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'Stockholm syndrome': Psychiatric diagnosis or urban myth?

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'Stockholm syndrome' is a term used to describe the positive bond some kidnap victims develop with their captor. High-profile cases are reported by the media although the diagnosis is not described in any international classification system. Here we review the evidence base on 'Stockholm syndrome'. Databases (PubMED, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL) were systematically searched. We compared features of cases widely reported in the English language media to identify common themes which may form a recognizable syndrome. We identified 12 papers that met inclusion criteria. The existing literature consists mostly of case reports; furthermore there is ambiguity in the use of the term. No validated diagnostic criteria have been described. Four common features were found between the five cases studied. There is little published academic research on 'Stockholm syndrome' although study of media reports reveals similarities between well publicized cases. This may be due to reporting and publication bias.
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Review
ÔStockholm syndromeÕ: psychiatric diagnosis
or urban myth?
Introduction
The term ÔStockholm syndromeÕ, eponymously
named after a failed bank robbery in Stockholm,
Sweden, has been used to describe the positive
emotional bond a kidnap victim may develop
towards their captor. It is speculated that this bond
develops as part of the victimÕs defence mechanism
to allow them to sympathize with their captor,
leading to an acceptance of the situation, limiting
Namnyak M, Tufton N, Szekely R, Toal M, Worboys S, Sampson EL.
ÔStockholm syndromeÕ: psychiatric diagnosis or urban myth?
Objective: ÔStockholm syndromeÕis a term used to describe the positive
bond some kidnap victims develop with their captor. High-profile cases
are reported by the media although the diagnosis is not described in
any international classification system. Here we review the evidence
base on ÔStockholm syndromeÕ.
Method: Databases (PubMED, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL)
were systematically searched. We compared features of cases widely
reported in the English language media to identify common themes
which may form a recognizable syndrome.
Results: We identified 12 papers that met inclusion criteria. The
existing literature consists mostly of case reports; furthermore there is
ambiguity in the use of the term. No validated diagnostic criteria have
been described. Four common features were found between the five
cases studied.
Conclusion: There is little published academic research on ÔStockholm
syndromeÕalthough study of media reports reveals similarities between
well publicized cases. This may be due to reporting and publication
bias.
M. Namnyak, N. Tufton, R. Szekely,
M. Toal, S. Worboys,
E. L. Sampson
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences,
Hampstead Campus, Royal Free and University College
Medical School, London, UK
Key words: ÔStockholm syndromeÕ; review, systematic;
hostage; mass media
Elizabeth L Sampson, Department of Psychiatry and
Behavioural Sciences, Hampstead Campus, Royal Free
and University College Medical School, Rowland Hill
Street, London, NW3 2PF, UK.
E-mail: e.sampson@medsch.ucl.ac.uk
Accepted for publication September 21, 2007
Summations
ÔStockholm syndromeÕis commonly used by media sources as a term to describe the positive bond a
kidnap victim develops towards their captor.
No validated diagnostic criteria for ÔStockholm syndromeÕhave been described; existing literature is
of limited research value and does little to support ÔStockholm syndromeÕas a psychiatric diagnosis.
Analysis of cases widely reported in the media reveals four common features in victims of ÔStockholm
syndromeÕ; each victim experienced direct threats, they were kept in isolation, had an opportunity to
ÔescapeÕduring their period of captivity but failed to use it and showed sympathy with their captors
postcaptivity. This suggests an identifiable pattern of experience and behaviour may exist amongst
victims described by the media.
Considerations
ÔStockholm syndromeÕis not a recognized Medical Subject Heading (MeSH).
Sources of information for widely publicized cases were of varying reliability in terms of the events
that lead to the diagnosis of ÔStockholm syndromeÕ; the authors had no access to primary sources.
Identification of a pattern of features exhibited in ÔStockholm syndromeÕmay be due to reporting bias.
Acta Psychiatr Scand 2007: 1–8
All rights reserved
DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.2007.01112.x
Copyright 2007 The Authors
ACTA PSYCHIATRICA
SCANDINAVICA
1
defiance aggression toward the captor and thus
maintaining survival in an otherwise potentially
high-risk scenario (1). The terms Ôterror bondingÕ
and Ôtraumatic bondingÕhave been used as syn-
onyms to ÔStockholm syndromeÕ(2).
