Is Stockholm Syndrome even actual? The weird story behind a problematic prognosis

The pair of therapists — one Swedish, one Canadian, and each sporting shocks of white hair — met for the primary time a number of years in the past in a Stockholm café, on the suggestion of a mutual acquaintance. Allan Wade, who runs a household observe on Vancouver Island and has a selected curiosity in sufferer resistance and responses, was extraordinarily curious to listen to his Swedish counterpart’s ideas on Stockholm Syndrome. After some time, it was clear there was extra to be stated. They headed throughout the alley to Kristin Enmark’s workplace for a wide-ranging, three-hour dialog.

But Enmark wasn’t talking in her capability as a {couples} therapist. She was talking as an alternative as a hostage within the 1973 Swedish financial institution heist ordeal that sparked the time period “Stockholm Syndrome” within the first place – an ordeal marking its fiftieth anniversary this week.

And Enmark’s story means that every little thing we expect we learn about Stockholm Syndrome is basically a lie.

Mr Wade was there to “look at the circumstances and see if this idea that she had somehow bonded with her captors and wrongly criticized authorities and therefore suffered from this syndrome — if that, in fact, made any sense at all,” he tells The Independent. “And quite quickly, once we are looking at the events in question, you could see that the analysis – or the lack of analysis – that had been presented as truth really began to fall apart like a house of cards.”

The financial institution heist in August 1973 caught Sweden — and its regulation enforcement officers — fully off-guard

(AFP through Getty Images)

Stockholm Syndrome is excessive up there on the listing of psychological phrases acquainted to members of the general public. Just like with “OCD” or “manic,” the common individual throws across the phrase with no actual understanding of its which means. Indeed, even amongst psychologists, it’s unclear what the definition of Stockholm Syndrome ought to truly be.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Stockholm Syndrome as “the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor.” But the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) doesn’t outline Stockholm Syndrome in any respect. It’s by no means met the strict evaluate necessities to be included; the truth is, plainly nobody ever submitted it for inclusion within the first place. That means there are not any recognized diagnostic standards in any respect for the alleged situation.

“I think, in part, it has become a meme that people use to describe all kinds of situations which wouldn’t technically fit the original description,” Dr Paul Applebaum, chair of DSM Steering Committee and Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine and Law at Columbia University, tells The Independent.

Given the time period’s cultural prevalence, it’s suprising that there’s not a widespread data of the eyebrow-raising story behind it. It is a real story that feels unbelievable, full with criminals with movie-star beauty, bungled police responses and the non-public involvement of a head of state. The story’s well-known in Sweden — as is Ms Enmark’s identify — and varied Swedish-language productions, corresponding to Netflix’s 2022 Clark, have explored it. But it’s far lesser recognized amongst extra worldwide audiences.

Yet understanding what occurred is vital to understanding what all of us do after we use the time period “Stockholm Syndrome”.

Convicted legal Jan-Erik Olsson, whereas on furlough from jail, walked right into a financial institution in Norrmalmstorg, Stockholm on 23 August 1973, fired into the ceiling and tried to rob it. When police rapidly arrived, he took three hostages contained in the financial institution — a quantity later elevated by one, after one other financial institution worker was present in a storeroom — and demanded the equal of $700,000 in Swedish and international foreign money, in addition to the discharge of an infamously charismatic and good-looking legal he knew from jail, Clark Olofsson.

This kind of armed hostage disaster was exceptional in Sweden. Certainly the police had no blueprint for such a state of affairs.

Press photographers and police snipers lie side-by-side on a roof reverse the Kreditbanken financial institution on Norrmalmstorg sq. in Stockholm on 24 August 1973. One of the hostages, Kristin Enmark, has stated she feared being killed by police greater than being harmed by the hostage-takers

(AFP through Getty Images)

“I believed a maniac had come into my life,” Ms Enmark, who was 23 years previous and a financial institution worker, informed the New Yorker in 1974. “I believed I was seeing something that could happen only in America.”

Jan-Erik had disguised his look and voice, talking English with an American accent, and police didn’t precisely determine him for days. They did, nevertheless, deliver his previous jail good friend Clark to the financial institution. But they did it “in a very particular kind of way, as a double agent, in effect,” Mr Wade says. “Jan-Erik suddenly found himself in a hostage-taking [situation.] He intended a quick getaway bank robbery, and now he was in a situation; he knew he was stuck. So he demanded that Clark Olofsson be allowed to come in.

“And of course, Clark Olofsson was not an original bank robber or hostage taker, and before the police let Clark Olofsson go into the bank, they had made an agreement with him that his job was to help the situation be resolved properly and to make sure people didn’t get hurt, and then they might look at commuting his sentence.”

