The Myth of “Stockholm Syndrome” and other labels which are used to discredit and pathologize victims of abuse

When I first read about “Stockholm Syndrome” I was delighted because it seemed to explain some of my feelings and thoughts towards my husband when I was married to him. And it seemed to explain why I found it so hard to identify that he was in fact abusing me — and how hard it was to decide to leave him with no going back. The term “Stockholm Syndrome” seemed to recognise and validate my desire to be loyal to my husband despite how badly he’d treated me.

I studied to learn a great deal more about the mentality and tactics of abusers and their allies. I saw how bystanders and professionals often disparage and belittle victims in the ways they talk about them, and to them.

Much later, when I learned from Dr Allan Wade how the term “Stockholm Syndrome” came about, I was astounded. Allan Wade had interviewed the female hostage of the Stockholm bank robber — the woman who supposedly had “Stockholm Syndrome” —  and guess what? The psychiatrist who coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome” about that woman never even interviewed her after the hostage crisis or at any time later on.

“Stockholm Syndrome” was a term invented by a psychiatrist who never even interviewed the person about whom he coined the term!

Only a psychiatrist who lacked integrity would coin a term for a new ‘syndrome’ without even doing one legitimate case interview! That psychiatrist got lots of prestige for coining the term, but it was all based on his own imagination and assumptions.

We want victims of abuse and violence to learn the truth about the term “Stockholm Syndrome” and all the other terms which have sprung from that faulty cistern. If people know the unethical origin of those terms, they can be more discerning about how people in society pathologize victims in so many ways.

Why examine “Stockholm Syndrome”? It is both a cliché and an accepted “clinical” reality, a received truth. It reveals a style of theorizing the oppressed, as submissive and deficient, as in need of instruction, correction, as participants in their own oppression. It supports a host of related notions that are widely in use today….  — Dr Allan Wade (source)

In June 2015 we published a post about this. Since then, a video of Allan Wade’s presentation has been put up on YouTube.

To enhance your understanding of this video, I suggest you also look at the PowerPoint slides which Allan showed to his audience. Click here to see the PowerPoint (it will open in a new tab). The video opens with some light relief, but it soon gets into the meat of the subject.

The Myth of “Stockholm Syndrome” and other Concepts Invented to Discredit Women Victims of Violence
 Mind the Gap conference, April 2015, New Zealand.

Synopsis of the presentation1

“Stockholm Syndrome” was invented in 1973 by the Swedish psychiatrist and criminologist Nils Bejerot, after a botched robbery and hostage taking at a bank in central Stockholm, Sweden. One of the hostages, Kristin Enmark, criticized police and government responses as dangerous and disorganized. Each time the police intervened directly, she and the other hostages became less safe. Consequently, to protect herself and the other hostages, Kristin was forced to align tactically with one of the hostage takers. She tried to negotiate an end to the stand-off directly with Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme, but was unsuccessful.

Nils Bejerot was in charge of the police response during the hostage-taking. After the hostage-taking ended, he dismissed Kristin’s criticisms by saying she had “Stockholm Syndrome”, a new label invented just for the occasion. Since then, “Stockholm Syndrome” has become a received truth, a concept that reflects and upholds the habit of creating pathologies in the minds of victims of violence, particularly women.
Oddly, Nils Bejerot never spoke with Kristin Enmark about the details of the hostage-taking. And neither have any of the current experts on “Stockholm Syndrome”.

In this presentation, Dr. Wade discusses his recent conversations with Kristin Enmark and presents original source material (e.g., from senior Swedish police) to develop a quite different and contextual view of the hostage-taking and the notion of “Stockholm Syndrome”. He shows 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.

“Stockholm Syndrome” has become a ‘received truth’ in the mental health field. Like many similar notions, it shifts the focus away from actual events in context to invented pathologies in the minds of victims (particularly women). In this regard, “Stockholm syndrome” is one of many concepts that can be used to silence individuals who, as victims of violence, speak out publicly about negative social (i.e., institutional) responses.