On the morning of Thursday 23 August 1973, a
32-year-old prison-escapee, Janne Olsson, armed
with a submachine gun, walked into the Sveriges
Kreditbanken in Norrmalmstorg Square, Stock-
holm, Sweden. He fired several rounds from his
weapon, injuring one police officer. He then took
four bank clerks hostage. OlssonÕs first demand
was that his prison-mate, 26-year-old Clark Olo-
fsson, should be released from prison and allowed
to join him; the Swedish government agreed to the
demand. Olofsson joined Olsson and the pair
proceeded to barricade themselves and their four
hostages into the bankÕs 3.3 ·14.3 m vault (3).
The ensuing chain of events would lead to what is
now known as ÔStockholm syndromeÕ. The four
hostages appeared to bond with the captors: they
seemingly did not want to be rescued by the police.
One is quoted as saying ÔThis is our world now
sleeping in this vault to survive. Whoever threatens
this world is our enemyÕ(4).
To date, there have been few studies on the
frequency of ÔStockholm syndromeÕamongst
kidnap victims or its long-term effects on their
mental health. Furthermore, although different
ratings scales exist for identifying ÔStockholm
syndromeÕin women who have experienced domes-
tic abuse (2) and in soldiers involved in combat
(where it is described as Ôacute operational stressÕ)
(5), ÔStockholm syndromeÕis not included in any
international classification system of psychiatry. In
ICD-10 the category ÔAcute stress reactionÕ
(F43.0), includes Ôtransient disorders triggered by
exceptionally stressful life eventsÕ, is probably the
most relevant (6).
Criteria have been proposed to describe ÔStock-
holm syndromeÕ; the most widely quoted are
GrahamÕs (1995) criteria based on a study of nine
different victimized groups (2) Graham postulates
four precursors to the development of ÔStockholm
syndromeÕ: i) that there exists a perceived threat to
survival and belief that the threat will be carried
out, ii) that the captiveÕs perceive some small
kindness from the captor in the context of terror,
iii) that the hostage experiences isolation from
perspectives other than those of the captor and iv)
that the hostage has a perceived inability to escape.
Aims of the study
To systematically review the existing published
literature on ÔStockholm syndromeÕand identify
and describe any existing diagnostic criteria. We
will compare and contrast the features of high-
profile cases of victims of ÔStockholm syndromeÕto
identify common features between each case. We
will evaluate the current evidence regarding ÔStock-
holm syndromeÕ; is it a valid psychiatric construct,
or merely a convenient label adopted by the media
for high-profile cases?
Material and methods
Systematic review
We developed a broad search strategy as we were
aware that little work in this field had been
published and we wished to include as many
papers as possible for final review. An initial
search strategy was developed for the PubMED
database by searching the text term ÔStockholm
syndromeÕ(it is of note that it has not been
allocated a MeSH). We searched for ÔStockholm
syndromeÕand then searched for the following text
terms: Ôterror bondÕ,Ôtraumatic bondÕ,Ôkidnap
victimÕÔhostageÕ(MeSH term) and the names of
high-profile kidnap victims. The name ÔNils Bej-
erotÕwas also searched as he was the psychiatrist
involved in hostage negotiations at the original
Stockholm bank robbery and coined the phrase
ÔStockholm syndromeÕ. All search terms were then
combined with ÔStockholm syndromeÕusing the
ÔANDÕBoolean and were translated and repeated in
a range of databases. Those searched up until 31
January 2007 were EMBASE (Excerpta Medica
Database 1980+), PsycINFO (1876+), CINAHL
(Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health
1982+), PubMED, SIGLE, GoogleScholar, ISI
Web of Knowledge and The Cochrane Library.
Reference lists in retrieved papers and reviews of
the subject were hand searched.
Papers were selected using the following criteria:
articles had to include the term ÔStockholm syn-
dromeÕand be published in the English or Swedish
language. If there was disagreement as to the
inclusion of a publication, the paper was reviewed
by an independent reviewer (ELS). All findings
were tabulated (Table 1).
Analysis of cases reported by the media
These cases were identified using common internet
search engines (i.e. Google) and media databases
including LIBRIS (the National Library of Swe-
denÕs online bibliographic service) using the search
term ÔStockholm syndromeÕ. A detailed narrative
on each case was prepared by individual authors
using British and USA media archives (Times
Namnyak et al.
2
online, Chicago Tribune and CNN), as well as
newspaper articles and transcripts from interviews
with the victims and their families after the event.
