Is Stockholm Syndrome even real? The bizarre story behind a problematic diagnosis

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 follow on Vancouver Island and has a explicit curiosity in sufferer resistance and responses, was extraordinarily curious to listen to his Swedish counterpart’s ideas on Stockholm Syndrome. After a whereas, it was clear there was extra to be mentioned. They headed throughout the alley to Kristin Enmark’s workplace for a wide-ranging, three-hour dialog.

However 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 predict we find out about Stockholm Syndrome is basically a lie.

Mr Wade was there to “take a look at the circumstances and see if this concept that she had someway bonded together with her captors and wrongly criticized authorities and subsequently suffered from this syndrome — if that, in reality, made any sense in any respect,” he tells The Impartial. “And fairly rapidly, as soon as we’re wanting on the occasions in query, you would see that the evaluation – or the dearth of research – that had been offered as fact actually started to crumble like a home of playing cards.”

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

(AFP by way of Getty Pictures)

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

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Stockholm Syndrome as “the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, establish with, or sympathize along with his or her captor.” However the American Psychiatric Affiliation’s Diagnostic and Statistical Guide of Psychological Issues (DSM) doesn’t outline Stockholm Syndrome in any respect. It’s by no means met the strict evaluate necessities to be included; in reality, it appears that evidently nobody ever submitted it for inclusion within the first place. Meaning there aren’t any recognized diagnostic standards in any respect for the alleged situation.

“I believe, partly, it has change into a meme that individuals use to explain all types of conditions which wouldn’t technically match the unique description,” Dr Paul Applebaum, chair of DSM Steering Committee and Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Drugs and Legislation at Columbia College, tells The Impartial.

Given the time period’s cultural prevalence, it’s suprising that there’s not a widespread information of the eyebrow-raising story behind it. It’s a true story that feels unbelievable, full with criminals with movie-star attractiveness, 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, equivalent to Netflix’s 2022 Clark, have explored it. However it’s far lesser recognized amongst extra worldwide audiences.

But understanding what occurred is essential to understanding what all of us do once we use the time period “Stockholm Syndrome”.

Convicted felony Jan-Erik Olsson, whereas on furlough from jail, walked 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 felony he knew from jail, Clark Olofsson.

One of these armed hostage disaster was exceptional in Sweden. Actually the police had no blueprint for such a scenario.

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 many hostages, Kristin Enmark, has mentioned she feared being killed by police greater than being harmed by the hostage-takers

(AFP by way of Getty Pictures)

“I believed a maniac had come into my life,” Ms Enmark, who was 23 years previous and a financial institution worker, advised the New Yorker in 1974. “I believed I used to be seeing one thing that would occur solely in America.”

Jan-Erik had disguised his look and voice, talking English with an American accent, and police didn’t precisely establish him for days. They did, nonetheless, convey his previous jail good friend Clark to the financial institution. However they did it “in a very explicit sort of manner, as a double agent, in impact,” Mr Wade says. “Jan-Erik abruptly discovered himself in a hostage-taking [situation.] He supposed a fast getaway financial institution theft, and now he was in a scenario; he knew he was caught. So he demanded that Clark Olofsson be allowed to come back in.

“And naturally, Clark Olofsson was not an authentic financial institution robber or hostage taker, and earlier than the police let Clark Olofsson go into the financial institution, they’d made an settlement with him that his job was to assist the scenario be resolved correctly and to verify folks didn’t get damage, after which they could take a look at commuting his sentence.”

Issues did relax quickly when Clark arrived, and Ms Enmark was allowed to make telephone calls, together with fellow hostages Birgitta Lundbland, Elisabeth Oldgren and Sven Safstrom. Then police made a stunning mistake. They believed that they’d 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.

Instantly, confusion reined. Jan-Erik fired in direction of the strangers, who made a hasty retreat. The financial institution robber who Swedish authorities believed was inside was really 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 acquired him arrested, extradited and put again in jail.

None of this impressed confidence within the hostages that the scenario was going to finish peacefully. And as they watched police flounder with growing concern, so did the remainder of Sweden: The disaster was the primary televised crime within the nation, with practically 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 practically an hour on the telephone with Ms Enmark, who shared her fears of dying by the hands of police in a bungled rescue operation. She later claimed he advised 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 publish.

“It truly is extraordinary,” Mr Wade tells The Impartial. “There you see a decided, clever, determined younger lady attempting to purpose with the prime minister of Sweden and attempting to convey some sort of protected closure to those occasions and to guard the opposite hostages.”

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

(AFP by way of Getty Pictures)

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

The hostages, nonetheless — notably Ms Enmark — didn’t behave in the best way police anticipated. As they appeared crucial of police and pleasant in 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 a comparable response towards her scenario, additional cemented Stockholm Syndrome within the American and worldwide psyche.

With out correct examination of the August 1973 occasions, it appears inconceivable that somebody would establish with a captor over authorities. Upon taking a nearer take a look at the Norrmalmstorg maelstrom, nonetheless, it’s not laborious to see why two Swedish criminals might have appeared a safer choice for the hostages.

