Ever attach yourself to some idea, person, place or thing that is clearly not in your best interest? We see it every day, in all sorts of life circumstances, in business and romance. You might witness or experience someone’s dedication and commitment to something or someone which seems inconsistent with what logic might dictate. When someone feels so attached to something, when it is clearly not serving the person involved, may even be abusive or life-threatening, still the victim has such an affinity for the idea or person, that they defend it, maybe even willing to lay down their life in an effort to preserve the very thing that is causing them deterioration or grief.
We refer to this kind of behavior as Stockholm syndrome.
While we often hear about Stockholm syndrome, it’s a good idea to review where the idea came from. The idea of Stockholm syndrome came from an incident that took place in Stockholm, Sweden in the early seventies, when machine-gun-blazing criminals overtook a bank and took four people hostage; one man and three women. The hostages were restrained and adorned with explosives as they feared for their lives for over five days. A harrowing experience one could hardly imagine.
Following the rescue, the media reported news of the captors’ behavior that would seem inconsistent with being held captive and fearing for their lives for 131 hours. It became apparent the hostages had sided with their captors, viewed their rescue as an act of violence, feared the outcome that might result from the incident for the bank robbers, actively defending the perpetrators and bonding with them. As a result one of the victims spearheaded a legal campaign in their defense and another became engaged to marry one of the criminals.
While the scenario played out in the news and media the idea was nothing new to the professional psychological community. This otherwise odd behavior came to be referred to as Stockholm syndrome after the location of the event.
We see Stockholm syndrome playing out every day all around us, and we might even be suffering from it ourselves. It is commonly referred to as describing partners in abusive romantic relationships, where a wife who is in an abusive relationship refuses to seek help and defends her husband often insisting to the people who might be able to help her escape the abuse that they simply do not understand the relationship and pledges her undying love and affection for her husband. Even though maintaining the relationship might be not only counter-productive, but possibly life-threatening.
We also see this behavior exemplified in all kinds of relationships among military personnel, religious affiliations, abused children, women who are battered or abused as well as politicians, public servants. protesters, employees, citizenry, prisoners and hostages.
When someone is suffering from Stockholm syndrome, they display an inability (or refusal) to see things they way they are, and cling to the idea that their undying love for the very thing that is clearly destructive is justified, as they insist on only seeing the good attributes of it.
In order to make sense of their support, victims often create vast justifications in their minds following a pattern of faux logic which doesn’t make sense to anyone else, and they are willing to take extreme measures to defend their abusers.
Business owners can also find themselves victims of Stockholm syndrome throwing good money after bad and exerting all their efforts, sleepless nights and malnutrition rise as their health deteriorates and they continue to fight the good fight in an effort to defend their failing business.