Results were then tabulated according to a frame-
work of themes; Ôduration of captivityÕ,Ôexperi-
ences during captivityÕ,ÔhostageÕs postcaptivity
experiencesÕ. These themes were used to compare
and contrast the circumstances surrounding each
of the kidnaps and the situations in which the
victims were held in.
Results
Systematic review
Of the eight databases that were searched, only
three yielded results for ÔStockholm syndromeÕ,
these were PubMED (11), PsychINFO (44) and
CINAHL (10). When the search term ÔhostageÕwas
searched, PubMED produced 221 results; however
when the ÔANDÕBoolean was used to include
ÔStockholm syndromeÕonly three articles were
retrieved. Similarly, when the term ÔKidnap
victimÕwas searched on the same database, 2945
results were found, yet using the ÔANDÕBoolean to
include ÔStockholm syndromeÕyielded four results.
These findings demonstrate how although research
into hostage situations does occur, the term
ÔStockholm syndromeÕis rarely used or recognized
in academic research.
A total of 12 papers met the inclusion criteria
and are described in Table 1. The available
literature centres mostly on case reports based
upon retrospective interviews with hostages,
people who have experienced child abuse and
victims of domestic violence. Many of the
Table 1. Summary of published literature on ÔStockholm syndromeÕ
Author Methodology No. of subjects Main findings
Favaro et al. (1) Retrospective, semi-structured
interview
24 ÔStockholm syndromeÕis an indicator of severity of the experience,
linked to isolation and dehumanization. No correlation with
development of PTSD
Auerbach et al. (8) Captivity simulation with
structured interviews
57 Emotion-focused training created more friendly hostage behaviour
which tends to evoke a friendly dominant behaviour from the
terrorist. Emotion-focused training enhanced hostages ability to
adjust to stress of captivity
Julich (10) Retrospective unstructured
interviews
21 Children are particularly susceptible to developing ÔStockholm
syndromeÕ. Childhood sexual abuse may not be reported due to
bond of ÔStockholm syndromeÕ
Graham et al.(2) Questionnaire 764 Cohort of women interviewed on a university campus about their
current and past relationships
Strong states of arousal, caused by fear, may be misinterpreted as
attraction (bonding). By labelling feelings as love, it provides hope
and therefore possible routes of escape. Length of time in relationship,
both before and after abuse started, relates to likelihood of development
of ÔStockholm syndromeÕ.ÔStockholm syndromeÕmay relate more to
psychological then physical violence
Wesselius and DeSarno (9) Structured interviews 6 Only one out of six hostages developed ÔStockholm syndromeÕ. This
hostage had most positive contact with hostage taker
Naber-Morris (12) Validation of a questionnaire 563 Theorized precursors to the development of ÔStockholm syndromeÕbased
upon female students that were child victims of abuse, completing
questionnaires as: i) threat to oneÕs life; ii) inability to escape from
abuser; iii) isolation from others; iv) victimÕs perception of some
kindness by abuser
Solomon (7) Interviews 35 Levels of ÔStockholm syndromeÕincrease with better quality of treatment
by captors. Abuse by captors discourages the development of ÔStockholm
syndromeÕ
Fulton (14) AuthorÕs opinion NA Reflective essay on the development of emotional ties between care
workers and clients in residential homes. Mainly based on personal
experiences
West (11) Review of case studies and
review articles
NA Pseudo-identity is a response to stress, and enables victims to cope with
extraordinary situations
Gordon (32) Academic internet review NA The process of identification with the terroristÕs view-point has manifested
itself in the reactions of the US with increasing interest in the study of
terrorism
Cassidy (33) Case ÔscenariosÕNA Psychological exploration of ÔscenariosÕabout cult members, domestic
violence victims and women in abusive relationships
Slatkin (34) Case reviews 20 000 FAA, FBI and police prison records of 447 hijackers and their hostages
involved in skyjackings. Factors of length of captivity and quantity of
interaction had a positive relationship with the development ÔStockholm syndromeÕ
Stockholm syndrome
3
findings in these papers were contradictory. One
states that ÔStockholm syndromeÕis an indicator
of severity of the experience (1), while another
study concludes that the ÔlevelÕof ÔStockholm
syndromeÕthat a hostage experiences increases
with better quality of treatment by the hostage
taker and that in fact abuse by the captors
discourages the development of ÔStockholm syn-
dromeÕ(7). Another study suggests that the
development of the syndrome may be related
more to psychological abuse rather than physical
abuse (2). In a study that attempted to simulate
the experience of captivity the authors found that
when the ÔhostagesÕhad previous emotion-focused
training to create a more friendly behaviour on
the part of the hostage this evoked a friendly,
dominant behaviour on the part of the hostage
taker (8), possibly increasing the likelihood of a
positive bond to develop. Similarly, using struc-
tured interviews, Wesselius and DeSarno (9)
found that only one of the six hostages inter-
viewed had developed ÔStockholm syndromeÕ; this
hostage had experienced the most positive contact
with the captor.
