In the Mind of a Hostage: How Stockholm Syndrome Works
By admin - November 6, 2020

In February 1972, Jan-Eric Olson was stealing an apartment in Helsingborg when he was struck by an elderly couple, the owner of the house. The old man, shocked by what he saw, lost consciousness, and his wife had no choice but to ask Olson to take his wife’s heart medicine from the kitchen and give it to her. Ian-Eric Olson, 31, complied with the old lady’s request and continued to rob.

One year later, Elizabeth Aldgren, a hostage-taking cashier at Stockholm’s largest bank, Sveriges Kreditbank, wakes up in the cold of the night with a shiver lying on the floor of the storeroom, feeling the robber Ian wrap his warm coat around his back.

“Jan was a mixture of cruelty and tenderness. When he rolled up his jacket, I had known him for just one day, but I was convinced that he had been like that all his life,” said Elizabeth Aldgrin, who later robbed the most famous bank in Swedish history. Recalls a six-day operation to free the hostages. To describe his feelings, a Swedish psychiatrist, Niels Begerot, uses a new term: Stockholm Syndrome.

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The term “Stockholm Syndrome” describes a condition in which a hostage feels close to his captor and sympathizes with his demands. It is also important to note that this definition describes certain reactions, but it is a formal diagnosis – you can not solve the record of Stockholm Syndrome in the list of psychiatric diagnoses (DSM-5). Nevertheless, law enforcement and mental health professionals note that there is a risk of its development, however, it is still a rare occurrence. As the FBI notes in its retrospective study, 92% of hostages do not develop signs of Stockholm Syndrome.

There are three particularly dangerous periods in the hostage crisis:

The first 15-45 minutes – there is confusion and panic all around;
Moment of surrender of a kidnapper or robber – tension on both sides culminates;
Special operation – this clearly means that the negotiation phase did not produce the desired result. The risk of damaging innocent hostages in a two-way fire is particularly high.
From the first, confusing minutes to the moment of surrender or the inevitable special operation, the captor usually does not intentionally harm the hostages. He is well aware that during long negotiations these innocent people are a means of demonstrating his power. The abuser is mostly focused on fulfilling his own demands, and he is also well aware that the harm done to the hostages is particularly negative for the law enforcement agencies or the government. Also important is the fact that at such times a demonstrative firing of a weapon indicates a tendency to violence, and such behavior serves to emphasize the uncertainty or danger of the whole situation.