Threads in a fabric

“Stockholm Syndrome” is one thread in a dense fabric of similar notions used to pathologize, blame, and discredit victims. Here is the list of similar notions given by Allan in this presentation:

  • Stockholm Syndrome
  • infantalization
  • internalized oppression: “Uncle Tom”, “Self-hating Jew”
  • traumatic bonding, re-enactment
  • enmeshment
  • co-dependency
  • repetition compulsion
  • lateral violence (e.g., applied to violence by Indigenous peoples against one another and in women’s organizations)
  • women choose, or unconsciously attract, abusive men
  • battered women’s syndrome
  • the “Cycle Theory of Violence”
  • learned helplessness
  • cognitive distortions (e.g., the world is an unsafe place)

Theorizing by Mental Health Professionals and Other ‘Experts’

It’s not uncommon for mental health professionals (and clergy) to make up theories to ‘explain’ the behaviour, thoughts and feelings of victims of violence. They make assumptions about victim behaviour and the feelings and reasonings of victims. Not infrequently, they ignore empirical evidence when it does not ‘fit’ their theory. They make interpretations about victims and insist on fitting the story into their paradigm or their doctrine, even if — or especially if — it doesn’t fit. They even invent things that victims have supposedly done, and ascribe words or thoughts to victims which victims have not thought or said, and proclaim these inventions as if they were fact.

Some professionals have built their careers on this stuff. It would undermine their status and threaten their whole livelihood if they were to admit they were only theorizing and inventing, or repeating the theories and inventions of others.

People use these theories to silence and discredit victims of abuse and violence, especially those victims who are publicly expressing indignation about the unhelpful, negative responses which they’ve received from society and institutions.


1 The synopsis of Allan Wade’s presentation is an adaptation of the abstract of Allan Wade’s paper which was given on the web prior to the conference. I wish to thank Allan Wade for his editorial input on this article.

The website of Allan Wade and his colleagues is Response Based Practice. On the media section of the website, there are several videos including the one on The Myth of Stockholm Syndrome. [Response Based Practice has changed their website. Click here and scroll part way down the page to watch the video Rethinking Stockholm Syndrome. Editors.]

If any diligent reader wants to edit the Wikipedia page on Stockholm Syndrome, please go ahead! At the moment Wikipedia says nothing about this.

Allan Wade recently co-edited Response Based Approaches to the Study of Interpersonal Violence. Here is the blurb.

Interpersonal violence has been the focus of research within the social sciences for some considerable time. Yet inquiries about the causes of interpersonal violence and the effects on the victims have dominated the field of research and clinical practice. Central to the contributions in this volume is the idea that interpersonal violence is a social action embedded in responses from various actors. These include actions, words and behaviour from friends and family, ordinary citizens, social workers and criminal justice professionals. These responses, as the contributors to this volume all show, make a difference in terms of how violence is understood, resisted and come to terms with in its immediate aftermath and over the longer term.

Bringing together an international network of scholars and practitioners from a range of disciplines and fields of practice, this book maps and expands research on interpersonal violence. In doing so, it opens an important new terrain on which social responses to violence can be fully interrogated in terms of their intentions, meanings and outcomes.

[June 15, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to June 15, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to June 15, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to June 15, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (June 15, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


Further reading

 The Myth of “Stockholm Syndrome” and how it was invented to silence an indignant young woman

Blaming the Victim: Domestic Violence and the Codependency Model — By Greg Dear.

Honouring Resistance — From the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, Alberta Canada.  (That booklet was written by colleagues of Allan Wade.)

20 thoughts on “The Myth of “Stockholm Syndrome” and other labels which are used to discredit and pathologize victims of abuse”

  1. Thank you. Excellent. Something I have been thinking of….

    It’s not uncommon for mental health professionals (and clergy) to make up theories to ‘explain’ the behaviour, thoughts and feelings of victims of violence. They make assumptions about victim behaviour and the feelings and reasonings of victims. Not infrequently, they ignore empirical evidence when it does not ‘fit’ their theory. They make interpretations about victims and insist on fitting the story into their paradigm or their doctrine, even if — or especially if — it doesn’t fit. They even invent things that victims have supposedly done, and ascribe words or thoughts to victims which victims have not thought or said, and proclaim these inventions as if they were fact.

    Indeed! Just another way to blame the victim…. She did something wrong to provoke the abuse!

  2. The last five minutes of this video said it all for me:

    They invented Stockholm Syndrome to silence an angry young woman.

    It’s quite easy to silence a woman by saying these things.

    That is it in a nutshell. We are all here because we have all been silenced, in a thousand different ways but the end result is the same!!!!!! Being here helps me try to get my voice back and to learn how to use it again.