Very few of the studies attempted to explain why
ÔStockholm syndromeÕmay develop in victims, but
several theories were put forward. Young people
may be particularly susceptible to developing
ÔStockholm syndromeÕas they develop positive
feelings toward the adults to whom they are
dependent on for protection and provision of
basic needs. This makes them less able to relinquish
this positive bond if the adult becomes the abuser
(10). In a hostage scenario, the victim becomes the
child and the hostage taker the adult.
Several authors postulate that hope of escape
may be an underlying cause. Strong states of
arousal, caused by fear, may be misinterpreted as
attraction (bonding); by labelling these feelings as
love, it provides the hostage with hope and
therefore possible routes of escape (2). By adopting
a friendlier behaviour, the hostage may adapt
better to the stress of captivity (8). Taking on a
pseudo-identity is also thought to enable victims to
cope better with captivity (11) as it may create a
psychological separation between their normal
world and their captive state (see Table 1 for a
summary of the existing literature).
We did not identify any validated diagnostic
criteria for ÔStockholm syndromeÕin any of the
papers reviewed in this study, although a few
papers offer suggestions for potential criteria
(2, 12, 13). A large discrepancy regarding the
definition of ÔStockholm syndromeÕexists between
the papers reviewed. The definition ranged from
labelling the bond a residential care worker may
feel toward their client as ÔStockholm syndromeÕ
(14) to describing the relationship between victims
of child sexual abuse or domestic violence and their
abuser (2, 10).
Analysis of high-profile reported cases
The five selected cases were widely reported in the
media. Table 2 outlines the main events that
occurred in the individual cases. The largest
source of information for these cases was from
non-peer-reviewed media in the form of internet
archive material, newspaper articles and interview
transcripts. Since the 1970s, the label ÔStockholm
syndromeÕhas been used to describe the behaviour
of a number of kidnap victims, who have appar-
ently behaved in similar ways to as the original
Stockholm hostages. In 1974, American heiress,
PH, was abducted by the Symbionese Liberation
Army. For the first 57 days of her captivity she was
locked in a closet and subjected to physical and
sexual abuse, following which she remained loyal
to her captors and even assisted them in terrorist
activity. In her trial she claimed she had been
brainwashed and intimidated and coerced into her
part in the robbery (15).
More recently in 2003, ES was returned home
following 9 months of captivity at the hands of
Wanda Ileen Barzee and Brian David Mitchell.
Mitchell purportedly took ES to be his wife
following a religious revelation (16). During her
captivity ES was physically and psychologically
abused; tied to a tree, kept in a hole and threatened
with a knife. She was taken out in public, but made
to wear heavy veils and prohibited from speaking
to anyone. Despite this she had opportunities to
escape which she never utilized (17). Upon her safe
return there was much frustration in the commu-
nity when it was discovered that she had gone
unrecognized among them and not sought help (16,
18).
Over the past year, two other kidnap cases have
been widely reported in the media: NK and SH.
NK, aged 10, was abducted while on her way to
school in Vienna in 1998 by Wolfgang Priklopil.
Thereafter she was held for 8 years, initially in a
small windowless room, where she was beaten and
photographed by her captor. In later years she had
a number of opportunities to escape. She escaped
in 2006, when Priklopil was distracted; she has
since expressed signs of grief over PriklopilÕs
subsequent suicide (19–23). SH was allegedly
kidnapped in 2003 at the age of 11. He was
found in 2007 following a police investigation into
the abduction of another young boy. Since his
release, it has become apparent that he lived with a
Namnyak et al.