“While you start to give attention to in such element, typically occasions start to tackle a very totally different look,” Mr Wade tells The Impartial. “The problematic police responses, the disorganized police responses, mistaken identification … Right here’s a 23-year-old younger lady, one in all 4 hostages, from the north of Sweden, who hadn’t been in Stockholm very lengthy, and all of that is taking place.

“She’s watching the police bungle the early levels of this and noticing that she turns into much less protected quite than extra protected, and he or she’s additionally been managing Jan-Erik.”

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

“One, generally there was a sure sense of wonderment and even indignation at: How might issues have been so horribly misunderstood? How might issues not likely have been checked out?” he says. “”And at different occasions, there have been sturdy feelings in regards to the occasions themselves that she was recalling.”

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

(Alamy Inventory Picture)

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

“It does shock folks … and there’s so many individuals who haven’t heard this story,” Ms Hill tells The Impartial. “And it looks as if, as every individual finds out about it, what’s wonderful is that, as soon as they learn the story, it’s instantly persuasive. It’s fast — that that is bulls**t. And that’s what’s so highly effective in regards to the story.

“I might speak for hours about why victims behave in sure methods, and why we shouldn’t simply presume that they’re loopy. However as an alternative, simply by telling that story and displaying how authority can simply actually make one thing up on the spot to excuse itself, it’s like a shorthand for folks to undestand how so many different issues that we’ve come to imagine might be improper.”

Mr Wade calls Stockholm Syndrome “one in all a complete community of ideas that … shift focus away from the highly effective function of … institutional responses”. He provides that such ideas “additionally have a tendency to guard offenders as a result of, as an alternative of methods utilized by perpetrators to suppress victims, resistance theories equivalent to Stockholm Syndrome and others (there’s a lengthy listing of them: identification with the aggressor, infantilization, traumatic bonding, discovered helplessness, internalization, false consciousness, it goes on and on) don’t evolve give attention to how victimized folks have responded to and resisted violence. Fairly, they assume that they didn’t.”

It’s “a part of a household of notions that stem from hyper-individual, problematic notions in psychology and psychiatry, quite than cautious evaluation of circumstances on the bottom.”

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

(Allan Wade)

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

“Should you ask what most clinicians, psychological well being professionals take into consideration, I might say: They don’t give it some thought,” he says. “It’s not a problem that’s on their minds daily … Most of them have by no means seen and can by no means see a case like this and know comparatively little about it.”

He provides that, simply because “a uncommon syndrome will not be embodied within the DSM, [it] doesn’t essentially imply that it doesn’t exist, that it’s not a actual factor.

“It might merely imply that the pretty rigorous standards for inclusion haven’t been met and and maybe can’t be met,” he says. “So Stockholm Syndrome will not be acknowledged as a as a discrete psychological dysfunction. Within the DSM, there’s been, for nearly the final decade, a course of that has existed whereby individuals who have proof or have accrued proof of the validity of a proposed dysfunction can submit it to the evaluate course of. We’ve by no means acquired such a submission for Stockholm Syndrome. So there hasn’t even been an effort to assemble the present knowledge, develop diagnostic standards, and submit it for evaluate.”

He says that “Stockholm Syndrome, as classically described, seems to symbolize one thing of an unconscious response by the one who’s being held captive during which they slowly start to regulate their body of reference and establish with their captors”. The identification could be so excessive that “in a few of these instances, given alternatives to flee, they don’t take them.”

However forging a relationship with a captor might be seen as a clear and aware survival technique, as properly — and Dr Applebaum acknowledges “there are a number of potential complexities right here.”

“We might not have the ability to create or acknowledge a clear dichotomy between aware and unconscious methods,” he says. “Aware methods might result in unconscious identification, proper? You’re good sufficient to any individual for thus lengthy and since you wish to propitiate them, and so they, a minimum of, are non-abusive of their responses to your habits… You might come over time to unconsciously establish with them. So one can morph into the opposite. And it’s additionally potential for each each units of motivations to exist concurrently, each the aware and unconscious response that will complement one another.

“The human thoughts is complicated.”

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


The world was fast to embrace with out query an “rationalization” that the Swedish hostages had primarily fallen beneath the spell of their attackers. There was little point out of the times spent beneath 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 had 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. Ladies have traditionally been identified from afar by male psychiatrists with a variety of bogus problems. It’s laborious to imagine 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 within the minds, brains and our bodies of oppressed folks, they’re inherent to what we would name colonialism, patriatchy, totally different types of racism, totally different types of violence and oppression,” he says. “So this isn’t kind of an unintended or unusual problematic mind-set; quite, it’s 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 easy story that exhibits so clearly how this course of could be manipulated by folks in energy to make victims seem like they’re loopy”. It additionally proves, she provides, “simply how straightforward it’s to only set up a syndrome primarily based on no diagnostic standards in any respect — and to by no means even have diagnostic standards developed. Ever.”

She’d prefer to assume the world has progressed a great distance within the final 50 years, however as she continues to witness and write about “techniques to excuse the perpetrator and accountable the sufferer,” it’s tough.

“Actually, generally I really feel like we will have these actually excessive occasions the place we actually get to a level the place it’s like: Absolutely now it’s going to show, we’re shifting to a higher place,” she says. “After which the backlash comes via, and you’re feeling such as you’ve gone 5 steps backwards.”

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