Stockholm Syndrome – The New Found Mental Disorder.

There are many insignificant and out of the common behaviour disorders which seldom invite attention as a mental abnormality or derangement. Beginning the late twentieth Century, however, a particular nature of the insignificant behaviour disorder code named as Stockholm Syndrome drew attention of scientists for serious studies.

A group of symptoms that together become characteristic of a specific condition or a specific disease or disorder is classified as a Syndrome. It is worthwhile as also interesting to understand what Stockholm syndrome is and where the roots of the syndrome lie.

During the month of August 1973AD, a group of hardcore criminals looted a commercial bank situated at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm, the capital city of Sweden. Not satisfied with the money and material of the loot, they took into their custody a few of the employees including women and men. For about six days these innocent persons were kept in dark rooms and subjected to various types of tortures including denial of timely food and water. By the end of the sixth day, the criminals released all of the captives at a crowded place in the city and fled away unnoticed.

Once out of the custody of the criminals, the released employees, despite being tired and weak, appeared excited: They started praising the gang; they appreciated the criminals for the cause they fight for; they lauded the criminals for their ‘genuine’ love. Not being satisfied with all these testimonies, two of the women captives ended up in matrimony by marrying two of the gang leaders.

The released captives, all of them, looked tired and exhausted; they were weak; they were hungry; their face looked gloomy and eyes sleepish. In short, they represented a combination of many symptoms.  All these were caused by the cruel action of the criminal gang. Still, these innocent persons were carried away by a momentous surge of gratitude for their release and they praised the gangsters.

The extraordinary behaviour of the captives surprised everybody around: For the first time the peculiar phenomenon was subjected to detailed studies by Nils Bejerot and Frank Hochberg, noted psychiatrists of the time. They named the collective symptoms that constituted the syndrome after the city of ‘Stockholm’: Thus became Stockholm syndrome a mental aberration in psychiatry texts. In simple colloquial terms, the syndrome is sometimes quoted as “Capture-bonding”. Stockholm syndrome is a form of traumatic bonding between the capturers and the captives. The bonding is tentative in nature. It may disappear and normalcy may return sooner than later. In sum and substance, Stockholm syndrome can be described as a strong emotional tie developed between two individual entities where one entity frequently tortures, intimidates and abuses the other individual or individuals. And then, the former receives praise at the hands of the latter.Various Studies conducted by researchers have also revealed that the phenomenon need not necessarily be the product of a hostage situation, always.

While talking about Stockholm syndrome, it would be of interest to note that development of an opposite bonding called “Lima Syndrome” has been revealed recently. The term ‘Lima Syndrome’ has connection with the name of Lima in Peru: In the year 1996 members of a militant group took a large number of people as hostages at the residence of the Ambassador of Japan. After a few hours of abduction, the militants set all the captives free: They declared the reason for the release was “Sympathy” towards the captives. If at all Lima Syndrome is a fact, it would be the rarest of the rare possibilities ever to happen. In view of its feasibility rate, Lima Syndrome negates any consideration for universal validity.

Stockholm syndrome is not a widely spread global phenomenon: However, starting from August, 1973, there have been considerable numbers of reported cases here and there across the globe. A good number of the reported cases belong to the Indian subcontinent as well. In 1991, a few activists representing a liberation movement in the State of Punjab took the then Romanian diplomat into their custody. He was released by the gang on 26-11-1991 after about three months. During the period in custody, the diplomat was harassed and threatened that he would be murdered. Surprisingly, on release, at a press meet, the diplomat praised the activists and lauded their mission. “I was treated well with love and compassion”, he declared. Similar exhortations made by released captives of terrorists, thieves and political ideologues are common. In the forested interiors of some States in India, in the name of “people’s war”, indoctrinated gang men continue to abduct innocent persons who hold top administrative positions in the Government and also persons who are members of legislatures: The abducted persons when released very often praise the abductors and their motives.

Stockholm syndrome is primarily hostage-linked. But the syndrome can also be traced in the behaviour of battered spouses, staunch followers of religious cults and even among dogs and other pets.

The background of developing Stockholm syndrome is not complex but simple: It can be traced in the scientific revelations made by the world renowned Physiologist, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov. Pavlov proved through experimental research that when the human brain (sensory centres) passes through the transitory paradoxical hypnotic phase, weak and feeble stimuli emanating from environs produce stronger and higher responses. Deprived of all hopes for life a nd survival, the abducted persons lose normal brain activity. The brain cells assume the state of partial inhibition akin to paradoxical hypnotic phase. An isolated expression of love, some sympathetic words and offer of food or water while under captivity generate spontaneous response of higher intensity which amounts to Stockholm syndrome.

Stockholm Syndrome is real phenomenon. There is nothing mysterious about the phenomenon. Proper understanding about its basis and its nature assures that Stockholm syndrome is not a worrisome disorder.

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