Societal Stockholm Syndrome

This oppression is named for a condition resulting from a failed bank holdup in 1973 in Stockholm. For six days two ex-convicts held hostage three women and one man, treating them with the contradictory combination of threats to kill them, and kindness.

The hostages reacted by identifying with their captors, feeling an emotional connection with them such that they started to see police not as prospective saviors but as enemies; and the ex-convicts as friends — even a source of security. This reaction has since been documented in many other cases.

In Loving to Survive, the three psychologist authors charge that the condition is writ large in our culture: The prevalence of men’s violence against women intimidates us, programs us to seek safety in connection.[1]

The effect is masochism: for this hope of safety, we hurt our personal integrity by giving up agency, autonomy, and power.

[1] Graham, Rawlings and Rigsby, Loving to Survive (New York: New York University, 1994).