4
Table 2. Analysis of high-profile media cases
Name (initials) (age),
location and length
of captivity Perpetrator and motive
Pseudo-identity
assumed Experiences during captivity Postcaptivity experiences
EO (20 years), KE
(23 years), BL
(30 years), SS
(24 years)
Randomly taken
hostage at a
bank robbery
Stockholm,
Sweden
6 days
Jan Erik Olsson was on leave
from prison when he walked
into the a bank in Stockholm,
opened fire on two policemen
and took four hostages. He
demanded that his friend Clark
Olofson be allowed to join him
and a ransom to the equivalent
of $730 000 in return for the
hostages safety
None Hostages were threatened with death
if ransom demands were not met;
perpetrators carried guns at all
times and used them to threaten
the captives
Captives were forced into snare traps
around their necks, so that in the
event of a police intervention with
gas the hostages would strangle
themselves
When hostages were confronted by
police during the stand-off, they
made hostile comments toward the
police. There are reports of hostages
resisting being rescued by police
None of the captives have
publicly denounced the
behaviour of their captors.
Reports exit that the four
captives refused to testify
at the trial and even raised
money for their kidnappersÕ
legal fee.
At least one of the captives is
known to have remained in
contact with their captor.
The psychiatrist Nils Bejerot
used the term ÔStockholm
syndromeÕto describe the
captivesÕbehaviour
ES (14 years)
Salt Lake City,
USA
9 months
Brain David Mitchell (50-year-old)
and Wanda Ileen Barzee. Mitchell
believed he was a Mormon prophet
and took ES to be his ÔwifeÕ
Yes –
ÔAugustineÕ
Threatened with a knife and tied to a
tree or kept in a hole. Reportedly also
experienced rape, verbal abuse and the
threat of violence during captivity. Taken
into public spaces at times, but was
forced to wear heavy veils and was not
allowed to speak to anyone but captors.
Had opportunities to escape or be
rescued but did not utilize them
Identified herself as ÔAugustineÕ
and said ÔI know what youÕre
thinking. You guys think that
IÕm that girl who ran awayÕ.
She repeatedly asked what
would happen to her captors,
showing ongoing concern for
their welfare. Mitchell was
declared mentally incompetent
to testify at the trial
NK (10 years)
Vienna,
Austria
Wolfgang Priklopil abducted NK on
her way to school. The media
speculated that his motives for
this were for child. However, NKÕs
account after kidnapping does not
explicitly validate these theories
Kept in a small room with no windows.
After 6 months allowed upstairs during
the day. Threatened with the idea that if
she tried to escape she would be blown
up. She was beaten and photographed by
Priklopil. Had several opportunities to
escape – even went on a ski-trip with
her captor
Felt she had not missed anything
during her imprisonment. Her
captor committed suicide
shortly after her escape. She
expressed sadness and grief
over this. Reported that in some
ways her captivity was a good
thing as it meant she wasnÕt
exposed to negative influences.
States that she knew she didnÕt
want to remain in captivity as
it wasnÕt the purpose of her life
and felt it was unfair
SH (11 years)
Missouri,
USA
4.5 years
Michael Devlin allegedly abducted
SH while he was riding his bicycle
in woods near his home
Yes – took
perpetratorÕs
surname
There were many opportunities for escape
during captivity. He is reported to have
conducted a relationship with a local girl
close to his alleged captorÕs home. Had
personal contact with police on two
separate occasions, where he identified
himself as alleged captorÕs son
SH has kept his opinions to
himself thus far and communicated
primarily through his mother.
At this point in time, the trial
of Devlin is yet to begin
PH (19 years)
Berkeley, USA
19 months
Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), an
American paramilitary terrorist group
active in the 1970s. Intended to swap
PH for jailed members of the SLA.
This failed and so they demanded
ransom of $6 million worth of food
for the bay area of San Francisco,
USA. PH was still not released
Yes – ÔTanyaÕ
and ÔPearlÕ
Kept blindfolded in a closet for 57 days.
Physically and sexually abused and forced
to confess past misdeeds, which were
manipulated so that PH became critical of
herself and her familyÕs wealth. She joined
the SLA in their criminal activities and was
famously caught on film wielding an
assault rifle while robbing a bank in
San Francisco. During the robbery, PH
had several opportunities to escape
In her trial, PH claimed she had
been abused, which caused her
to join the SLA. Defence was
based around the claim that her
actions could be attributed to
being brainwashed. PH argued
she was coerced and intimidated
into her part in the robbery; she
was convicted and sentenced to
7 years which was annulled by
President Carter. She served only
22 months. After her release from
prison, PH married her former
bodyguard. She has written
several books and has had roles
in several films. Granted a full
pardon by President Clinton in 2001
Stockholm syndrome
5
significant degree of freedom, even having a
relationship with a local girl. He too never utilized
his freedom to escape (24–28).
