Wikipedia defines Stockholm Syndrome as “a psychological response sometimes seen in an abducted hostage, in which the hostage shows signs of loyalty to the hostage-taker, regardless of the danger (or at least risk) in which he has been placed.” This term was coined by criminologist and psychiatrist, Nils Bejerot, when, in August of 1973, several people were taken hostage during Kreditbanken bank robbery in Norrmalmstorg, Stockholm, Sweden. Though the victims were held hostage for six days, once freed they showed attachment to their captors and even defended them.
Another example can be found in the case of Carol Smith. On May 19, 1977, Carol (age 20) was attempting to hitchhike from Eugene, Oregon to Westwood, in Northern California. When a young family--consisting of a man, woman and baby--stopped to pick her up, she felt they were safe, and so accepted the ride. Soon, though, she realized her danger, when the man--Cameron Hooker (who had already murdered one young woman)--drove to a remote location, put a knife to her throat and then bound, blindfolded her, gagged her and put a plywood box over her head that prevented her from being able to eat, drink, hear or see. Over the next seven years, Carol was held by this couple and used as a sex slave. She was repeatedly beaten, raped and tortured. For much of the time she was caged in a small wooden box until Hooker felt the need to heap abuse on her. In addition to all this, Hooker used psychological abuse and threats to her and her loved ones to keep her under his control. However, even after she escaped (only willing to do so at the insistence of Janice Hooker, the wife), Carol never went to the police. In fact, she even called him many times. It was Janice who finally turned Hooker in. During the trial Carol was reticent to testify against her captor and the defense introduced letters in which Carol proclaimed her love for Cameron.
Other examples of Stockholm Syndrome include victims of domestic abuse and child abuse who refuse to leave or turn in their abusers.
Once source explains it this way:
"What appears to occur, according to experts who have studied the phenomenon, is that the person "freezes" as a way to avoid further torture, and then yields to try to appease the captor. If the captor then takes care of basic needs, the captive may feel gratitude bordering on affection.. Such victims become susceptible to suggestion, and having their own world shrink to that shared with the captor, may become sympathetic. Identifying with the captor and seeing no way to escape, it becomes easier to acquiesce, even to the point of acting as if they love their captors. They are trying to arrange their otherwise unsafe and difficult world for maximum comfort and safety." (Ref.)
When I hear these anecdotes of people who identify with and even defend their captors--people who have viciously abused and brutalized them--I am dumbfounded. And, yet, it is my belief that Stockholm Syndrome is much more common than we may think. In fact, the vast majority of us will experience some level of Stockholm Syndrome at some point in our lives. Some of us even live in a continual state of this mental condition. How? Consider this: Anytime we are held captive by anything that is detrimental to us, we are at risk of developing Stockholm Syndrome. Whenever we are caught by an enemy, we have two choices: fight for our freedom or give in to our captor. When we fight, we will most likely go through a heightened time of trouble--at least until we gain our complete freedom. However, by giving in-- aligning ourselves with the enemy--we are able to embrace the illusion that we have some amount of power in our situation and, thereby, granting ourselves a false sense of freedom.
What are these enemies? Anything that stands between us and our relationship with God. That is, anything that controls us to the exclusion of God's control over our lives.
Romans 6:12-14 "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, for you are not under law, but under grace."
The Bible has warned us of many of these things--such as sexual sin, alcohol abuse, greed, idolatry, etc.--but keep in mind that anything can become your master if you allow it. Even such things as shopping, video games, relationships and even religious activities can come between us and the freedom Christ purchased for us on the cross. Anything in your life that draws your love away from God puts you at risk. Once made captive, you are in danger of succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome and, thereby, being destroyed.
James 1:13-15 "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death."
Romans 3:23 "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord."
We are all often tempted to sin and to put other things in God's rightful place in our hearts and lives; however, if we don't resist, that temptation, we become sin's captives. Once captive, we can either struggle against our captor and ask God to free us, or we can accept the sin in our lives, learn to love it, and turn our backs on the truth of the evil we have embraced.
I have seen this unhealthy response many times--even in my own life when I chose to remain in an unhealthy relationship to the detriment of my relationship with God. I have seen it in my friends, who embraced homosexuality, allowing themselves to be convinced that it was okay--even healthy--despite the absolute wreckage it made of their lives. I have seen it in the beliefs of young people who have accepted false teachings. But, perhaps the most depressing of all, I have seen it in a woman who completely turned her back on Jesus to the point of becoming an atheist because life without God made her feel free. Suddenly she believed she was the master of her own life.
Unfortunately, all of us were not embracing Truth, but lies. We either failed to recognize our captor or we decided to embrace our sin in order to revel in a false freedom. Somehow this seemed preferable to going through the humbling process of allowing God to rescue us, clean us and give us true freedom--freedom from our sin.
This is not a new problem:
Romans 1:18-32 "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them."
When we allow ourselves to remain in our sin--in opposition to God--we do not secure freedom, but our own destruction.
CHALLENGE: Ask God to search your heart and identify those areas which you have allowed to be mastered by another. Rededicate those areas to Him and ask Him to help you despise sin and cling to Jesus--the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14:6)
Psalm 139:23-24 "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."