At 10:15 A.M. on Thursday, August 23rd, 1973 the "Sveriges Kreditbank" of Stockholm, Sweden was rocked by sub-machine gun fire.(1) "The party has just begun", announced a 32 year old prison escapee named Jan-Erik Olsson. "The party", indeed, continued for some 131 hours, or five and a half days, as Olsson held four of the bank's employees hostage in an 11 by 47 foot vault until late in the evening of August 28th.
While the "Sveriges Kreditbank" robbery itself may not have been of world shattering importance, later interviews with the four hostages yielded surprising results -- results that have been confirmed in numerous other "hostage situations" in the years that followed. Even though the captives themselves were not able to explain it, they displayed a strange association with their captors, identifying with them while fearing those who sought to end their captivity. In some cases they later testified on behalf of or raised money for the legal defense of their captors. The Swedish location of the "Sveriges Kreditbank" gave its name to this mental aberration as "The Stockholm Syndrome".
Long-term psychological study of this and similar hostage situations has defined a fairly clear and characteristic set of symptoms for the Stockholm Syndrome:
The captives begin to identify with their captors. At least at first this is a defensive mechanism, based on the (often unconscious) idea that the captor will not hurt the captive if he is cooperative and even positively supportive. The captive seeks to win the favor of the captor in an almost childlike way.
The captive often realizes that action taken by his would-be rescuers is very likely to hurt him instead of obtaining his release. Attempts at rescue may turn a presently tolerable situation into a lethal one. If the bullets of the authorities don't get him, quite possibly those of the provoked captor will.
Long term captivity builds even stronger attachment to the captor as he becomes known as a human being with his own problems and aspirations. Particularly in political or ideological situations, longer captivity also allows the captive to become familiar with the captor's point of view and the history of his grievances against authority. He may come to believe that the captor's position is just.
The captive seeks to distance himself emotionally from the situation by denial that it is actually taking place. He fancies that "it is all a dream", or looses himself in excessive periods of sleep, or in delusions of being magically rescued. He may try to forget the situation by engaging in useless but time consuming "busy work". Depending on his degree of identification with the captor he may deny that the captor is at fault, holding that the would-be rescuers and their insistence on punishing the captor are really to blame for his situation.