Many similarities between each case were iden-
tified. All the victims of ÔStockholm syndromeÕhad
been abducted or held hostage by persons previ-
ously unknown to them and were held in close
confines, isolated from the outside world and
subjected to only the captiveÕs perspective. All
victims experienced abuse, although the extent and
type of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional or
neglect) that occurred during the time of captivity
is unclear in some of the cases. They all experienced
a continuing threat to their survival during their
time in captivity and many of the victims assumed
pseudo-identities.
All victims had opportunities to escape (with the
exception of the hostages in the Norrmalmstorg
bank robbery), which they did not utilize; in all
cases after their rescue and safe return, victims
showed sympathy towards their captors. There
were also several demographic similarities between
the victims. All were relatively young at the time of
their captivity (range: 10–30 years).
Discussion
The existing literature on the subject of ÔStockholm
syndromeÕis sparse; the majority of the literature is
based on case reports with little reference to how
ÔStockholm syndromeÕwas diagnosed and what, if
any, is its significance in terms of management of
victims. ÔStockholm syndromeÕis rarely mentioned
in peer-reviewed academic research.
In some studies, adapted existing scales for
depression and post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD) were used (2, 8, 12). Several criteria have
been suggested to describe ÔStockholm syndromeÕ;
the most widely quoted is GrahamÕs (1994) criteria
based on a study of nine different victimized
groups (2, 12) although this is not a set of
validated diagnostic criteria. This lack of stan-
dardization has created ambiguity with regards to
what a diagnosis of ÔStockholm syndromeÕactually
means and bias within studies leading some to
conclude that ÔStockholm syndromeÕis a rare
occurrence, while others suggest it is a more
common phenomenon. Furthermore, this review
was unable to identify any studies that validate
ÔStockholm syndromeÕas a separate nosological
entity, leaving us to question the use of the term: is
it purely a fabrication of the media to allow society
to assimilate the behaviour of captor and captive
into a manageable entity or does it have a
distinctive phenomenology suggestive of a valid
psychiatric syndrome?
AÔsyndromeÕis defined as Ôa combination of
signs and or symptoms that form a distinct clinical
picture indicative of a particular disorderÕ(29). The
data drawn from the five cases studied identify a
pattern of similar experiences between each case
(Table 2). However whether these similar experi-
ences are characteristic of a specific abnormality
(i.e. ÔStockholm syndromeÕ) or whether they char-
acterize the behaviour one experiences under
extremely stressful situations, such as a being
taken hostage, must be accurately assessed. Our
research into the five high-profile cases revealed
four common features: each victim experienced
direct threats of physical sexual abuse emotional
abuse made against them; they were all kept in
isolation in close confines and or physically
restrained; they all had an opportunity to ÔescapeÕ
during their period of captivity but failed to use it,
with the exception of the Norrmalmstorg robbery
(it can be argued that the hostages in Norrmalm-
storg may not have voluntarily left the situation)
and they all showed sympathy with their captors
postcaptivity. These common features identified in
the high-profile cases are similar to previous
research theorizing the precursors for the develop-
ment of ÔStockholm syndromeÕ(2, 12).
The five ÔStockholm syndromeÕcases in this
study captured the publicÕs attention via high-
volume media coverage both during captivity and
immediately after release. It may be that the label
of ÔStockholm syndromeÕhelps to negate the need
to explain inexplicable behaviour. We find little
evidence that it describes a specific psychiatric
syndrome that may require specific treatment or
have long-term implications for the mental health
of its victims, indeed, one study reported that the
development of ÔStockholm syndromeÕwas actually
unrelated to the development of PTSD (1).
Our analysis of reported cases suggests that the
impact of captivity may have a lasting impact on
personality and function. The captives described in
case reports are all young; it is most likely that the
impact of captivity earlier in life has a profound
effect on future personality development and
functioning. It is interesting to contrast this with
the experience of older captive hostages (for
example, in the 1980s several people were taken
hostage in Beirut, Lebanon. These included Brian
Keenan, a 35-year-old held for over 4 years (30)
and Terry Waite, a hostage negotiator, held for
5 years, at the age of 48 (31). They did not develop
such a bond with their captors.
