psychological phenomena to occur ,such as the case of domestic/sexual abuse or captivity; rather it can be any interpersonal relationship where one side is dominant and the other is submissive/recessive, such as the one between owner and the dog. We will never know what the dog actually thinks or how he rather perceives the master, yet we can infer that he is ‘a man’s best friend’-is he? Or maybe he is just stuck in the perpetual state of Stockholm syndrome. Like the next door battered wife, the exploited children from Venezuela’s human trafficking and child tourism gigs (UNODC,2014), brain-washed lower-strata members of ISIS (Mogghadam,2005),or Daesh,if you want; residents of Falkland Islands, euphemistically called ‘well-fare recipients’ (BBC,2013;Freire,1970);some 3,000,000 prostitutes from Democratic republic of Congo (UNAIDS,2016),passive naïve-idealists who favor dictatorship (autocracy if you like) because they are lazy to participate in decision-making, lack critical logic and are afraid of responsibility; along with virtually everyone who fails to recognize the extent of mass brainwashing and rather takes on subconscious escapistic burlesque. In his lifework, Freire (1970) corroborated this by emphasizing the oppressed group’s defense mechanism of internalization (of oppressor’s image) and adopting their guidelines, making them fearful of freedom, which would, if acted upon, require the oppressed group to dismiss this imposed image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Author argues that freedom is not idea, nor construct, rather condition which can be acquired through persistent and responsibly carried out conquest.
Not to be confused, my proposition is not that the mainspring of victim’s mentality is inherent human weakness to resist authority and violent manipulation, imposed power and ostensible democracy, but rather pervasive victimization, ranging from individual at a gun point to whole nation under the media censorship, which manifests in a manner of dose-response model of PTSD,supported by findings such as the one on Cambodian survivors of mass violence (Mollica et al.,1999), which reverberates throughout decades, ultimately culminating in a form of unhealthy and resistant to change catastrophe — traumatic bonding (Painter,1981).
There wouldn’t be any point in addressing these issues without ending the line with potential social remedy and prescriptive approach. I will reflect upon Freire’s (1970) elaboration of how dehumanization can be counteracted, rooted on premise that dehumanization as a distortion of being human necessarily leads to oppressed party seeking resistance against the perpetrators, and for this struggle to yield positive outcome, oppressed must not employ the same weapons as the oppressors, in order to regain their humanity.Rather seek to simultaneously liberate both parties. One way to do it is continuous and self-imposed change of mentality, subsequently projecting onto a situation. Only then pacification and restoration of humanity is possible.