What is Stockholm Syndrome? Is it the Same as Love?

Most of us must have heard about this term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, as confusing as it sounds, it is a rare psychological phenomenon wherein the victim harbours romantic feelings for his or her kidnapper.

People have speculated that “Beauty and the Beast” a popular fairy tale is about this ‘Stockholm Syndrome.’ But it is simply not true.

Beauty was not kidnapped she chose to stay with the beast. The entire tale was centred around how Belle a small-town girl falls in love with an ugly looking beast.


Belle never hesitates to point out the flaws in the beast and in turn pushed him to become a better person, a person with Stockholm syndrome would have never tried to correct their captor.


The Indian movie “Highway” is a perfect representation of Stockholm Syndrome in movies. The victim starts sharing her personal stories with her captor and is against anyone who tries to save her including her parents and the police force.

What Does Stockholm Syndrome mean? Is it love?

According to Merriam Webster dictionary, Stockholm syndrome is the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor.

This Stockholm syndrome definition does not include the term “love”, it focuses on how the victim starts to identify with their captor and tries to form a positive relationship with them. It is not love, that the victim feels, he or she turns to positivity in order to survive. Love is unconditional and is far from the abusive dynamic between a victim and a kidnapper.

Here is how Stockholm syndrome plays out:

  • Positive feelings towards the abuser or captor.
  • The victim refuses to take any action against the captor and does not co-operate with the police or judicial authorities.
  • The victim does not try to escape.
  • The Victims behaves pleasantly with the captor, to minimize the abuse he or she receives. For instance, they avoid saying things which might trigger the captor.
  • Extreme dependence on the captor.
  • Attempts to “reform” the captor, or is sympathetic towards their abuser.

Now think about it, can love be defined with any of the things mentioned above? The answer is a clear no. Love is about equality, one person does not hold power over the other like a captor holds over the victim. Love is about supporting each other not “reforming” each other.


Stockholm Syndrome Origin:

In 1973, a bank robbery took place in Stockholm, Sweden and the robbers held four people as hostages. What was shocking was the hostages did not want to be rescued and sympathized with the robbers. They refused to testify against them and justified their actions.

It was reported that one hostage went on and said, “How kind I thought he was for saying it was just my leg he would shoot.’”

As months passed by, there was no change in sympathetic feelings the hostages had harboured for the bank robbers and they visited them in prison as well.

That’s how the term Stockholm syndrome came into being. In general terms,

 What causes Stockholm Syndrome?

  • Being hopeless about escaping
  • Loving to survive (facilitate the captor to not get killed)
  • Isolation from other people
  • Exaggerating the captor’s good qualities or actions. Such as when the captor provides the victim with food the victim feels grateful.

 Is there any treatment for Stockholm Syndrome?

Kidnapping is a traumatic event and it takes lots of therapy to get past the emotional, physical and mental abuse the victim has gone through. Stockholm syndrome can be treated with the help of talk-therapy.

People related to the victim, need to keep the below points in mind:

  • Try to understand how the victim views the situation
  • Do not try to depict the abuser as the villain, the victim will simply start defending them.
  • Tell the victim about Stockholm Syndrome, this will help them acknowledge that there is a problem.
  • Just listen to them without any judgement and do not give any advice.

Can you get Stockholm Syndrome in a relationship?

Stockholm syndrome stems from something known as a trauma bond. In a trauma bond, the abuser creates a loop of reward and punishment, which makes the victim get conditioned to abuse. The abuser shows affection and withdraws immediately in a cyclical way. While the punishment such as verbal or physical abuse drives the victim away, the sudden show of love or affection draws the victim back in. By the time the victim realizes what’s happening to them, it becomes very difficult for them to leave.

Sounds complicated?

One of the perfect examples for this is the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker. When the Joker was admitted in the Arkham Asylum, Harleen Quinzel was a simple psychiatrist, who believed that she could crack the Joker’s case. He would feed her fake stories about his past and soon tricks her into revealing her secrets. He manipulates her and makes her believe that he was a victim of his terrible circumstances. This in turn leads her to help him escape the Asylum and turning into the infamous Harley Quinn.


What follows is a series of reward and punishment. The Joker Constantly abuses her and tells her that she is nothing without him.


Then he acts a little affectionately towards her by making her believe he loves her. We can observe that in the movie “Suicide Squad” he helps Harley Quinn escape the prison and then in “Birds of Prey” he breaks up with her without any regard for her emotions. Harley Quinn finally realizes after the break up that she has an identity without him and it ends well.

But real life is not the same. Many victims develop some called “learned helplessness”, a condition wherein they believe they cannot survive without their abusive partner and simply cannot afford to.

While you cannot develop Stockholm syndrome in a relationship, you can form a trauma bond. Be vigilant and if you are in that situation, you can get out. Take help from others!

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