The major limitation for this study is reporting
bias. We relied upon information from media
sources for accounts of the five cases. The fact that
the concept of ÔStockholm syndromeÕhas been
Namnyak et al.
6
broadened to describe a variety of situations also
acted as a limitation, blurring the original meaning
of the term which was to specifically describe the
positive bond between hostage and captor. In
addition we found that most of the ÔdiagnosesÕof
ÔStockholm syndromeÕhave been made by the
media – we had no access to primary sources of
information such as mental health assessments. If
the quality of published work in this field is to
improve, clear diagnostic criteria which have face
and construct validity are required. The relative
infrequency of hostage situations makes this (for-
tunately) impractical. However, other situations in
which ÔStockholm syndromeÕhas been reported,
for example, domestic violence, are much more
common. Future work could involve the long-term
follow-up of victims who displayed positive bonds
toward their captors as few of the papers reviewed
discussed long-term psychiatric morbidity. Accu-
rate detailing of what took place during and
immediately after captivity as well as thorough
assessments of the victimsÕpremorbid history
would be essential.
In summary, a systematic literature review has
identified large gaps in research into ÔStockholm
syndromeÕ. Existing literature does very little to
support its existence yet case studies demonstrate
a possible pattern in the behaviour and experi-
ences of people labelled with it. We found
similarities between widely reported cases studies
into hostage kidnap victims that could be used as
the basis for diagnostic criteria. We also suggest
that labelling the hostage victim with a psychiat-
ric syndrome makes their story more readable
and more likely to boost media circulation. The
mystery of the origins of psychiatric illness holds
society with fascination; psychiatry does not deal
in absolute values and definitions, it is easy for
the media to have free reign with medical terms,
such as ÔStockholm syndromeÕthat have, as yet
not received comprehensive assessment and vali-
dating criteria.
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank Ingela Thune
´-Boyle for her assistance
with translation and Doctor Mary Hilson from the University
College Department of Scandinavian Studies for her expert
advice on searching Swedish library and media databases.
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Namnyak et al.
8
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... Stockholm Syndrome was first a media sensation after the 1973 bank hostage situation in Stockholm but was not really defined in any conclusive manner until the 1980s and early 1990s (Adorjan, Christensen, Kelly, & Pawluch, 2012;Namnyak, Tufton, Szekely, Toal, Worboys, & Sampson, 2008). Early attempts at categorizing this response to traumatic entrapment fell into simple post-traumatic stress disorder (Wesselius & DeSarno, 1983, p.45). ...
... Reason returned to the study of traumatic entrapment and the abusers in the mid-1990s with some minimal guidelines provided for identifying the victims (Adorjan, Christensen, Kelly, & Pawluch, 2012). Again, the majority of studies continued to classify these victims under the labels of PTSD, Hostage Response Syndrome, even common depression (Adorjan, Christensen, Kelly, & Pawluch, 2012;Jameson, 2010;Namnyak et al, 2008;Wesselius & DeSarno, 1983). ...
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Narcissistic Victim Syndrome is an area that remains unexplored and without established methods, procedures, or guidelines. Continued work in this area is a push toward understanding and assisting those who have been through traumatic entrapment circumstances in a more meaningful way. The current study forwards a hypothesis that victims of traumatic entrapment that exhibit symptoms of Narcissistic Victim Syndrome will also exhibit symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The participants would be recruited from identified scenarios of traumatic entrapment including, but not limited to, victims of hostage trauma, extreme domestic violence (emotional, physical, or both), and traumatic sex trafficking and current measures for Narcissistic Personality Disorder are used to establish a baseline for initial research. This study forwards a hypothesis that victims of traumatic entrapment that exhibit symptoms of Narcissistic Victim Syndrome will also exhibit symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and that in circumstances of traumatic entrapment, the victim identifies with, becomes emotionally bonded to, and ultimately becomes engaged in appeasement of the agonist due to the dynamic of paradoxical fulfilment of complementary narcissistic personalities. The proposed research design is put forward to study Narcissistic Victim Syndrome in order (a) to assess the mental health state of and determine correlation, if any, among the victims of narcissists after extreme circumstances of traumatic entrapment and (b) to further assess if there does, indeed, exist a narcissistic component to their personality that would benefit from the emotional appeasement of and emotional bonding with a narcissistic agonist in such circumstances. [Edited for minor grammatical corrections, 2016]
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