Medical Definition of Stockholm syndrome

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Stockholm syndrome: An extraordinary phenomenon in which a hostage begins to identify with and grow sympathetic to their captor. Named for an episode that occurred in Stockholm in August, 1973 when an armed Swedish robber took some bank workers captive, held them for six days and stole their hearts. The Stockholm syndrome is not limited to Swedes. Patty Hearst, heir to the publishing fortune, was kidnapped in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army. She later joined the SLA and participated in a bank robbery with them. More recently, Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped by a couple for 9 months. Elizabeth repeatedly had the chance to run away or ask for help but did not. It is now generally believed that she had the Stockholm syndrome, in which she formed emotional bonds with her captors.

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Reviewed on 12/11/2018

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