Things did relax quickly when Clark arrived, and Ms Enmark was allowed to make cellphone calls, together with fellow hostages Birgitta Lundbland, Elisabeth Oldgren and Sven Safstrom. Then police made a shocking mistake. They believed that that they had positively recognized who the financial institution robber was — besides they hadn’t. Believing him to be one other notorious financial institution robber who had beforehand escaped from jail, they despatched in that financial institution robber’s civilian brother, together with an accompanying cop, in an effort to speak their hostage-taker down.

Immediately, confusion reined. Jan-Erik fired in the direction of the strangers, who made a hasty retreat. The financial institution robber who Swedish authorities believed was inside was truly on the lam in Hawaii. Incensed by the accusation that he was behind the heist, he known as Swedish police to protest that he was not the hostage-taker — a transfer that bought him arrested, extradited and put again in jail.

None of this impressed confidence within the hostages that the state of affairs was going to finish peacefully. And as they watched police flounder with rising concern, so did the remainder of Sweden: The disaster was the primary televised crime within the nation, with almost three-quarters of the inhabitants tuning in on the top of viewing.

Inside, each Jan-Erik and Ms Enmark rang the prime minister of Sweden, Olof Palmme, who personally took the calls. He spent almost an hour on the cellphone with Ms Enmark, who shared her fears of dying by the hands of police in a bungled rescue operation. She later claimed he informed her that, ought to she be killed throughout a police try and squelch the standoff, she must be content material to have died at her submit.

“It really is extraordinary,” Mr Wade tells The Independent. “There you see a determined, intelligent, desperate young woman trying to reason with the prime minister of Sweden and trying to bring some kind of safe closure to these events and to protect the other hostages.”

Jan-Erik Olsson was paraded by means of the road after police took him into custody following the five-day siege

(AFP through Getty Images)

In the tip, six and a half days into the disaster, police stormed the financial institution with tear gasoline — despite the fact that Jan-Erik had threatened to kill the hostages upon a gasoline assault — and took him into custody. Not solely have been Swedes watching on tv, however that they had additionally gathered within the streets by that time. Authorities paraded Jan-Erik earlier than the crowds in a present of triumph.

The hostages, nevertheless — notably Ms Enmark — didn’t behave in the way in which police anticipated. As they appeared crucial of police and pleasant in the direction of the hostage-taker, guide psychiatrist Nils Bejerot — who by no means met or handled Ms Enmark — defined it away as “Norrmalmstorg syndrome,” which got here to be recognized exterior of Sweden as “Stockholm Syndrome.” The software of the time period to the expertise of Patty Hearst, who was kidnapped the 12 months after the Stockholm heist and appeared to have the same response towards her state of affairs, additional cemented Stockholm Syndrome within the American and worldwide psyche.

Without correct examination of the August 1973 occasions, it appears inconceivable that somebody would determine with a captor over authorities. Upon taking a better take a look at the Norrmalmstorg maelstrom, nevertheless, it’s not laborious to see why two Swedish criminals might have appeared a safer possibility for the hostages.

“When you begin to focus on in such detail, often events begin to take on a very different appearance,” Mr Wade tells The Independent. “The problematic police responses, the disorganized police responses, mistaken identity … Here’s a 23-year-old young woman, one of four hostages, from the north of Sweden, who hadn’t been in Stockholm very long, and all of this is happening.

“She’s watching the police bungle the early stages of this and noticing that she becomes less safe rather than more safe, and she’s also been managing Jan-Erik.”

After listening to Ms Enmark recount the occasions many years later, Mr Wade says, he observed she was “very emotional … in two senses.

“One, sometimes there was a certain sense of wonderment and even indignation at: How could things have been so horribly misunderstood? How could things not really have been looked at?” he says. “”And at different instances, there have been robust feelings concerning the occasions themselves that she was recalling.”

Kristin Enmark is pictured after Swedish police ended the 1973 standoff with tear gasoline; no hostages have been killed

(Alamy Stock Photo)

There was definitely a robust emotional response earlier this 12 months when one Twitter consumer highlighted the true circumstances that birthed “Stockholm Syndrome,” paraphrasing parts of a 2019 guide (See What You Made Me Do: Power Control and Domestic Abuse) in a thread that promoted enormous curiosity. It wasn’t the primary time that the writer of that guide, Jess Hill, had seen her work go viral.

“It does shock people … and there’s so many people who have not heard this story,” Ms Hill tells The Independent. “And it seems like, as each person finds out about it, what’s amazing is that, once they read the story, it’s immediately persuasive. It’s immediate — that this is bulls**t. And that’s what’s so powerful about the story.

“I could talk for hours about why victims behave in certain ways, and why we shouldn’t just presume that they’re crazy. But instead, just by telling that story and showing how authority can just literally make something up on the spot to excuse itself, it’s like a shorthand for people to undestand how so many other things that we’ve come to believe could be wrong.”