  3. This is one of the posts that left me head bowed, weeping and speechless. I had to get up from my computer and pace; tears running, as memories flooded back to me of all the ways and times the supposed helpers actually helped the perpetrators of abuse in dismantling my voice and self. The unspoken message in this assumption of victim pathology that I consistently heard through decades of increasing violence was that “the problem is you. It is your pathology, it is your trauma bond, it is your dysfunction or you wouldn’t be in an abusive relationship.” That was if they actually admitted it was abusive.

    When I married a second abuser that happened to be a mental health professional they were incapable of discerning that someone highly-esteemed in the profession was monstrously abusing his wife. Thus, he carefully orchestrated a story that I was “delusional” told while he wept about “how difficult his life was” and they were absolutely and unquestioningly willing to believe him meaning they had to disbelieve me. At no time, not ever, did one therapist, counselor, crises responder ever ask or suggest “you are in danger, your life is at risk, what things do you need to do to be safe?” Even though the evidence of black eyes and bruises sat in front of them.

    Today’s devotional reading including this exhortation to abound in love but also in ALL DISCERNMENT too. And that is my prayer for everyone that comes to this blog, abound, increase and grow in discernment because love without knowledge and discernment is meaningless.

    (Philippians 1:9-11 ESV) And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. [Emphasis done by the commenter.]

    1. It’s such a difficult thing to stand up to the mental health profession. You must be incredibly strong and extremely wise. I have to conceal the fact that my ex’s new partner is a mental health professional, because if any of the previously sympathetic, helpful people find out, they immediately become aggressively hostile towards me. It’s frightening. That response is at it’s most vicious when it comes from health professionals.

      It isn’t easy to keep telling myself I am normal, my ex is profoundly abnormal, and the professionals are wrong.

  4. Often, too, when you attempt to explain things to “professionals”, or don’t go along with their theories, then they write you off and this just gives them more “evidence” to prove their point. They may overtly claim that they hold the abuser responsible for his actions, but then they make excuses or sympathy-statements for him and deem the target the one who is “doing something” to somehow encourage or contribute to the abuse.

    And abusers in therapy play right along with these concepts in order to further blame their target. The counselor and ‘C’hristian advisers that the man who pretended to be my husband was seeing, explained all these theories to him in order to help him gain empathy and understanding, all it did was give him more excuses to torment me; anytime I would confront him about his (current) abuse, he would claim he was reformed and then throw out some “New Age” theory about me that he had learned as being the reason why I was misinterpreting his abuse.

    All these theories do is reinforce the idea in the abusers mind that it’s their victim that is the one who needs help or has the problems, and as long as he could claim that I was the one with the problems or needed help, then he could focus on somehow me being the one to blame for the state of the relationship. Basically these theories that pathologized me, helped him blame me for every problem or consequence of what HE was doing….basically it helped justify what he had already been doing for over 20 years.

  5. This video made me realise that there is a bigger conspiratorial picture for the female victim. It seems like all of this elaborate “song and dance Stockholm Syndrome” was fabricated to silence Kristen, and other females that try to tell the truth of a matter.

    Another tool to protect the male egos involved, and the reputations of these male dominated organizations.

  6. Excellent piece here, Barbara! Thank you for exposing all of those lies surrounding this “SSyndrome” myth. Truly another ploy invented for the enemy’s toolbox. May you continue your work in exposing the darkness by the light of the truth!


  7. So sorry, A Prodigal Daughter Returns. I read your post [comment] and thought, “Oh no, not the weeping ‘abused’ husband trope who just tries so hard to live with his mentally ill wife who desperately needs to get treatment for her mental health problems!” Vomit, puke, upchuck, bile, bile, bile. I half-expected for him to explain away your bruises as being evidence of how ‘out-of-control’ and dangerous / violent you get and how hard he has to work to ‘restrain you’ from ‘hurting yourself.’ Puked a little more in my mouth just thinking about how often that baloney is brought out and readily accepted.

    At various battered women’s support groups in different towns the one consistent, 99.99999% frequency is the women being told they were “crazy”. Every woman was told how psycho / crazy / nuts they were, according to the lying abusers in their lives. Every single woman!!! Maybe there is a woman or two in the U.S. here, somewhere, who has not been told again and again how crazy she supposedly is, so that’s why my percentage is not a full 100%, but rather 99.99999%.

