« on: August 17, 2006, 05:06:30 AM »
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The Stockholm Syndrome seems to be an automatic, often unconscious, emotional response to the trauma of becoming a victim. Although some victims may think it through, this is not a rational choice by a victim who decides consciously that the most advantageous behavior in the predicament is to befriend his captor. The syndrome has been observed around the world and includes a high level of stress, as participants are cast together in a life-threatening environment where each must achieve new levels of adaptation to stay alive. This phenomenon affects both the hostages and the hostage-taker. The positive emotional bond, born in, or perhaps because of, the stress of the siege serves to unite its victims against all outsiders. A philosophy of "it's us against them" seems to develop. To date there is no evidence to indicate how long the syndrome lasts. Like the automatic reflex action of the knee, the bond seems to be beyond the control of the victim or the subject.
The Stockholm Syndrome generally consists of three phases: positive feelings of the hostages toward their captors, negative feelings of the hostages toward the police or other government authorities, and reciprocation of the positive feelings by the captors. Although this relationship is new in the experience of law enforcement officers, the psychological community has long been aware of the use of an emotional bond as coping mechanism by people under stress.
In the structural theory of Sigmund Freud, the ego, governed by the reality principle, assumes an "executive" function. In doing so the ego mediates between the demands of reality, the instinctual demands of the id, and the moralistic dictates of the superego. The ego in a healthy personality is dynamic and resourceful; it utilizes, as needed, a host of psychological defense mechanisms that Anna Freud summarized and described in "The Ego and the Mechanism of Defense." The number of defense mechanisms varies depending upon the author. However, all serve the same basic purpose - to protect the self from hurt and disorganization. When the self is threatened, the ego must adapt under a great deal of stress. The ego enables the personality to continue to function even during the most painful experiences - such as being taken hostage by an armed, anxious stranger. The hostage wants to survive, and the healthy ego is seeking a means to achieve survival. The defense mechanisms utilized most frequently by the hostages I have interviewed have been regressive, involving a return to a less mature and often unrealistic level of experience and behavior.
Several theories have been advanced in an attempt to explain the observable symptoms that law enforcement professionals and members of the psychiatric community have come to call the Stockholm Syndrome. One of the earliest concepts formulated to explain it involved the phenomenon of "identification with the aggressor" that Anna Freud described. This type of identification is summoned by the ego to protect itself against authority figures who have generated anxiety. The purpose of this type of identification is to enable the ego to avoid the wrath and potential punishment of the enemy. The hostage identifies out of fear rather than out of love. It would appear that the healthy ego evaluates the situation and selects from its arsenal of defenses a mechanism that had served it best in the past during similar trauma.
Related to identification is the defense mechanism known as "introjection." Like identification, this mechanism is often associated with imitative learning in which young people take on the admired or wanted characteristics of parents or other models. A person may also interject the values and norms of others as their own even when they are contrary to their previous assumptions. This occurs when people adopt the values and beliefs of a new government to avoid social retaliation and punishment, following the principle, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Identification with the aggressor and the introjection of alien values have been used to explain the behavior of some people in Nazi concentration camps who radically altered their norms under those terrible circumstances.
Thought identification with the aggressor is an attractive explanation for the Stockholm Syndrome and may indeed be a factor in some hostage situations, although it does not totally explain the phenomenon. Identification with the aggressor is commonly associated with the period at around age 5 when children begin the resolution of the Oedipal complex, give up the dream of being an adult, and begin to work on the reality of the same sex, which is generally healthy. When a parent is abusive, however, we see the identification serving multiple purposes, including protection, and some of the circumstances of the Stockholm Syndrome are reproduced.
The Stockholm Syndrome is to be seen as a regression to a more elementary level of development than is seen in the 5-year-old who identifies with a same-sex parent. The 5-year-old is able to feed himself, speak for himself, and has locomotion. The hostage is more like the infant who must cry for food, cannot speak, and may be bound and immobile. Like the infant, the hostage is in a state of extreme dependency and fright. In addition, like the infant or extremely young child, the hostage is terrified of the outside world and of the prospect of separation from the "parent."
A normal infant is blessed with a mother figure who sees to his needs. As these needs are satisfactorily met by the mother figure, the child begins to love this person who is protecting him from the outside world. The adult is capable of caring and leading the infant out of dependency and fear. So it is with the hostage - his every breath a gift from the subject. He is now as dependent as he was as an infant; the controlling, all-powerful adult is again present; the outside world is threatening once again. The weapons that the police have deployed against the subject are also, in the mind of the hostage, deployed against him. Once again he is in dependency, perhaps on the brink of death. Once again there is a powerful authority figure who can help. So the behavior that worked for the dependent infant surfaces again as a means of survival
The high from crack cocaine is intensely rewarding. But the experience is short-lived. Crack's euphoric effect is so extraordinarily hard to forget. If one succumbs to curiosity, and finds out what one is missing, then the rest of one's life may pall in comparison. For there is nothing in life that's naturally so enjoyable as crack. However, the user's family and loved ones may suffer the price of pleasure almost as severely as the addict.