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A.Word.A.Day--Stockholm Syndrome

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Stockholm syndrome (STOK-hom SIN drom) noun

A phenomenon in which a hostage begins to identify with and grow sympathetic to his or her captor.

[After Stockholm where a hostage in a 1973 bank robbery became romantically attached to one of her captors.]

"Speaking of refugees, stories such as the Oct. 27 article reveal a sort of Stockholm syndrome among those imprisoned on our highways every day. We can only smile when we hear people explaining why they love their commute: `I focus on the day ahead,' `I listen to the radio,' or, our favorite, `I use the time to relax,' white-knuckle relaxation, no doubt!" Civilize our transport, The Providence Journal, Nov 5, 1999.

Consider the Stockholm syndrome if you have any doubt about the veracity of the saying, `Fact is stranger than fiction'. In 1973, following a botched robbery attempt, the perpetrator held four employees of a Stockholm bank hostage in the bank vault. At the end of the five day captivity, police were surprised to discover that the hostages were afraid of them and resisted rescue. They had bonded with the robber, a prison escapee, and became sympathetic with him. Later, they started a defense fund for him, testified in his favor, and one of the female hostages even fell in love and became engaged to him.

Of course, this phenomenon is not limited to the Swedes. Patty Hearst of the US, heiress to the Hearst publishing fortune, was kidnapped in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army. She later joined her abductors and participated in a bank robbery with them. More recently, an Indian Airlines flight was hijacked and the passengers were holed up in the plane for more than a week. At the conclusion of the drama, some passengers were heard saying about the hijackers, `they were not bad people'.

Why do people turn around and begin to sympathize with their tormenters in situations like these? It is one of the mysteries of the way the human mind works. Perhaps it is a way for people to cope with the immense, immediate stress of being in a situation where their lives depend on their captors. If one threatens to shoot, and then doesn't, hasn't he done a favor to us the mind apparently rationalizes. In a place devoid of external contact, the view of reality becomes distorted and the victims may develop a fondness for the only person in their life.

This week in AWAD we look at some of the syndromes, paradoxes, laws, and principles that govern our minds. -Anu


To know the road ahead, ask those coming back. -Chinese Proverb

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