The Myth of “Stockholm Syndrome” and how it was invented to silence an indignant young woman
Dr Allan Wade, a man I have learned a lot from, presented a paper in April 2015 at a New Zealand conference on The Myth of “Stockholm Syndrome” and other Concepts Invented to Discredit Women Victims of Violence.
Unfortunately I was not able to attend the conference, but here is the abstract of his paper which was given on the web prior to the conference:
“Stockholm Syndrome” was invented in 1973 after a hostage taking at a bank in central Stockholm, Sweden. One of the hostages, Kristin Enmark, criticized police and government responses as dangerous and disorganized and [for being] aligned tactically with the hostage takers.
After the hostage taking, Kristin became the first person said to have “Stockholm Syndrome”, a new label invented just for the occasion. Since then, “Stockholm Syndrome” has become a received truth, a concept that both reflects and upholds the habit of finding pathologies in the minds of victims of violence, particularly women. Oddly, the psychiatrist who coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome” never spoke with Kristin Enmark. Neither have present day experts who present misinformation and perpetuate the myth.
In this presentation, Dr. Wade will discuss his recent conversations with Kristin Enmark and present original source material to develop a quite different and contextual view of the hostage-taking and the notion of “Stockholm Syndrome”. He will show how Kristin prudently and courageously resisted the violence of the hostage takers, protected and kept solidarity with other hostages, worked through a disorganized response from authorities, preserved and reasserted her basic human dignity, and carefully managed a highly fluid situation.
From this analysis, Dr. Wade will show how “Stockholm Syndrome” and related ideas such as “traumatic bonding”, “learned helplessness”, “battered women’s syndrome”, “internalized oppression”, and “identification with the aggressor/oppressor” shift the focus away from actual events in context to invented pathologies in the minds of victims, particularly women. “Stockholm syndrome” can be seen as one of many concepts used to silence individuals who, as victims, speak publicly about negative social (i.e., institutional) responses.
Now the conference is over, there is an abridged version of Allan Wade’s Powerpoint available here:
I encourage you to look at the Powerpoint. It may be hard to understand because we don’t have Allan’s voice explaining it all, but I think if you persevere to the end, having read the abstract above, you’ll be able to get the essence of what he’s saying.
This is new stuff for us all. Many of us have heard about the Stockholm Syndrome and received it as ‘truth’, unthinkingly. Some of us may have felt it helped us understand a little bit more of the perplexing experience of abuse.
But it’s really interesting to find that the term “Stockholm Syndrome” was invented by a psychologist who didn’t even interview the woman it was supposed to describe!
Let us really chew the cud on this:
- The term “Stockholm Syndrome” is a myth invented to discredit women victims of violence.
- It not only discredits them, it obscures their prudent and courageous resistance to violence.
- It shifts the focus away from actual events in context, to invented pathologies in the minds of victims, particularly women.
- “Stockholm syndrome” can be seen as one of many concepts used to silence individuals who, as victims, speak publicly about negative social (i.e., institutional) responses.
- The same applies to related ideas such as “traumatic bonding”, “learned helplessness”, “battered women’s syndrome”, “internalized oppression”, and “identification with the aggressor / oppressor”.
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The website of Allan Wade and his colleagues is Response Based Practice. If you click on this link (and scroll part way down the page) you’ll find a video of Allan giving a story from his therapy practice — Charlene’s story — which illustrates how victims of abuse always resist the abuse.
Lastly, here are the key concepts which Allan and his colleagues articulate:
Dignity is Central to Social Life
Social interaction is organized largely around the preserving of dignity. Even inadvertent slights can be met with intense responses. All forms of violence are affronts to dignity, but not all affronts to dignity involve physical violence.
Fitting Words to Deeds
There are no impartial accounts. Professionals and personal accounts of violence influence the perception and treatment of victims and offenders. Where there is violence, the question of “which words are fitted to which deeds” is crucial.
Social Conduct is Responsive
Individuals respond to social context, the immediate situation, and micro-interactional events and orient to one another as social agents with the capacity to choose.
Violent Acts are Social and Unilateral
Violent acts are social in that they occur in specific interactions and involve at least two people, and unilateral in that they entail actions by one person against the will and well-being of another.
Violence is Deliberate
Perpetrators of violence anticipate resistance from victims and take deliberate steps to conceal and suppress it. Even so-called “explosive” or “out of control” acts of violence involve choice and controlled, deliberate action.
Resistance is Ever-Present
Individuals respond to and resist violence and other forms of oppression. However, open defiance is the least common form of resistance. In extreme circumstances, resistance may be realized solely in the privacy of the mind / spirit.