    Yeah, my rapist, attempted-murderer, wife-beating, terrorist-thug, self-described “monster” went that route, too. It’s amazing how many people instantly swoon once a man fakes a little grief, despair, or lets a tear or two well up in his eyes (probably poured hot sauce into those beady eyes to get the tearing effect to happen)….

    There are so many abusive counselors, doctors, ‘treatment providers’. Sorry to hear of what was done to you, A Prodigal Daughter Returns. Thanks for posting [commenting] and sharing as it was helpful for me to read.

    Because of horrible things done to me, I’ve resolved to no longer see any male anything, no men so long as there is a woman available instead. If my heart is exploding and I need immediate surgery, they better get me good and drunk on pain medication because I want a woman cutting me open, with women nurses….if none are readily available, fire up the ambulance and drive me somewhere with a woman surgeon on call. No more men.

    Look at Nassar. 160 plus victims in gymnastics alone. How many women or girls did he ‘treat’ in the course of his ‘career’? One suicided. Nassar just got caught. But it took hundreds of victims before anything happened.

  8. Great post.

    By the way, Barbara, your early paragraphs say that it was a psychologist who invented the term “Stockholm Syndrome”. It was in fact a psychiatrist (Berejot, who you refer to later on) who was quite well-known for being off-handed in his treatment of clients and diagnosing them without interviewing them. Diagnoses are generally created by psychiatrists and they still haven’t reached agreement on many of them.

  9. Many Christians have felt abandoned by the church and turned to Psychology. While we can’t dismiss its value completely, much of it seems like a bunch of guesswork fueled by personal biases, then masked by scientific jargon. It often renames and mitigates sin, which God has already named — setting itself up against the knowledge of God. (I “acted out” or “had a slip.” God calls it adultery, drunkenness, sin.) A study of Psychology fathers reveals substantial influence by some who were sexually abused, perverted as adults, and distorted truth to fit their conjectures or immoral lifestyles. There is also evidence of occult influence. (Link below — not saying all psychologists or groups are this.)

    I saw so much confusion in 12-Step groups who told everyone they were “co-dependent” and had a “disease” for marrying an abuser. (I had no idea my husband had a 23-year porn addiction before I met him and I refused to accept responsibility, so my sponsor said she couldn’t help me.) They seemed to be ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. I soon quit going.

    But this subtle shift away from the Lord as our Source has been [a] brilliant [work] of the enemy. I’ve tried many counselors and groups and come full circle back to God. And I’m not saying people can’t help us. But His words are Spirit and life. They renew the mind, and have supernatural power to change, and cut like a sword. And as I’ve stood for holiness and righteousness to be preached in our churches — the full counsel of God — I’ve received a lot of backlash. I’ve found the call to deeper consecration always looks like legalism to others who don’t want to follow Him at any cost. And we wonder where the false doctrine comes from….

    Are 12-Steps Programs Occultic? [Internet Archive link]

    [Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]

    1. I used to be a bulimic. At one stage in battling my addiction to overeating and vomiting, I went to OA and NA and AA meetings. OA stands for “Overeaters Anonymous”. NA is “Narcotics Anonymous”. AA is “Alcoholics Anonymous”.

      The principle which you hear articulated at every 12-Step meeting is “take what you want and leave the rest”.

      I found that to be a helpful principle especially when I heard a recovering drunk stand up and say something like this: “I have not had a drink today and I have not had a drink for the last x days. The higher power I have relied on one day at a time to not drink is the tram that takes me to AA meetings.”

      I was a Christian, born again some years previously, when I heard a recovering drunk say that at an AA meeting. I did not take to myself what he said. My higher power is the God of the Bible — one God in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. My higher power is not the tram that takes me to a 12-Step meeting!

    2. Sorry I took so long to publish your comment, Anon61; I wanted to read the link you gave before I published it.

      Bill Wilson (Bill W) was one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Wikipedia: The History of Alcoholics Anonymous [Internet Archive link].

      Anon61 gave a link in her comment. That link talks about Bill W tapping into the occult when he wrote / channeled the 12-Steps.

      I have read reports that Bill W was a chronic womaniser even when sober.

      Bill Wilson and Other Women [Internet Archive link]

      The Other Women [Internet Archive link]

  10. Thank you so much for this. Having the church and psych system abuse, torture and destroy my sanity, freedom and health, these words are keeping me from downing a bottle of pills right now.

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