Mr Wade calls Stockholm Syndrome “one of a whole network of concepts that … shift focus away from the powerful role of … institutional responses”. He provides that such ideas “also tend to protect offenders because, instead of looking at strategies used by perpetrators to suppress victims, resistance theories such as Stockholm Syndrome and others (there’s a long list of them: identification with the aggressor, infantilization, traumatic bonding, learned helplessness, internalization, false consciousness, it goes on and on) don’t evolve focus on how victimized people have responded to and resisted violence. Rather, they assume that they did not.”

It’s “part of a family of notions that stem from hyper-individual, problematic notions in psychology and psychiatry, rather than careful analysis of circumstances on the ground.”

Kristin Enmark, left, poses with therapist Allan Wade’s companion, Cathy, in Sweden

(Allan Wade)

While Stockholm Syndrome could also be acquainted as a time period to many, the situation not often comes up in medical circles, Dr Applebaum says.

“If you ask what most clinicians, mental health professionals think about, I would say: They don’t think about it,” he says. “It’s not an issue that is on their minds day to day … Most of them have never seen and will never see a case like this and know relatively little about it.”

He provides that, simply because “a rare syndrome is not embodied in the DSM, [it] doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t exist, that it’s not a real thing.

“It may simply mean that the fairly rigorous criteria for inclusion haven’t been met and and perhaps can’t be met,” he says. “So Stockholm Syndrome is not recognized as a as a discrete mental disorder. In the DSM, there’s been, for almost the last decade, a process that has existed whereby people who have evidence or have accumulated evidence of the validity of a proposed disorder can submit it to the review process. We’ve never received such a submission for Stockholm Syndrome. So there hasn’t even been an effort to assemble the existing data, develop diagnostic criteria, and submit it for review.”

He says that “Stockholm Syndrome, as classically described, appears to represent something of an unconscious reaction by the person who’s being held captive in which they slowly begin to adjust their frame of reference and identify with their captors”. The identification could be so excessive that “in some of these cases, given opportunities to escape, they don’t take them.”

But forging a relationship with a captor may very well be seen as a transparent and acutely aware survival technique, as properly — and Dr Applebaum acknowledges “there are several possible complexities here.”

“We may not be able to create or recognize a clear dichotomy between conscious and unconscious strategies,” he says. “Conscious strategies may lead to unconscious identification, right? You’re nice enough to somebody for so long and because you want to propitiate them, and they, at least, are non-abusive in their responses to your behavior… You may come over time to unconsciously identify with them. So one can morph into the other. And it’s also possible for both both sets of motivations to exist simultaneously, both the conscious and unconscious reaction that may complement each other.

“The human mind is complex.”

Canadian therapist Allan Wade has spoken at size with Kristin Enmark about her experiences, Stockholm Syndrome and its problematic implications for girls


The world was fast to embrace with out query an “explanation” that the Swedish hostages had primarily fallen underneath the spell of their attackers. There was little point out of the times spent underneath siege by inept police, the hostages’ firsthand experiences of authorities’ errors, or the truth that Nils Bejerot by no means even handled Ms Enmark. Nor was there a dialogue about whether or not Ms Enmark’s reactions have been merely nuanced, when others anticipated a black-and-white response to a hero-and-villain story that wasn’t as simplistic because it appeared. Women have traditionally been identified from afar by male psychiatrists with a variety of bogus issues. It’s laborious to consider that sexism didn’t have an effect on the claims of Stockholm Syndrome.

Mr Wade believes that Stockholm Syndrome is rooted in institutionalized attitudes and inequalities which have endured for hundreds of years.

“These practices of implanting pathologies in the minds, brains and bodies of oppressed people, they’re inherent to what we might call colonialism, patriatchy, different forms of racism, different forms of violence and oppression,” he says. “So this is not sort of an accidental or uncommon problematic way of thinking; rather, it is endemic.”

And he provides, concerningly, that he believes “it’s larger-scale now than it ever has been.”

The veritable hijacking of the heist historical past, Ms Hill says, is “a straightforward story that shows so clearly how this process can be manipulated by people in power to make victims look like they are crazy”. It additionally proves, she provides, “just how easy it is to just establish a syndrome based on no diagnostic criteria at all — and to never even have diagnostic criteria developed. Ever.”

She’d prefer to suppose the world has progressed a good distance within the final 50 years, however as she continues to witness and write about “systems to excuse the perpetrator and to blame the victim,” it’s troublesome.

“Honestly, sometimes I feel like we can have these really high times where we really get to a point where it’s like: Surely now it’s going to turn, we’re moving to a better place,” she says. “And then the backlash comes through, and you feel like you’ve gone five steps backwards.”

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